Point of View Columns

Dinkins Deserved Better – Shame on the New York Times

There are few things in life of which you can be sure. One is that what you read below will never appear in the New York Times.

On November 24, 2020, less than 24 hours after former New York City Mayor David Dinkins dies, the Times published an article by someone named Robert McFadden which was somewhere between a faux eulogy and a factually challenged hit job. Typically, when public figures pass away the initial articles gently memorialize the departed individual, Opinions are like navels – everybody has one – and usually the opinion pieces come after a respectful pause – of at least a few days.

The Times sought to recycle half-truths, falsehoods and the opinions of Mr. McFadden which, because the article appeared in the so-called newspaper of record, too many people will take this savaging of Dinkins to be true.

A full refutation of the Times article would give that article too much credit and credence but there are 10 points in this piece that warrant comment.

  1. McFadden states that Dinkins was “turned out by voters after one term….” The reality is that losing by 50,000 votes out of 2 million cast is not being “turned out”. And when the Trojan Horse of the Staten Island Secession Referendum which supercharged the conservative white vote in that borough it is a wonder that Dinkins only lost by 50,000 votes.
  • Ed Koch and Fiorella LaGuardia, imperfect mayors that they were, were certainly more flamboyant than Dinkins. Flamboyance is not a character trait that distinguishes a public servant – keep in mind that Trump is flamboyant. But to suggest that they were “Gullivers bestriding him” is simply unkind and unworthy. And who, exactly are the “many historians and political experts” who expressed this opinion?
  • To describe Dinkins as a caretaker mayor is simply a false and unsustainable narrative which may reflect Mr. McFadden’s opinion. Again, opinions are like navels – everyone has one. But he is not entitled to his own facts. Unless he is simply willing to ignore (a) the Safe Cities Safe Streets program which added tens of thousands of police to the NYPD and began the decline in the crime rate which skyrocketed under that Gulliver named Koch and for which Giuliani later claimed credit (b) a renewed focus on childhood education which the childless Koch never advocated (c) established New York’s first Minority and Women’s Business Program which became the largest such municipally based program in the United States – a program that was working so well that other “Gulliver” Giuliani ended the program within an hour of his taking the oath of office (d) brought the Democratic National Convention to New York at a time when New York needed some positive perspectives on the national stage (e) establishing the Civilian Complaint Review Board over the virulent opposition of too many members of the NYPD, (f) establishing the inclusion of the LGBTQ  community in the administration of the city (g) establishing the National Tennis Center – the home of the U.S. Open – which has brought billions of dollars to New York over the past two decades and (h) in what is a shocking reflection of how skewed the McFadden article is, there was literally no mention of the fact that Dinkins led the city with calm poise in the aftermath of the first World Trade Center bombing in February of 1993, the largest act of domestic terrorism in the city since the Wall Street bombing in 1920. Caretaker indeed.
  • And not to dwell on McFadden’s false and dishonorable narrative, but a “caretaker” does not restore class and dignity to the office of mayor as Dinkins did. And a “caretaker” doesn’t manage the city through a horrific financial crisis and lay the foundation for the economic recovery for which that “Gulliver” Giuliani claimed credit.
  • McFadden refers to the revitalizing of Times Square as a minor accomplishment. The truth, of which he must know, is that by 1990, under the leadership of that other “Gulliver” Ed Koch, Times Square was a neon Sodom and Gomorrah and the Times Square Business Improvement District which was totally supported by Dinkins transformed that area into a global tourist destination – ranking favorably with the Ginza in Tokyo and Trafalgar Square in London.
  • McFadden refers to the “insurmountable legacy of Crown Heights” as being the reason for Dinkins being a one term mayor. The reality is that Dinkins received the same percentage of white votes and Jewish votes in 1993 as he did in 1989 the difference was turnout, and without belaboring the point one can ask why then Governor Mario Cuomo supported such a measure on the ballot when it would clearly not be to the benefit of his fellow Democrat Dinkins.
  • The McFadden article is proof in black and white (no pun intended) that race was always the prism through which Dinkins was viewed by the New York press – the City Hall press corps was virtually all white at the time and seemed to be committed to fully displaying his missteps and downplaying his successes and achievements. If Dinkins walked on water the headline in the New York Times would be “Dinkins Can’t Swim”.
  • Somehow, in his narrative of the Dinkins years Mr. McFadden couldn’t find space to mention how the City Hall police riot at which Giuliani was a keynote speaker inflamed the passions of race in this city. Cars were overturned, bystanders were assaulted and Dinkins was hung in effigy as he was referred to as ‘the washroom attendant” (meant to be a racist insult and in this context sounds a lot like that “caretaker” characterization) by predominantly white police officers, too many of whom were on duty at the time.
  • Finally, McFadden’s gratuitous insult to the Dinkins administration by describing his cabinet as a group of “goads, gadflies and bureaucrats” is one of those alternative reality comments that barely deserves a response. Let it suffice to say that Carl Weisbrod, Kenneth Knuckles, Sally Hernandez Pinero, George Daniels, Betsy Gotbaum and Peter Sherwood – all of whom have gone on to outstanding careers – would find his characterization as shameful and laughable were it not for the intent to further demean a man who was both good and great.

