Mr. Silver Does It Again

Published: April 8, 2008

Rarely does one man have a chance to do so much harm to so many. New Yorkers should remember Monday as the day Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, used the power of his office to deprive them of $354 million in federal funds to help mass transportation, ease traffic congestion and improve the air that all New Yorkers breathe. Backed by his Democratic conference, the speaker killed congestion pricing in the most cowardly way: without even holding a vote. Mr. Silver said so many members of his own conference were against the plan that it would never pass. How many? Who knows? The speaker hid behind closed doors to keep the public from watching his cronies do the deed. After weeks of dithering as a deadline for the federal grant neared and then expired, Mr. Silver has now ensured the uncertain future of an already strained mass transit system and the continued growing problems of gridlock and tailpipe emissions. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is not just the federal grant that Mr. Silver has taken from New Yorkers. Without congestion pricing, mass transit won’t have the nearly $500 million that would have been raised annually by charging most cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter Midtown and Lower Manhattan during the busiest hours on weekdays. That money would have helped bring public transportation, including express buses and ferries, to commuters who have few options for getting into Manhattan. Without congestion pricing, the public can expect to pay in other, less equitable ways: additional taxes, higher fares, reduced transit service or all of the above. Mr. Silver now owes it to New York to come up with an alternative plan to provide a steady source of new funds for the financially strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority. We’ve seen Mr. Silver’s style of leadership before. In 1999, he cavalierly killed the commuter tax, costing the city, so far, more than $5.5 billion. It’s always difficult to pinpoint the motivations of the opaque and narrowly political Mr. Silver. Certainly, the speaker has made little effort to disguise his personal dislike for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed congestion pricing. But there is no place for personal grudges in leading the state and city of New York. The congestion-pricing plan was not perfect, but it improved over time. Mr. Silver did not seem to put any effort into addressing the concerns of its opponents or into moving his members to do the right thing. He failed to put New Yorkers’ needs before his personal agenda. That makes him unworthy of his office.

The Defeat of Congestion Pricing

Published: April 9, 2008

To the Editor: Re ”$8 Traffic Fee for Manhattan Fails in Albany” (front page, April 8) and ”Mr. Silver Does It Again” (editorial, April 8): Yes, congestion pricing would have been good for mass transit and the environment. But instead of pointing fingers and playing the blame game, let’s carry out the good ideas that the mayor and the City Council can agree on without an Albany vote or federal aid. Let’s send a message to the suburbanites shopping on weekends with higher meter fees and permits for Manhattan residents. Let’s send a message to the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and introduce car-free weekends in his district on Mott Street and then expand them to other crowded pedestrian destinations like Bleecker Street in the West Village and Fifth Avenue. Let’s close enough east-west streets to through traffic to efficiently connect the West and East Side bikeways with each other and the middle. Big ideas are great, but the accumulation of lots of little traffic-congestion mitigation ideas will be as good or better. It’s the least we can do.


New York, April 8, 2008



Mayor Bloomberg Takes On Noise

Published: October 5, 2002

If the experts are right, people will sleep better, overall health will improve, children will have a chance to learn more and job performance will go up — all because Mayor Michael Bloomberg is putting the big ssshhh on New York City. In a welcome and targeted crackdown that could become a model for cities coping with mounting noise pollution, the mayor is putting a lid on the deafening din in 24 of the loudest parts of the city. Charting tens of thousands of noise complaints, the Police Department and the Department of Environmental Protection used the data to pinpoint where and what the problem is. In parts of Astoria in Queens and on Staten Island, the noise comes from motorcycles. In Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side it’s clubs and restaurants, and in Brooklyn, cars with steroid-pumped sound systems and honking horns. Elsewhere in the boroughs, the list includes car alarms, barking dogs and effusive public drunkenness. While a quiet home may measure 20 decibels, some city residents are regularly exposed to levels of some 100 decibels, which can actually injure hearing, not to mention causing other stresses. Studies have blamed excessive noise for a host of ills, from rising blood pressure to impaired learning in schoolchildren. Now, as part of Operation Silent Night, police officers, some carrying noise meters, will give tickets, tow cars and make arrests. A city as big and vibrant as New York is noisy by its nature. The mayor’s initiative will not silence sports fans, dull the loud colors of Times Square, end screeching subways or make emergency sirens go away. But if the new plan helps quiet besotted bar patrons, bleating car alarms and roaring drag racers, we will all be grateful.

