Silverstein or Rubenstein?
January 31, 2002
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A photo on the front of the metro section of today's New York Times is labeled "Larry Silverstein." The image appears instead to be a photograph of a New York public-relations man named Howard Rubenstein. Ya stein one, ya stein 'em all.
Early Retirement: An article in the metro section of today's New York Times reports that the leader of the FBI's New York office "will leave the agency two months before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 57, officials said." Since mandatory retirement ages are now often being thrown out in reaction to age-discrimination lawsuits, and since 57 is younger than more common mandatory retirement ages like 65, a phrase of explanation might have been useful to readers here. Something to the effect of: "(A federal law allows mandatory retirement ages for law-enforcement personnel; in the case of FBI agents, the director of the bureau has the authority to grant an exemption that allows the agent to serve until 60.)"
Starter Home: An article in the national section of today's New York Times runs under the headline "When $450,000 Will Buy Just a Starter Home." It reports on Santa Cruz, Calif., which is by one measure "the least affordable place to buy a house in the nation." The Times examines several possible explanations for this, including "dot-comers" and "the lure of the beach and the waves and the city's young, laid-back street chic," but it does not examine the way the liberals who run the city and county discourage new housing construction. Santa Cruz has rent control for mobile home lots, and it is along the coast, which means that in addition to having to satisfy city and county officials, those trying to build often have to satisfy the California Coastal Commission, a famously ornery regulatory body. By the time you've finished hiring the lawyers, paying the permit fees and doing the environmental impact studies necessary to build a fire-resistant, earthquake-resistant and energy-efficient home in Santa Cruz, it's no wonder your starter home costs $450,000.
Lindsay and Bloomberg: NEW YORK -- America was at war. New York's finances were in trouble. And in 1965, the city's voters chose as their mayor a liberal Republican from the Upper East Side, a man from New York's social elite with no experience in city government. That mayor was John Vliet Lindsay, a handsome 43-year old congressman who came in with all the hopes of 1960s urban liberalism, but whose two terms were marked by labor strife, racial tension and financial irresponsibility.
Michael Bloomberg took office this month with some of the same handicaps that crippled Lindsay, and he faces some similar challenges. Smartertimes.com spoke about the two mayors with Lindsay biographer Vincent J. Cannato, whose book, "The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York," appeared last July. Mr. Cannato argued that Lindsay was a symbol of the hopes and the failures of American urban liberalism.
"The continued crisis in American cities undermined the claim of liberals like Lindsay to govern the nation," Mr. Cannato, a fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, wrote of the urban turmoil in the late 1960s. "John Lindsay failed because he could not make the city work; liberalism sputtered because of the tragic failure of men like Lindsay."
Mr. Cannato spoke to Smartertimes.com's Benjamin Smith at the Strand Diner on West 96th Street in Manhattan. What follows are excerpts from an edited transcript of the conversation.
Smartertimes.com: What about Mayor Bloomberg reminds you of John Lindsay?
Vincent Cannato: Bloomberg, like Lindsay, comes in with a limited knowledge of city government. Like Lindsay, Bloomberg's knowledge of the city is the corporate boardrooms, the Upper East Side, the social set.
Lindsay had the advantage that he did grow up in the city, but he didn't understand Brooklyn or Queens, and he didn't understand middle-class people. As for city government, he knew it only on the grand level. He had grand ideas, and big plans, but he didn't know the nuts and bolts of city government when he took office.
What made it worse for Lindsay is that people knew he didn't know about the city. It hurt him particularly with unions. The unions realized that he didn't know anything about how unions worked and didn't understand the mentality of union people. He thought they were selfish. He had a point, but he didn't understand where they stood in the apparatus of the city.
Convincing people that he understands the way the city government works -- and fast -- is going to be one of Bloomberg's biggest challenges. He has got to convince people that he's a quick learner, and that he knows where the neighborhoods are.
Smartertimes.com: On January 1, 1966, Lindsay took the oath of office. The Transit Workers Union struck the same day, shutting down the city's subways and buses. Can Bloomberg learn anything from that crisis?
Vincent Cannato: Lindsay was a perfect target for "Red" Mike Quill, the president of the Transit Workers Union. The mayor was a patrician, and he was anti-union -- and they were going to teach him a lesson.
Those same labor issues are going to be one of Bloomberg's biggest problems. Remember, how has Bloomberg solved problems in his political career? He's given people money. When it comes to unions, that's exactly what you don't want to do. You don't want to pay unions off to keep them quiet.
When he turns to the unions, Bloomberg is going to find a lot of angry people. But what might help him is that these days the public doesn't seem to have a great deal of sympathy for teachers, police, firemen, or transit workers who go on strike. And that's really a result of what happened in the sixties.
That Bloomberg has going for him. And maybe he'll make a name for himself, not as a union-buster but as someone who can say, "Look I made these people an honest offer. These are tough fiscal times, and I'm not going to stand for a strike because this city can't stand for a strike."
If he stands up, is firm and strong, then he'll make himself into a good mayor. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes, though.
Smartertimes.com: How do Mayor Bloomberg's first days in office look to a Lindsay scholar?
Vincent Cannato: So far, so good. He has put together a solid, experienced team. In contrast to Lindsay's grand plans, Bloomberg's whole inauguration speech centered on this idea of lower expectations. We're going to cut 20 percent, we're not going to build these programs. Bloomberg as mayor is Bloomberg as manager. This is the MBA mayoralty.
But he has to follow through. When Lindsay entered office, he came offering spending cuts as well. He was going to trim the fat, because New York under his predecessor, Robert Wagner, had in those last few years been borrowing money. But there was a great tension between that fiscal conservatism and Lindsay's grand social plans. Ultimately, in the spirit of the 1960s, those grand social programs swamped the fiscal conservatism and there weren't any cuts.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, is not promising much. That makes his promise of reducing the budget more plausible.
Smartertimes.com: Is there anything positive the new mayor should take from Lindsay's legacy?
Vincent Cannato: The thing to take from Lindsay is this idea of walking the city. Lindsay's walks through Harlem are one of the things people remember most about him. In 1968, after Martin Luther King was killed, he went into a really dangerous situation. People were milling around on 125th street, angry and sad. Speakers were blaring. There was a low rumble of discontent. And he goes up there without a big security detail. He takes out a bullhorn and talks to the people. It took a lot of bravery to do that, and it calmed the situation.
Lindsay embodied the idea of a mayor who is not going to be stuck in City Hall and Gracie Mansion. That's important. Bloomberg is now the symbolic leader of the city, not just a manager. He needs to get out among the people and communicate his vision of the city directly to New Yorkers.
Bloomberg also has to be very careful about the image of the city -- how the city looks and how the city feels. If he gets out a little more, he'll be able to hear that and feel that.
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