2008-11-21 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But … (Government Edition)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Nobody asked me, but … The economy came a cropper because of the belief that markets have to be free and unfettered in order to work and that regulation of any sort is detrimental to capitalism. Alan Greenspan, a dedicated Objectivist, believed that you really can't regulate and discipline a market and you should not even try. Boy, did he learn a lesson. Greed is the driving instinct on Wall Street and it always will be. Even now, the banks that got public bailouts refuse to tell anybody, including government regulators, what they are doing with the money and, under the bill passed by Congress, they don't have to. Want to bet whether a good chunk of that bailout money is going to golden parachutes for top executives?

… Now that our billionaire mayor has bought himself the right to run for a third term by bribing a majority of the council members with pet projects for their home districts, James Sanders, who voted for the extension, told me this week that he made a "Faustian deal" by voting for the extension so that Rockaway might get the vocational secondary school that Sanders has been coveting for years. He says that there was nothing explicit, no promise, but that he knew that if he voted against the term limits extension, the school would be dead in the water. In a representative democracy such as ours, the prize should not go to the one with the most money to spend, and that is what happened. Now comes the election, and Bloomberg will spend $100 million of his own money to win the election, outspending those politicians who have to raise funds one voter at a time. Perhaps Bloomberg should support the city's campaign finance system by abiding by its rules. If he did, he would be restricted to spending just $6.1 million for the primary and a like amount for the general election. He won't, however, because he understands that money is power and that money can buy an election. If Bloomberg was really interested in democracy and not simply in using his enormous wealth to buy the election, he would abide by the terms of the campaign funding laws.

… Queens Borough President Helen Marshall is whining about the fact that the mayor's new budget cuts $117,000 and a minimum of two jobs from her $4.6 million payroll. Marshall calls the cuts "devastating" and says that she will have to cut seven of her 57 staffers. If truth be told and New York City were not driven by politics gone wild, there would be no borough presidents at all, and we would save about $40 million that could be used for new teachers or new cops. The borough presidents are redundant, a sop to the politicians when the new City Charter was drawn up twenty years ago. Now is the time to do away with the borough cheerleaders and with the office of the Public Advocate as well. If you have to make cuts, and it is clear that the city must cut its budget, the people with political positions who do very little useful work, should be the first cut. There are 25 Mayor's Office organizations and another 35 Mayoral Agencies. Some of them have names such as Latin Media and Entertainment Commission and Fund to Advance NYC. Certainly, the fat is in those 60 or so offices, overseen by political fat-cats, not in the schools or on the streets. Instead of cutting the unnecessary jobs, however, the mayor has announced that he will cancel January's 1,100-person police class, meaning far fewer police officers on the street next year and will cut training at the fire department's academy from 23 to 18 weeks, meaning that probies coming into local firehouses will be less prepared to fight fires. At the same time, however, the city is hiring 234 new traffic enforcement agents so that many more tickets will be issued to city drivers. Does that give you a good idea where our mayor's priorities lie?

… One of the promises made by President-elect Barak Obama was that he would add a Secretary of Urban Affairs to his cabinet. "We need to stop seeing cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution," he told the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions." I think that's an idea whose time has come. For too long, cities have been ignored by the federal administration, seen as a font of revenue but as a distraction from what needs to be done for the "real Americans" in the hinterlands. Erroll Louis, writing in the Daily News says, "Properly done, an urban affairs office could be a perfect place to mount a coordinated allout attack on the four horsemen of the inner-city apocalypse: street violence, poverty, poor housing and broken schools." I agree, except I really don't believe that the election of a black president is going to make much of a difference in terms of drug dealers or gangbangers in the Redfern or Hammel Houses public housing complexes, for example. For them, it's going to be business as usual until they are eradicated by a proactive police force and there is a change in attitude on the part of residents and local politicians that will allow the police to do their jobs.

… As with many homeless who are injured elsewhere in the city, Roger Greenlee, who suffered a head injury in a Manhattan fall, wound up in the Resort Nursing Home on Beach 68 Street in Arverne. Greenlee, however, is not your normal, unknown homeless person. In 2007, he became nationally famous when he was sued by a Madison Avenue art gallery owner who was tired of Greenlee chasing away his customers with his demands for money and his preaching. Greenlee, who remains estranged from his family after 30 years on the street, will remain in the nursing home until summer. What will happen to him then? He will be released to the streets, or perhaps to one of the other "adult facilities" in Rockaway. We will then possibly see him wandering Beach 116 Street or haunting Beach 95 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, along with the others who have been dumped in Rockaway and have no place else to go.

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