Noise and the Economy

Published: October 8, 2002

To the Editor: Re ”Mayor Bloomberg Takes On Noise” (editorial, Oct. 5): In addition to the public health benefits of targeting noise pollution as a public nuisance to be vigorously controlled, there are also economic benefits. Noise can be a drag on our economy by helping to push the middle class out to quieter suburban communities. I know; my family and I were influenced to leave Upper Manhattan 10 years ago in part to escape the car alarms and blaring car stereos in the night. Four years later, we returned, helped by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s success in improving life in New York. In these tough economic times, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has found a cost-free method of making a difference in our city’s environment. We are here to stay.


New York, Oct. 5, 2002   ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Liberties; The Bloom Is Off the Robe


Published December 13,  2000

WASHINGTON— CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST. We’ll hear argument now on No. 00-949, President-Elect Bush and Vice President-Elect Cheney v. Albert Gore Jr. et al. JUSTICE SCALIA. Mr. Olson, the legal predicate that seems to have slipped your muddled mind is that recounts are only triggered if there’s a problem with the machinery, not in the case of voter error. Come on, Ted, do I have to plead your case for Bush as well as hear it? JUSTICE O’CONNOR. Well, Mr. Boies, why can’t those ninnies down in Florida simply follow the instructions for voting, for goodness’ sakes? At the Chevy Chase Club, my friends have been asking me why people too stupid or slack to punch a hole through a piece of paper even deserve a vote. JUSTICE SCALIA. That’s it, Sandy, baby. Suffrage, shmuffrage. CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST. Mr. Boies, you fail to grasp the concept of equal protection for the conservative justices who want to retire. I’m 76. Sandy is 70. We started out long ago, working our hearts out for Barry Goldwater, and we’re pooped. My back is killing me! But we can’t leave until we install a Republican president. Al Gore would replace us with that hippy-dippy Mario Cuomo or that flower child Larry Tribe, or some minority who actually cares about the rights of the dispossessed. JUSTICE GINSBURG. Mr. Boies — may I call you David? — I love you. JUSTICE SCALIA. Ruthie, zip it. Mr. Boies, as you surely have noticed by now, I am the Big Brain here. So I will explain what should be res ipsa loquitor, not to mention a priori. We stopped the vote-counting because if we did not, Al Gore might have won. Then I would never have had a chance to be chief justice. I have put up with so much hokum. When they upheld Roe v. Wade. When they made all-male military academies admit women. I became bitter and marginalized. Never mind Al Gore’s due process. What am I due in this process? MR. KLOCK. If I may, Justice Brandeis — JUSTICE SCALIA. I’m Scalia, dimwit. To continue, it may look hypocritical if the court’s conservatives suppress the will of the people and install a states’-rights president by federal fiat. I know I have spent my career fighting against muscular assertions of judicial power. But now I see that judicial tyranny, judiciously used, can be a good thing. I don’t believe in making laws from the bench. But making presidents? That’s different. Hey, who ever said the Constitution is engraved in stone, anyhow? Text is important, but so is subtext. Why should I prop up a pathetic pol who vilified Clarence and me during his campaign? This court is riddled with conflicts of interest. Clarence’s wife, Ginny, is over at the Heritage Foundation gathering conservatives’ resumes for possible appointments in the new administration. My son is a partner at Ted Olson’s law firm. Another son just got hired by another law firm working for Bush. But if I had recused myself, there would have been a tie. And then those radicals on the Florida Supreme Court could have been affirmed. And President Gore might have made Ruthie the chief. JUSTICE THOMAS (to himself). If this thing runs long, I’m going to miss ”Trailer Park Nurses” and ”Room Servicing” on the Spice channel. JUSTICE STEVENS. De novo, de-lightful, de-lovely. Why don’t we just devise a standard to count all the votes? JUSTICE SOUTER. I know the Bushes are furious at me. That’ll teach ’em to assume that a guy living like a monk in an isolated New Hampshire farmhouse is some kind of Live Free or Die nut. JUSTICE O’CONNOR. Mr. Boies, while we are on the subject of irreparable harm, are you aware that if I side with you, it could put in jeopardy the membership of my husband, John, in the Bohemian Grove? He does so enjoy his week of stag frolicking and drag shows in the California redwoods with President Bush, Cap Weinberger, Bill Buckley, David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger. CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST. We’re dropping in the polls on the question of our fairness, but we still need to anoint Bush president. It’s best for us. We’ll just have to work harder to hide the truth: that we are driven by all the same petty human emotions as everybody else in this town — ambition, partisanship, political debts and revenge. MR. KLOCK. How true, Chief Justice Holmes.

