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16th October

First Published in The New York Sun, October 16, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

This week we gained a glimpse of the two Michael Bloombergs. One is the level-headed mayor who decries the headline-grabbing politicos who seize on every accident and misfortune, and respects the rights of individuals to choose for themselves whether they want to engage in behavior that may be risky. The other is Nanny Bloomberg, who wants to make sure that all of us are insulated from even the most innocent temptations — even french fries.

When the private plane piloted by Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle smashed into an Upper East Side high rise, Gotham’s politicos rose in a rare show of bipartisanship to call for the East River to be turned into a “no-fly zone.” I fully expect the legislature to quickly pass some kind of bill that would come to be known as “Cory’s Law,” to protect future ballplayers from flying into high-rise buildings.

Only Mayor Bloomberg stood apart from this nonsense. The same mayor who is trying to regulate which type of grease can be used to fry a potato has suddenly emerged as a libertarian, advocating the right of pilots to fly up and down the East River.

Prior to the accident on Wednesday, I can only recall two incidents of airplanes flying into buildings in New York City. The first was the military plane that flew into the Empire State Building in the 1940s, the second being the attack on America at the World Trade Center on September, 11, 2001. Clearly this is something that doesn’t happen often.

The damage that Mr. Lidle’s aircraft caused last week seems minimal, and there was no intent to cause harm. Had the plane been deliberately loaded with explosives, it might have been a different story. After all, in October 2000, a small boat laden with explosives punched a huge hole in the United States Ship Cole, while it was refueling at Yemen. 17 American sailors were killed.

Perhaps such concern is a product of an overactive imagination. Speaking on his radio program Friday, the mayor said, “No terrorist is going to use a small plane. They would use a big plane, obviously. But a small plane, no.” Mr. Bloomberg went on to criticize the politicians that were so quick to call for restrictions on pilots flying around the city. “You don’t want to have the politicians involved in setting policies that influence safety.”

Unless, of course, the politician in question is Mr. Bloomberg, who never seems to hesitate to try and set policies regarding the safety of what the rest of us can voluntarily eat and breathe, even in cases where the science may not have quite caught up with irrational fears.

It isn’t surprising that Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t want the rights of pilots limited. He is himself a pilot, a diversion that is, for the most part, limited to the well-to-do. Flying private aircraft can be risky business. Mr. Lidle isn’t the first Yankee ballplayer to lose his life to this hobby, he is just the latest on a long list of the famous and not-so-famous who made a choice and paid a price. The mayor knows those risks and is willing to take them. Consequently, he bristles at the suggestion of more government control over his choice of diversion.

I never could quite afford my own plane, so I have had to content myself with less costly, and I believe less dangerous hobbies, such as eating french fried potatoes. Those of us in less privileged circumstances view this as “living on the edge.”

Several hours after the mayor endorsed the libertarian position on a topic he clearly knows something about, the Federal Aviation Administration changed the rules for pilots flying the same route taken by Mr. Lidle’s aircraft. From now on they must put themselves under the supervision of air traffic controllers. This appears to be a useless change, since it wouldn’t have prevented Wednesday’s tragedy, nor can it stop a pilot such as Mohammed Atta, who was committed to ignore the instructions of the controllers.

It appears that the FAA has taken this action to silence the chorus of instant aviation experts within the political community. So Mr. Bloomberg may well have been right in his Friday criticism. One hopes he can now understand the connection between preventing the heavy hand of government regulation from interfering with things that are important to him and showing some restraint when it comes to his own interference with the lives of the rest of us. I’d be happy to talk it over with him at, say, McDonald’s.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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