David N. Dinkins was deserving of better. The people who supported him and worked for him deserved better. The people who supported and loved him deserved better. The first Black mayor of the City of New York who served with dignity during some very undignified times deserved better.

The City of New York deserved better.

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Point of View Columns

College Admissions in America – The Tip of the Iceberg

The series of revelations describing a veritable cesspool of corruption, cheating, bribery and betrayals in the admissions process at prestigious schools of higher education including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Texas, Austin, Wake Forest and Yale leaves one spectacular question swinging in the air like a rotting corpse of lies – what is it that we don’t know? In other words, in the jet-propelled world of high stakes college admissions, are we to believe that only the nine schools mentioned are the bad actors? Or are we looking at the tip of the iceberg?

In a country where a fake billionaire can lie his way into the presidency, why should we be surprised when anyone with $50,000 to $4,000,000 can lie and cheat to get their son or daughter into the college of their choice, instead of their child being chosen by the college on the basis of something resembling merit? The audacity of the half a hundred otherwise wealthy and respectable defendants is breathtaking in that whatever concerns that they might have about equity, fairness or….wait for it…..setting a good example for their children, were outweighed by their desire to be able to say that their child was a student at Yale, UCLA, Georgetown, etc.

In a culture where imagined success literally trumps actual success, we cannot be surprised to find out that there are privileged young men and women are at this very moment students in colleges and schools that they are not qualified to attend. And it is tragic that students who might actually benefit from having a cherished once in a lifetime opportunity to attend these schools are not attending because their place has been taken by someone who already has access to every opportunity that life has to offer.

But we should not be deceived into thinking that this is simply a matter of a few (fifty???) bad actors trying to game the college admissions system with several millions of dollars and some photo shopped applications. This is not the only way that the United Privileged Parents of America are gaming the college admissions system.

We should understand that even reasonably bright and capable young men and women are being asked to compete for seats in universities and colleges all over America with young men and women (who may or may not be reasonably bright and capable) who have the advantage of having SAT “coaches” and college admissions consultants which can cost their parents tens of thousands of dollars a year – not to mention the fact that attendance a prestigious (and therefore brutally expensive) private prep schools and “special” public schools. In other words, the system is so rigged that the notion of equal access and success based on merit are simply wisps of words that need not even be spoken.

The magnitude of these crimes are almost too profound to comprehend as we will never know how many truly qualified students are being denied admission to colleges. The magnitude of the crime of rigging the entire college admissions system to solely benefit the children of the rich and privileged not only deprives the children of everyone else, it also deprives this country of its best talent and its best chance for a successful future.

John D. Rockefeller, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Michelle Obama, Reginald Lewis, Mario Cuomo, Mark Cuban, Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz are just a few of the contemporary prominent achievers who would never have been able to compete in the high stakes college admissions racket – their parents simply didn’t have enough money to “buy” opportunity through SAT coaches, college consultants, etc., much less be able to buy their children’s admissions at schools where the price only needs to be right.

