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19th November
2002

First Published in The New York Sun, November 19, 2002
By Andrew Wolf

For eight years the former president of the Bronx, Fernando Ferrer, had an obsession. That obsession wasn’t (so far as I know) a woman, nor was it rebuilding his decaying borough. Rather it was a visceral hatred for Mayor Giuliani.

Mr. Ferrer never had a good word to say about Mr. Giuliani, never mind that when Rudy took office in 1994, the city had reached rock bottom. The coffers were empty, crime was at an all-time high, and nearly a million and a quarter New Yorkers were on Welfare. Taxes had zoomed out of control and the menacing visage of the squeegee man became our municipal symbol, driving away visitors and residents alike.
When Rudy left City Hall eight years later, welfare rolls had diminished by more than half, crime had declined to levels not seen for nearly 40 years, taxes were
down, and the squeegee men but a distant and distasteful memory. The city’s finances had become a bit shaky, but this was largely due to 9/11 and the national economic downturn.

Only a small minority of New Yorkers, led by Mr. Ferrer and his buddy Al Sharpton, believed that the city was worse off than it was eight years earlier. But despite the fact that Mr. Giuliani has left office (and so, happily, has Mr. Ferrer), Freddy still hasn’t given up.

The under-employed former beep (he runs something called the Drum Major Foundation) now writes a column about every other week for the Daily News. Recently he used his column to pin something else on Rudy: the city’s current financial crisis. In Mr. Ferrer’s mind, Mr. Giuliani is responsible for the budget shortfall for neglecting to raise taxes while times were still good.

I agree with Mr. Ferrer that Mr. Giuliani does bear some responsibility for our fiscal woes. But not for the reason that Freddy cites. Rudy’s real mistake was not systematically cutting the municipal workforce during his tenure. He left us with as many employees as he found when he came in. That was his great fiscal error. Cutting taxes was a triumph that helped revive the city.

Tax and spend is not just a slogan that sinks Democrats in middle America. It is a concept that sinks cities, as it nearly did New York. Rudy understood this, Freddy never has.

For an instant during his first run for mayor in 1997, Mr. Ferrer seemed to be morphing into a more centrist politician, probably resulting from his association at the time with campaign consultant Dick Morris. He even joined the Democratic Leadership Council. But when Mr. Morris was caught sucking on the wrong toe, Mr. Ferrer lost his nerve and his way.

Mr. Ferrer dropped out of the 1997 race and became Ruth Messinger’s most enthusiastic supporter. To this day it is a matter of pride for the former Bronx president that the only borough that voted for Ms. Messinger over Mr. Giuliani was the Bronx.

Since then Mr. Ferrer entered into the now infamous Other New York campaign with Mr. Sharpton, pushing him even further to the left.

Mr. Ferrer just doesn’t get it. High local taxes combined with a high cost of living means that employers looking to locate will not find us competitive. No jobs, no income, no taxes.

Had Rudy reduced the number of city employees, we certainly would have been better positioned to meet the current fiscal crisis. A 20% reduction would have eliminated much of the current budget deficit.
Nobody wants to see the ranks of cops, sanitation workers, firefighters and teachers diminished, but there is plenty of fat to cut.

There are still legions of clerks and paper shufflers working at jobs that became obsolete in the wake of the computer revolution.

In the current round of job cutting (and, alas, tax increases) most of the yelling will revolve around cuts at the Department of Education. We all want to ensure that the front-line personnel in our schools — teachers and principals — are present in adequate numbers to educate our children. But there are thousands of district office employees.

The usual suspects squealed like stuck pigs when Mayor Giuliani cut the Board of Education budget early in his first term. But did we really miss those lost bureaucrats? Has the education of the children suffered? Now that Mayor Bloomberg has gained control of the Board he can cut the bureaucrats with a scalpel instead of an ax. All Mr. Giuliani could do is tighten the spigot restricting the total funding that went to the board. But Mayor Bloomberg can eliminate district offices and central administration positions without any effect on schools.

Life would have been a lot easier if Mr. Giuliani had reduced the city’s fulltime payroll down to 200,000 from about 240,000, and made even greater cuts to the part time and per diem employees who work the equivalent of another 85,000 full time jobs. Attrition combined with tighter management over eight years could have made that goal a reality.

But life would have become a lot worse for most New Yorkers had the former mayor followed Mr. Ferrer’s prescription of raising taxes, which would have placed us back on the downward spiral that was the Dinkins years.

Mr. Ferrer’s frightening fiscal vision currently has a lot of support in what has become, without Peter Vallone, the City Council from Hell.

Widely considered a leading candidate to challenge Mr. Bloomberg three years from now, Mr. Ferrer and his ideas represent a real threat to our city’s future. The dress rehearsal for what could be a watershed election may well be Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential run (Mr. Ferrer’s political patron, Roberto Ramirez, is leading Mr. Sharpton’s exploratory committee). Expect Freddy to emerge as a Sharpton delegate, hoping to re-cement the Black-Latino Other New York coalition that nearly made him the Democratic standard-bearer last year.

© 2002 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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