The Breakfast Table

More Political Grandstanding

Dear George,

It’s been raining heavily in NYC this morning. So if that wasn’t enough to put a damper on anyone’s mood, some radio reporters decided it was a good time to let us now that after all the spraying of mosquitoes (the stuff seems to kill butterflies and other birds and also adversely affect humans with asthma), we could have the same outbreak of Nile fever encephalitis next spring. Of course, the “dung on the Virgin Mary” has taken over the headlines from our public-health problem. In the latest twist, the mayor has the Brooklyn Museum conspiring with Christie’s to inflate the value of the art collection in the exhibit. I’m sure some people in the hard-pressed, cash-poor museum were wondering why they hadn’t thought of doing that in the first place! The political grandstanding is moving us even further away from confronting the very real public-policy challenges that you outlined in your letter. William Safire had a very thoughtful column in the Times today. He sees all the players as serving a very narrowly defined self-interest. He criticizes the Brooklyn Museum for mounting the offensive exhibition in the first place, and he also is offended by the mayor’s confrontational litigious position. Pitting the “right to free artistic expression” against “accountability of public funds” isn’t the right fight. He argues that “New York needs mediators, not gladiators.” This position seems like the right one to me, but it has the luxury of ignoring the political reality in New York. The Brooklyn Museum is a stepchild when it comes to fund-raising and cachet, so they need both the attention and the money. The mayor “seen his opportunities and took ‘em,” as Plunkitt of Tammany Hall would have said. Once again, important issues of public policy are decided in a crisis atmosphere and the public’s view is largely irrelevant.

I’d like to think more about your position on charter schools and vouchers. I, too, have been struggling with this issue. Now, I am off to tape a cable show sponsored by the Citizens Union on the Charter-revision propositions that will be appearing on the NYC ballot in the November election. This is actually an important issue, but alas, has no sex, drugs, or rock ’n’ roll angle to it, so the media has covered it minimally. Maybe I can come up with a hook before the show. Should I show a picture of a nude mayor, public advocate, comptroller and City Council speaker urinating on the City Charter? It wouldn’t be difficult, they are all men!

Warmest regards,