We may never find out the scope and breadth of the outright bribery that is taking place in the college admissions universe. There are prosecutors and judges and juries and prisons that can address this kind of bad behavior. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The iceberg is the entire imbalance in the K-12 and college/university environment where power plus money equals college admission. And this situation makes it all the more problematic when conservative foundations and their attack lawyers seek to eliminate the few programs that seek to successfully level the playing field for those whose parents are not rich and powerful. Because some day, sooner than later, those without power and money will simply need not apply.

And that is the real tragedy for these United States.

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Point of View Columns

The Great American Circus

Thanks to the great political cartoonist Thomas Nast the elephant has been the symbol of the Republican Party for over a century. Now that it has morphed into the G.O.Tea Party it should come as no surprise that there is a circus-like feel to the presidential nomination sweepstakes that is inflicted upon us on a daily basis. The only problem is that there are too many clowns and not enough elephants.

It seems that every few days another Republican decides that they are prepared to be the Leader of the Free World even as we either gasp in horror or smother gales of laughter at the thought. We would, however, be wise not to be too ready to laugh – even clowns, especially clowns, can be dangerous.

Like a circus car from which emerges an endless parade of clowns, the G.O.Tea Party circus is providing us with mirthless images that would be laughable but for the danger that they represent. In no particular order, consider some of the members of the current lineup:

-George Pataki – The three time governor of New York State is known for having defeated Mario Cuomo and using a ramshackle collection of budgetary quirks and tricks that resulted in near financial disaster for the state. A disaster, it should be noted, that is (and will be) affecting millions of New Yorkers for decades. Wonder what he might do as President of the United States?

-Sarah Palin – If you subtract the time that she spent running an unsuccessful campaign for Vice President, she spent less than two years as governor of Alaska before resigning to make some money. Well known for knowing very little, she has not let ignorance get in the way of her grand ambition to be somebody. She can be laughable when referring to being able to see Russia from her kitchen window as being part of her foreign policy qualifications and kind of sad when she cannot recall a book that she has read or a newspaper that she reads regularly. But she has a darker side – such as when she tells followers to “lock and load” and then puts a bull’s eye on the offices of political opponents. Ask Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

-Ron Paul – If you ask Ron Paul nicely, he will be glad to tell you that the United States doesn’t need a Department of Education or a Department of Energy even though the quality of education and access to energy are keys to the progress of this country for the balance of this century. Actually, you don’t even need to ask Mr. Paul; at the drop of a dime (or a penny) he will tell you that government is the problem and that its elimination will cure what ails us as a nation. He doesn’t bother to explain how the health, education and welfare of this nation will be maintained without the presence of a strong national government. But that’s what makes him such a loveable clown.

-Rick Perry – Rodeo Rick Perry has galloped onto the national stage with his six guns blazing. In one week he has suggested that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board may be contemplating treason and has expressed his doubt as to whether President Obama loves America. That’s pretty hilarious stuff from a clown who has suggested that Texas secede from the United States. And the really funny thing about Rodeo Rick is that he’s just getting started.

-Michele Bachmann – Where does one start when writing about the Queen of Clowns? She mixes up John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, and celebrates Elvis Presley’s birthday on the day that he died. What a hoot! The fact that she takes herself so seriously should be a warning that there she is actually a zealot who has misplaced her big nose. But the fact that she has proclaimed that she is on a mission to make this country a Christian nation that is governed by Christian ideals has a Taliban-like ring to it that is not funny at all.

-Herman Cain – Mr. Cain’s idea of a powerful campaign slogan is that he has no experience in government at all. Close your eyes and imagine your brain surgeon telling you that his/her major qualification is that he/she never went to medical school. Being the chief executive of a successful chain of pizza parlors that mock Italians is a qualification of sorts although I think that if Mr. Cain was the head of “Yo Mama’s Chicken” instead of “Godfather’s Pizza” he wouldn’t be getting a pass.

