Archive for January, 2005

31st January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 31, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

It appears to me that there are a disproportionate number of foreign-born students among the finalists and semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search competition. Moreover, many of these students appear to have received their early education in their country of origin, not here in America. Is there a lesson here?
I think there is. Education practices in America are designed to “level off” all students into the vast middle ground lest we damage the self-esteem of those performing at lower levels. Students from other countries, where academic competition is encouraged and curricula are designed to challenge the brightest, may well have an advantage over the children who have been held back by the “progressive” educational theories that dominate in American schools.
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27th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 27, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller wants to become mayor, an aspiration shared by scores of others who have worked in the east wing of New York’s City Hall. He may have lots of money, may be smart, goodlooking, and a helluva guy. But history tells us that he may well be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mr. Miller may find that the greatest distance in local politics is the one between his office and that of the mayor in City Hall’s west wing. Those who toil in the city’s legislative branch rarely move up to mayor’s office. You can call this the Council Curse.

Indeed, only one of our elected mayors since the consolidation of the greater city in 1898 was able to move directly from the council (or Board of Aldermen) chamber to the mayor’s office. That was John Purroy Mitchel, a politician similar in some respects to Mr. Miller. (more…)

25th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 25, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The week started out well for Anthony Weiner, the Brooklyn-Queens congressman who seeks to sneak to the head of the Democratic pack of candidates for mayor.

Mr. Weiner managed to make his obligatory appearance at the Reverend Al Sharpton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities and kept his presence low key enough to spare him an excess of attention. Mr. Sharpton is a problem for candidates like Mr. Weiner, who seek to project a moderate image.Many feel that when the front-runner at this point four years ago, the then-city (and now state) Comptroller Alan Hevesi ended his long-time boycott of Mr. Sharpton and finally made an appearance at this event, his campaign began to slide. (more…)

21st January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 21, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Tiffany Parker has been relieved of her instructional duties as principal of the Lewis Lemon Elementary School in Rockford, Ill. Since we’re here in New York, you’re probably asking why we should care. However, there is good reason for us to look at Rockford: The events there are pertinent to our children and our schools.

Ms. Parker, who will now shuffle papers, was not demoted because she is incompetent, nor as the unfortunate result of an incident that she might have mishandled. Nor was she disciplined because the school’s reading scores went down. (more…)

20th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 20, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

A Bronx state senator appears to have used money raised to pay campaign expenses to fight his ex-wife’s demands for the payment of child support. She claims that the money is needed for the care of the senator’s son, who suffers from a severe developmental disability, according to state campaign finance records.
State Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr. is already the subject of a federal probe over the use of campaign funds to fund a “phantom” nonprofit group.

State campaign finance records disclose that,on October 26 of last year,Mr. Gonzalez paid $1,500 to Deborah Reyes, an attorney in upstate Amsterdam.The funds were drawn on the account of “Friends of Senator Gonzalez.” (more…)

18th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 18, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Which candidate has the potential to exert the most influence on this year’s mayoral race? No, it isn’t the billionaire incumbent mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Nor is it the Democratic front-runner, Fernando Ferrer, the former president of the Bronx. It isn’t the Council Speaker, Gifford Miller, despite his fund-raising prowess, nor is it the energetic congressman, Anthony Weiner, who seeks to become the Ed Koch of 2005.

The two candidates who will shape this race are the newest entrants, who some might say have the least chance of success. Win or lose, however, they will have a huge impact.

Among Democrats, the candidacy of C. Virginia Fields, the president of the borough of Manhattan, promises to change the dynamics of the race. That impact will be felt largely by Mr. Ferrer. The presence of a credible African-American candidate in the race precludes a repeat of the “two cities” strategy that Mr. Ferrer, a Latino, employed in 2001. Then he was bolstered by the strong support of his own ethnic constituency, black voters brought on board by the Reverend Al Sharpton, and the organizational skills of one the city’s most potent labor unions, Local 1199 of the Service Employees. Mr. Ferrer won the largest number of votes in the primary election, but fell short of the 40% needed to win outright. This forced a runoff. In the contentious, racially-charged second round, Mr. Ferrer narrowly lost to then-Public Advocate Mark Green.
The Fields candidacy seems to preclude a reprise of the 2001 strategy. This is working on the assumption that the putative candidacy of Council Member Charles Barron will quickly succumb to common sense, and Mr. Barron will stand for certain re-election rather than a kamikaze mayoral effort. But even without his favored candidate in the race, Mr. Sharpton is unlikely to support Mr. Ferrer over Ms. Fields. There is bad blood between Mr. Sharpton and Roberto Ramirez, Mr. Ferrer’s chief strategist. Moreover, there is some evidence that Local 1199 is toying with an endorsement of Mr.Bloomberg, who just hired the union’s political field director, Patrick Brennan, to work on his campaign.

This leaves Mr. Ferrer with one option — expanding his vote among centrist outer-borough blue-collar homeowners. He has been down this path before, prior to his first mayoral foray in 1997. Following the advice of Dick Morris, Mr. Ferrer became, among other things, a supporter of the death penalty in some cases, and an advocate of mandatory school uniforms. When Mr. Morris became embroiled in scandal, Mr. Ferrer dropped him as a consultant and returned to his more predictably liberal form.