The Turbulent Voyage to the Bush Presidency; The System Worked

Published: December 14, 2000 To the Editor: In ”The Bloom Is Off the Robe” (column, Dec. 13), Maureen Dowd gets it right when she portrays the justices of the Supreme Court as subject to ”ambition, partisanship, political debts and revenge.” But once we accept that they are only human, one must also assume that the framers of our Constitution meant that through lifetime appointment to this highest judicial body of our land, they intended not only to encourage judicial independence, but also to provide a flywheel of continuity over the course of many executive administrations. While the decision on Tuesday to disallow recounts may have been a partisan one, the Supreme Court is in fact fulfilling its political role in our system of government. In the final analysis, we will have an orderly transfer of power, and our democracy is intact.


Woodstock, N.Y., Dec. 13, 2000   ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


The Mayor’s Civility Speech

Published: February 26, 1998

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani warned an audience of New York City officials and supporters yesterday that ”the cynics and pessimists” would ridicule his new quality-of-life initiatives against reckless driving, noise and litter. He is missing the point. New Yorkers, even cynical ones, will obviously applaud efforts to crack down on speeders and bleating car alarms. But the Mayor seems to be making such issues the focal point of his second term. On that level, his targets are distressingly trivial. Mr. Giuliani argued that New Yorkers had to embrace the concept of quality of life as ”a process, not a destination,” and served notice that he intended to fight for higher and higher standards of civility. Taken in its best light, the Mayor is performing a useful service in reminding New Yorkers that there is still a lot of improvement possible in their public behavior. This page does not buy into the theory that the local list of civil liberties includes walking across the street in midblock or making a right-hand turn from the far left lane. But many of Mr. Giuliani’s new initiatives lack the sense of purpose that characterized his first term. His program for combating noise pollution will consist of enforcing existing anti-noise programs and getting police to tow away cars with alarms that fail to shut off after three minutes. His proposals for establishing civility in the public schools boiled down to uniforms and a suggestion that ”students learn the importance of civility in their history classes.” The Mayor’s plans on traffic safety, which he compared to the quality-of-life offensive of his first term, seemed more developed. But his earlier war on squeegee men and turnstile-jumpers was part of a much larger anti-crime plan that the administration’s top police officials had been thinking about for years. The people who instituted it were thrilled to have a chance to try out their ideas in the nation’s biggest and most challenging city. There is none of that sense of excitement and innovation over the new program. The power of the Mayor’s bully pulpit should be focused on far bigger issues. The city’s most pressing problem is the woeful state of its public schools, and Mr. Giuliani’s recent sloppy assaults on the CUNY system are no substitute for engaging the city in a real crusade to enhance education opportunities for its young people. The city’s decaying infrastructure also cries out for a full-blown mayoral crusade. Mr. Giuliani has supported projects like the freight tunnel to New Jersey and the Hudson River Park, but he has never tried to give New Yorkers an overarching vision of what the city could be if it learned once again to build great parks, transportation systems and public buildings. By aiming his sights so low, Mr. Giuliani risks giving the impression that he prefers to repeat a past success rather than try something more difficult.  

Is Mayor’s Civility Drive a Platonic Pipe Dream?; Not Trivial at All

Published: March 3, 1998 To the Editor: You call Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s focus on quality-of-life issues ”distressingly trivial” compared with building ”great parks, transportation systems and public buildings” (editorial, Feb. 26). I know from personal experience, having moved to Westchester in 1992 to escape the car alarms blaring in the night, that ”minor” details like a good night’s sleep are no triviality. Now that my family and I have moved back to the Upper West Side, I applaud the Mayor for doing his best to keep me and other taxpayers here. Getting all of us to change our behavior will have to start with the police, who must stop treating ”nuisance” crime as a nuisance to enforce.


New York, Feb. 26, 1998 _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Presidential Character

Published: March 17, 1998

This is a peculiar moment in what will surely be remembered as one of the oddest modern Presidencies. Part of what makes it peculiar is that we have so much information and yet still know so little about what kind of man Bill Clinton really is. It is certainly possible, as Mr. Clinton said again yesterday, that he never made sexual overtures to Kathleen Willey and that he never propositioned Paula Jones or seduced Monica Lewinsky. But it is also true that the American people would not be surprised if Mr. Clinton turned out to be lying in all three cases. Obviously, someone is lying. Just as obviously, the unfurling saga of the Clinton Presidency has entered a new phase. Feminist organizations are finding their voices, as are politicians such as Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, and former Representative Patricia Schroeder, a Democrat. What they are saying is that Ms. Willey has moved the crisis beyond its bimbo-eruption phase. Even a proven charge of sexual aggression against a mature, trusting woman in the throes of a family crisis probably would not shake Mr. Clinton’s hold on his office. But it would permanently fix him in the public mind as a person of ignoble character. The magnitude of this threat explains why Ann Lewis used the ”Today” show yesterday to start the White House effort to do to Ms. Willey what former Senator John Danforth and other Republicans did to Anita Hill. That is to say that whatever the facts of Ms. Willey’s life, there will be a continuing effort to paint her as an erotically obsessed person who continued to write and call her accused attacker. We may never know with certainty whether Mr. Clinton has behaved badly toward these women or is just unlucky in the way people talk about him. But it is possible to trace how the Clinton Presidency is shaping voters’ expectations for the future. Americans are not naive enough to expect candidates with uncomplicated personal lives. But we may see a resurgence of the old conviction that character counts, and that rigorous inquiry into the character of Presidential candidates is not an intrusion but a civic obligation.