-Mitt Romney – Mr. Romney is the magical clown who wants us to believe that the universal healthcare program that he advanced as governor of Massachusetts has nothing to do with the universal healthcare plan advanced by President Obama. Mitt, the Magic Clown would also have us believe that in his career as a businessman he “created jobs” when the business model of his company was to acquire businesses, sell off the assets and fire the employees. Of course the fact that Mr. Romney can be a magician and a clown shows a real skill at multi-tasking.

There are other candidates and would-be candidates running around the G.O.Tea Party circus tent. Someone played “Send in the Clowns” and the right wing of the right wing adopted it as their anthem.

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Point of View Columns

A New York State of Mind

As you are reading this column the New York State legislature will have passed a budget that contains over $10 billion in spending cuts. The budget largely reflects proposals from recently elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and it appears that the New York budget scenario is being played out in state capitals across the country.

A few facts – Governor Cuomo is the son of the historically liberal former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and worked for the historically progressive former President Bill Clinton as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was elected as the progressive alternative and antidote to the toxic right wing of the right wing gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano.

The public in New York and throughout the country has understood that local, state and federal budgets are in need of reformation and restructuring. The damage wrought by the great economic collapse of 2008 cannot be overstated.

Years of treating taxation as punishment instead of part of the price that all people (and corporations) pay for living in a civil society has created unsustainable imbalances that have to be rectified.

The turning point in these fiscal discussions has been focused upon whether these budget battles are going to be about dollars and sense or will they be about reforming the social and political landscape in this country. There are those who are willing to pursue a prudent social services agenda while also being fiscally prudent.

And then there are those who are willing to use the public sector fiscal crisis as a Trojan horse that will permit entry inside the gates built by a century of progressive reform so that they can begin to dismantle the safety nets for all citizens.
The New York state budget is a case in point.

Governor Cuomo and the legislature have determined that no tax increases are possible. Indeed, in the new budget any New York citizen who makes over $200,000 per year will get a tax cut. Meanwhile statewide aid for education will be cut by $1.25 billion and Medicaid benefits will be cut by $2.8 billion.

And certainly, and most clearly, the citizens of New York who earn the least, who own the least and who control the least will be the ones who will bear the brunt of these budget cuts.

This scenario is being replayed from Wisconsin to California to Washington, D.C. The balanced budget mantra is overlaid with the themes of reducing the tax obligations of the wealthiest Americans (and corporations) and reducing the services provided to citizens, especially the citizens with the fewest resources and the greatest need.

There is an empty and heartless meanness to this approach that transcends the numbers and figures that are in a budget discussion. The suggestion that it somehow makes sense that a corporate behemoth like General Electric has a final tax bill of zero while Headstart programs are closed and veterans’ benefits are cut is difficult to comprehend.

Just as no one is entitled to great wealth, no one is entitled to unnecessary hardship and misery – particularly in a country with the highest standard of living in the history of the Planet Earth.

The sense of community that brings citizens together into a caring and cohesive entity is clearly fraying. Perhaps this is attributable to the fact that the sense of shared obligation has been diluted to a point that it is hardly noticeable.

Spending has been supported at the local, state and federal level for everything from football stadiums to bridges to nowhere and the taxation consequences have been largely deferred or ignored.

As is the case for every celebration, there is a bill that has to be paid. It would seem logical, fair and patriotic that those who have benefited the most from American society would have to pay their fair share of the cost of that society.

The constant caterwauling about “no new taxes” might make sense in some other circumstance, but not during a time of crisis. That point seems to be lost upon those who see taxes as punitive and view cutting social services as the only logical choice.

Americans who lived through the Great Depression and World War II learned about shared responsibility and common sacrifice out of necessity. And out of that necessity was born the G.I. Bill and the beginning of the largest middle class expansion in world history up to that point.

That sense of shared responsibility and common sacrifice resulted in everything from the national highway initiative to the Great Society to landmark civil rights bills.

If you wonder if any of those bills would pass today you only need to look at the scorched earth that resulted from the debate and passage of the recent healthcare bill and you will have your answer.

Blanche Dubois was probably wrong to depend on the kindness of strangers. But I do believe that Americans should be able to depend on the compassion and concern of their fellow citizens.

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