This year, Mr. Ferrer seems to be taking a page from his old Dick Morris playbook, with his emphasis on the plight of the middle class.The presence of Ms. Fields as a primary opponent seems to leave him no choice.The question is whether the baggage from 2001, the backing of Mr. Sharpton, and the undermining of Mark Green’s campaign against Mr. Bloomberg will leave Mr. Ferrer unwelcome among the groups he now courts.

The newest entrant in the race is Thomas Ognibene of Queens, the former minority leader of the City Council. Mr. Ognibene is a thoughtful conservative Republican whose public career ended due to term limits. He is now at the center of what could become the mayor’s most troublesome problem, a revolt among the small, intrepid band of local Republicans who see their “Republican” mayor as a closet Democrat.
There is good reason for this. Last week’s State of the City Address could have been delivered by any Democrat. And politically, if patronage is the grease by which officeholders ensure that the political machine will run smoothly, the GOP machine has dried up and ground to a halt. Most of Mr. Bloomberg’s appointments have come from Democratic Party ranks and, amazingly, of the first 60 judges appointed by the mayor, not one comes from Republican ranks. In the Bronx, there is resentment that the mayor might have been a bit too aggressive in pulling the rug from under the imprisoned former state senator, Guy Velella, still a popular figure in the only neighborhoods in that borough won by Mr. Bloomberg in the last election.

Of course, it can be argued that the mayor doesn’t need the party machinery.He does,after all,have unlimited financial resources that will dwarf any money Mr. Ognibene could possibly raise, even with the six-to-one match recently put in place by the City Council.

If that is the attitude, then the mayor is in store for a long, hard summer. New York’s Republican grassroots organizations make a statement simply by their enrollment. They are Republicans on principle, and therefore resistant to even the mayor’s deep pockets. One need only go back 35 years when an earlier Republican mayor, John Lindsay, felt the wrath of GOP voters, losing the primary to state Senator John Marchi of Staten Island. Mr. Lindsay was forced to run on the Liberal Party line alone. Mr. Lindsay ultimately won re-election because he looked better than his Democratic rival, then-comptroller Mario Procaccino.Are any in this year’s Democratic field as weak a candidate as Procaccino? That is the question Mr. Bloomberg must face if he ends up as only the nominee of Lenora Fulani’s Independence Party, with Mr. Ognibene siphoning off votes from him on the Republican and Conservative lines.

What is the best outcome for Mr. Bloomberg? A summer moving to the right, to fend off Mr. Ognibene in the Republican primary? This only makes the mayor’s work more difficult in November, when it is crucial to win the votes of Democrats. Even if Mr. Bloomberg prevails in September, disaffected Republicans will still be able to cast their November ballots for Mr. Ognibene, who is sure to win the Conservative Party nomination.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

14th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 14, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

When he won control of the schools, Mayor Bloomberg promised that we could judge him on his performance. Judgment for politicians takes place in the form of elections. Lately, though, the mayor has taken to resisting criticism from the very people who facilitate accountability, his prospective opponents.
Term limits already restrict the ability of voters to hold any mayor accountable on the totality or any part of his or her record, including the key issue of education.There is just one opportunity for a day of reckoning, the only time a sitting mayor can be called to account, and that is in the one time he presents himself for re-election.
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12th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 12, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Mayor Bloomberg kicked off his reelection effort in what might be described as “enemy” territory, the depths of the South Bronx. Delivering his annual State of the City talk at Hostos Community College, the mayor threw down the gauntlet in defense of his accomplishments, a clear challenge to the man the polls say is his likeliest opponent, Fernando Ferrer.

Mr. Ferrer was president of the borough for 14 years and is wildly popular among the huge Latino population that calls the Bronx home.That the mayor is serious in his challenge of Mr. Ferrer was driven home in the first minute of the program, as salsa icon Willie Colon introduced Mr. Bloomberg as the “hardest working mayor in America,” and referred to him as “Alcalde” Bloomberg.

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11th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 11, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Allies of mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer, the former president of the Bronx, are privately sweating over a federal probe that involves a number of his closest Bronx supporters.The investigation is thought to involve as many as nine public officials and Democratic Party functionaries. Fourteen subpoenas were issued back in August.

At the center of the investigation is state Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr., a veteran lawmaker known more for his deal making and fund-raising prowess than for his legislative skill. Mr. Gonzalez has incorporated a web of nonprofit groups, funded in part through money he raised ostensibly for his campaigns. At least one of these, the West Bronx Neighborhood Association, seemed to rack up quite a bit in questionable expenses. (more…)

7th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 7, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

When did San Francisco turn into the New York of the pre-Giuliani years? I got that old feeling walking around the city by the bay last week as I gingerly stepped over the sleeping homeless folks on the sidewalks and dodged the panhandlers who accosted me wherever I went during a short holiday week vacation.Was this a step back into the past, or a glimpse into the future?

Don’t get me wrong. I loved San Francisco, I loved the views, the cable cars (a ride worth every penny of the $3 fare), and I loved the fabulous food. (more…)