Three Political Takes
Bush’s decision to send more troops to
in futile pursuit of his phantasmagoric victory has moved me to write again about politics.
For example, in past columns I’ve been writing about the city’s real estate boom and housing problems. What’s obvious is that
faces a massive shortage of affordable housing, which is likely to get worse as the city's population increases in the coming years. And the 421-A program, that was begun in the 1970s to spur housing development, and provides tax breaks to developers, needs a radical overhaul. It has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars a year in forgone tax revenue, and the developers have reaped large profits while providing little housing for lower income people.
Mayor Bloomberg, though a master of the free market and a politician never known as a scourge of landlords, proposed a set of reforms of the city’s housing policy. Changes that would significantly increase the areas of the city in which developers who want the tax break must make one out of every five apartments they build affordable to lower-income people. And they must build on site not in other parts of the city. The City Council with some modifications approved the proposal, and housing officials say the new program will generate 20,000 new units of lower-priced housing over the first 10 years. The revamped program would also include a $400 million trust fund for developing low- and moderately priced housing, especially in the city’s 15 poorest neighborhoods. Of course, the proposal will need state approval.
Housing will still remain inordinately expensive for most New Yorkers, especially those who have entered the market in the last decade. But the new program will be a step in the right direction (it’s the largest affordable housing program in the country). Just as is Bloomberg’s ambitious vision for the city’s future with its commitment to a greener city, including cleaner energy and water supply; the building of more playgrounds, parks, and schools; and the expansion of the subway system.
On the state level, there is fresh hope with Elliot Spitzer’s election as Governor. The hard-driving Spitzer is the kind of politician who has the energy and voter support to shake up our moribund state government. And he has hit the ground running. In his inaugural address he likened the state to Rip Van Winkle, and called for “changing the ethics of
.” And in his State of the State address he proposed disarming “the army of special interests” by creating the strongest campaign finance laws in the country. Spitzer also plans to try to end egregiously self-serving gerrymandering by appointing a non-partisan commission to draw new district lines for the Assembly and Senate that will change the face of
Spitzer will need all his toughness of mind and will and his capacity to act as a moral exemplar to tame
’s horde of grasping lobbyists and to best its powerfully entrenched legislative leaders. They are canny operators who may pay lip service to Spitzer’s proposals today, but tomorrow will use all their political skill to preserve the status quo—the difficult to penetrate “three men in a room” culture that has ruled Albany in such a covert and dysfunctional fashion these past 12 years.
Finally, the outsized homage the death of Gerald Ford aroused from the press (i.e., Tom Brokaw, the former television anchor, described ''Citizen Ford'' as a ''champion of Main Street values'') and fellow politicians, says more about the resentment and anger that the current administration elicits than about the modest accomplishments of Ford’s accidental presidency. Ford, a commonsensical, decent, and amiable mainstream Republican, was pro-business, committed to limited government, socially liberal, and non-ideological. It’s hard now to remember that not so long ago men like him once played a dominant role in the Republican Party.
I did not share a great deal of Ford’s political perspective. But I understood the appeal of a man who calmly governed the country after Watergate and through the last days of the Vietnam War, signed the Helsinki Accords amid the Cold War, and opened to the public the files on J. Edgar Hoover’s flagrant abuses of civil rights and antiwar activists, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Given my visceral antipathy to Bush’s avid courting of the Party’s socially repressive evangelical base and his promotion of a messianic, destructive and self-destructive foreign policy—there is no mystery why the press embraces a politician like Ford, who emanated openness and steadiness. No, he wasn’t a stirring figure, but if Bush’s blind commitment to bringing democracy to the
is an example of a president with an overarching vision, give me a president with modest ambitions.