On My Mind; Risking the Presidency

Published: March 17, 1998

This country is awash in the muck of the White House nastiness. We are dirty with the cynicism that flows from it. We are stinking from TV comic shticks inspired by graffiti on the walls of barroom toilets. We gag at the spectacle of America devoting more attention to oral sex than to Iraqi biological weapons. That is, we should gag, but do not. Most Americans seem to be relishing it all, drawing vast entertainment from a Presidency involved as much in matters of genitalia as of state. But at least let’s not fool ourselves by pretending that the story is just about sex — and telling ourselves how we have grown up sexually so much that journalists can write about the President’s penis, and most voters accept with calm, even admiration, the possibility that he employs it in the Oval Office with female members of his staff. The core problem of the White House scandal is about the Presidency itself. It is about the failure of President Clinton to do his Presidential duty to confront any situation that occupies Americans, talk to them and answer questions. And it is about whether Presidents, who have more powers than any other Americans, have one less right — privacy for sex outside marriage. Mr. Clinton is the only person who could have hosed down the spreading muck. If he is not lying, then why is he stonewalling, allowing contempt for the Presidency to grow, its power to influence Americans to wither, and America’s enemies to rejoice? That needs some explanation. If he has been lying, candor would be wrenching for him and expose him to political risks. But consider the worst risk — so many Americans would be revolted by his admission that he would have to resign. The thought lingers: Facing that risk calls for no more devotion to duty than every Commander in Chief demands of serving men and women in time of crisis — and hardly would pose a greater danger. My friends who admire Mr. Clinton say that it is useless to expect the President to take the risk. I answer that it is even more useless to accept his silence. So they point out Kenneth Starr’s faults. Mr. Starr set up a sting operation to trap Monica Lewinsky, although she had no criminal record to justify it morally. And asking her mother to testify about her own child’s sex life — stuff it in your ear, Mr. Prosecutor, say we all. When Ms. Lewinsky got a lawyer, he acted immediately — to show that for distilled, concentrated obnoxiousness he has no equal from sea to shining sea. But the issue is not Mr. Starr or that fellow. It remains the Presidency. Putting one issue plain: Does a President have a special obligation to be faithful to his marriage? President Kennedy certainly was not. The press acted as his beard. But after Watergate, that kind of cover-up protectiveness of Presidents was over. In sexual matters, it was over particularly for Mr. Clinton. He knew one ”60 Minutes” rescue by his wife was all the country could stomach. Anybody who commits adultery risks the marriage itself and the trust, happiness and welfare of spouse or children — a problem for the whole family. But for Mr. Clinton adultery would also risk the Presidency, which does not belong to him, and so become a problem for the whole country. So, no, lying or not, President Clinton does not have the right of privacy about adultery or sexual aggression. And for this President, particularly, illicit sex in the Oval Office would be like doing it in Macy’s window. The blinds always come up, and there you are, on Broadway. For him to take that risk could mean that he is obsessive, something like a sexual kleptomaniac. Or it could mean that he just didn’t care, or believes that somehow he is invulnerable. Either way he should not expect Americans to be satisfied with swift denials to the press. But it could be that is exactly what he does expect and that he is right. Most Democratic politicians, feminist leaders and even members of the clergy will probably go on refusing to ask him to confront the scandal and talk to Americans about it. And quite likely the American public really prefers the entertainment it is getting now. After all, a good dirty show is hard to find, free and live from the White House.

Questioning Character, but Not a Presidency; Thinking vs. Doing

To the Editor: In response to the possibility that President Clinton is lying about his sex life, your March 17 editorial says ”rigorous inquiry into the character of Presidential candidates is not an intrusion but a civic obligation.” The Rev. Billy Graham also associates our leaders’ sex lives with personal character on a par with cheating in business, racism and taking bribes (Op-Ed, March 17). I wonder if you would agree with Mr. Graham that ”if we even think an immoral act, it is the same in God’s sight as the act itself.” Will your editorial board cast the first stones in asking future candidates about their fantasy lives, a la Jimmy Carter’s admission of lust in his heart?


New York, March 17, 1998