Koch Commentary: The State Of New York
By ED KOCH
I have been thinking long and hard about the state of politics in New York. We are a national disgrace and laughingstock. Our state legislature has been called the most dysfunctional in the country, and most opinion-makers voicing an opinion on the subject have agreed with the description.
We have had a most unusual situation with the recent resignation of a governor, Eliot Spitzer, who was in office for a little more than a year, for using hookers and engaging in other possibly criminal conduct. This followed the resignation of the newly-reelected state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, for using state resources to provide assistance for his wife. The recent sudden departure of the state senate majority leader, Joe Bruno, followed. Bruno, before he resigned, apparently called the U.S. law enforcement authorities to ask if the resignation will cause them to end their investigation of his business activities then and still under investigation, and was told no. Now we have a state legislature totally dominated by the Speaker, Sheldon Silver, who while conducting the state's affairs also draws an alleged $1 million per year as a partner in a law firm in a state where the trial lawyers wield great influence on state legislation.
Then there is the enormous influence of the municipal unions on the state legislature and the laws it enacts affecting the relationship of those unions and New York City, particularly with respect to pensions. Those pension increases imposed by the state cost the City of New York billions of dollars in increases, most not agreed to by the City and adversely impacting on City services by causing cuts in service. While the city has limited the terms of its City Council by referendum, the state legislature rarely sees sitting members lose at the election polls, with on average less than three percent of the state legislators losing in any general election.
In 1999, we saw city legislators led by Speaker Shelly Silver disgracefully vote to successfully abolish the commuter tax paid by non-residents to the city for the services they receive here including police, fire and sanitation, depriving the city of more than $500 million dollars a year in tax revenues. No city legislator lost support of editorial boards, union support or has been punished at the election polls for that traitorous act.
Using the words of the late Bill Buckley in another context, what to do in this zoo-like atmosphere?
I propose that we use the tactic employed in New York City back in the 1950s through the 1960s and expand it. What was that tactic? The formation of a reform wing in the Democratic Party. It was led by a group of revered citizens - Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Herbert Lehman, Mayor Robert Wagner and others. The reformers undertook primaries against the regulars and beat many of them. I had the privilege of running against the boss of bosses as he was referred to - Carmine De Sapio - leader of Tammany Hall, the Democratic organization running Manhattan. I was not the first to beat him in 1963 in a Democratic primary for District Leader in Greenwich Village. He was first defeated in 1961 by James Lannigan. Those victories led to many reform changes in Manhattan which spread to the other boroughs. Regrettably, as often happens, reform ultimately tires with the return of the regular forces.
What we should do is improve on the reform model and create a new party which will state in its manifesto that it is running against the candidates of both the Democratic and Republican parties and has as its goal the sweeping out of Albany of all incumbents - the bad and the good - replacing them with the new party's candidates. After two elections in which the new party is successful, it should agree to dissolve and allow the Democratic and Republican parties to once again take over, vying against one another on a philosophical basis, hoping they have learned their lesson and become functional.
So how do we start? We have to find those five New Yorkers willing to do what Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and Senator Herbert Lehman et al did - step forward and lead such an effort. If they do, we can turn our state of deplorable politics around and once again be proud to be citizens of the great Empire State that produced F.D.R, Al Smith and Fiorello LaGuardia, among others
This need not be a dream. It can become a reality.
Ed Koch was Mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989 and a movie reviewer for the Queens Tribune.
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HENRY J. STERN
The Port Authority's new Executive Director, Chris Ward, has publicly confirmed what everybody knows. The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Ward was recommended for the Port Authority job by Governor Paterson on May 2, and duly elected by the 12 commissioners representing New York and New Jersey on May 8. He succeeded Anthony Shorris, Governor Spitzer's choice, who was asked to resign. On June 11, just over a month after Ward's selection, Paterson asked him for a report on the status of the multiple projects that were supposed to be underway on the huge excavation. Ward's response was issued on June 30. It is 37 pages long.
The intention of the June 30 document is to insulate the new governor and the new management of the Port Authority from the prior mistakes of everyone else. Ward is accountable for what happens from now on, but he should not be faulted for the fits, starts and stops that preceded his arrival. "Cut me a break" is the implicit theme of his mea non culpa. We welcome Ward, (He and I are alumni of the Department of Consumer Affairs.) For him to compile and issue the report while he is still close to the starting gate is appropriate, provided that its contents are fair and accurate.
John F. Kennedy said in 1961, at a press conference after the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, "There is an old saying that victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." A similar expression: "La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l'insuccesso" appears in the 1942 diary of Count Galeazzo Ciano, son-in-law of Benito Mussolini and former foreign minister of Italy. Count Ciano was executed by a firing squad in 1944 for "high treason;" his father-in-law did not intervene in the case, and met his own fate a year later when he and his mistress were captured and hanged by Communist partisans as they were fleeing to Switzerland to board a plane to escape to Spain, then ruled by Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
We return to the case of the World Trade Center, however, where defeat has had scores of fathers and mothers. An array of governors, mayors, deputy mayors, authorities, development corporations, their trustees and senior employees, construction companies, demolition contractors, architects, judges of architectural competitions, city planners, property owners and lessees, victim's relatives and their lawyers, and anyone else who had a hand in the project for the last six years and nine months share responsibility for what has, or has not, happened. We cannot apportion blame, and we assume the good faith of all parties. The result of their efforts, however, has been eminently unsatisfactory.
One thing abundantly clear is that the division of authority between all these players left no one in a position of sufficient authority to make substantive decisions about the project, and make them stick. What we saw was the antithesis of the Robert Moses days, during which he was, either directly or through pliant allies, the sole decision maker over city construction. The large hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood is a testament to the futility of excessive division of authority and responsibility.
The delay is particularly destructive because construction costs have been rising at the rate of one percent or more per month, and the cost of materials has joined the upward march. One percent a month is 36 percent over three years, without compounding. The more expensive the building, the higher rental must be charged to cover the construction mortgage. The higher the rent, the less competitive the building is in comparison with others, and the less likely it is to be filled in case the rental market weakens.
The contrary argument is made that there is no need to rush to judgment on what will be built on the site. Perhaps new office buildings are not the structures most urgently needed. The argument that leaving part of the site unbuilt would be a victory for Osama bin Laden was ridiculous when it was made and is more so today. If there were no other office space available in the city, one could see the need to fill the gap posthaste. But since it takes years to plan and construct a building, and no one knows what the market will be in 2011, one might as well build on the theory of: "You've gotta be in it to win it." Of course, that doesn't mean you'll win it.
Inability to meet mortgage payments often leads to foreclosure by the lender, in which the builder's equity interest is wiped out. It is then possible to reduce rentals somewhat, and make the building more competitive. Or the bank or other lender may choose to sell the building, hoping to recover its investment, or if not taking the loss immediately. They still have a cause of action for a deficiency judgment against the builder, collectible if he has not already been wiped out.
That is highly unlikely to happen at the World Trade Center site because the safety net generally protects large corporations and lending institutions. The collapse of Bear Stearns is the exception rather than the rule, and it has been said that their exposure to risk was 25 times their capital. Imposition of a substantial margin requirement would make catastrophic losses less likely, but would also limit the incomes of brokers, traders and speculators. We will see whether the Securities and Exchange Commission takes any action with regard to the behavior which has contributed to a national recession and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato