Listening To Smart People For
2030 and 2050
By Alan Hevesi
Let me come at this from my own experience as an
academician and a political scientist.
A lawyer and a librarian, or an astrophysicist
and a businessperson, are all taught in the context
of their careers and culture and people they interact
with. A brain surgeon, for example, needs to put
his or her patient under anesthetic and doesn't
have to communicate with them. It's a question of
having hand-eye coordination skill, to cut out that
tumor, to get to it fast, to be self-assertive enough
to think that you're the one who can save the life.
The other doctor who's a pediatrician has to have
a whole different mind-set and a whole different
set of skills, because he or she has to talk to
a four or five year old child.
In the same way, elected officials, politicians,
operate in a mind-set in which the decision making
is in the immediate. And the pressures, particularly
on the level of a governor, or president, mayor,
United States senator, congressmen too, legislators,
is "What's the decision I have to make at two o'clock?
What's the decision I have to make at four o'clock?
I have another one at 4:30, I have a vote at 6,
I have to meet a community group and respond to
them. I hope I have enough experience, I hope I
have enough information, I hope my staff has given
me the blue book which will allow me to make the
proper decision." And then I forget about it. The
idea of thinking two days down the road, four days
down the road, four years down the road is anathema.
We are a culture of short-term decision making.
We don't plan, and that is re-enforced by term limits,
because there's no motivation to plan. And no decisions
made by the current administration are going to
be helpful to the next administration. Quite the
reverse. The budget that the mayor is submitting
to the city council right now is a decent budget
for this year and a decent budget for next year.
And for the out years -- two, three and four --
there's a time bomb in terms of long-term expenditures.
Not a penny was spent during surpluses to pay down
long-term debt. Even George Bush and the federal
government are doing that. There's no pay-as-you-go
capital; there's no one-shot fund for the one-shot
revenues. That's what gets us into big trouble.
The comptroller's office, 800 people, professionals,
financial managers, investment bankers, lawyers,
claims managers and so on, is where we can step
back from the fray and look at the long term. This
re-enforced my predilection as an academician to
understand that planning has to be part of smart
long-term government. I'll give you an example.
Governor Pataki, in his first years before the
boom, imposed massive social services budget cuts
across the board without considering the long-term
consequences. For example, he cut out level-two
home care for senior citizens who are retirees.
A level-two home care worker comes into the home
for 20 hours a week, provides companionship, a little
bit of shopping, housekeeping and so on. And the
governor cut that out because the budgets were bad.
The governor takes the savings from the salaries
that are not going to be paid but never looks at
the consequence. Consequence number one, a number
of home care workers lose their job and go on unemployment.
And consequence number two, in one out of seven
cases, we calculated, senior citizens lose their
home care, lose their independence and have to go
into a nursing home; you lost all the money.
You've got to do long-term financial planning.
You've got to do long-term planning, regional planning.
We have to have an attitude toward Long Island and
upstate and New Jersey that they're not necessarily
the enemy. Now, if the Port Authority short-changes
us, as they do, that's one thing. But, Newark Airport
is not our enemy. A third of its passengers are
New Yorkers. They fly into Newark and then they
make their way into Manhattan. So, regionally, we
have to look at the long-term.
Your second question asked something intriguing.
Who would you have as your chief planner? What are
the characteristics? What struck me is that you
said it should be some kind of mix of Robert Moses
and Jane Jacobs. I believe that if you put Robert
Moses with Jane Jacobs into the same room there'd
be a homicide. This is the Jane Jacobs who had compassion
for individuals, small communities and small shops
and, you know, had a humane view of the world. And
Robert Moses, who moved constituencies, who built
bridges over the Grand Central Parkway that were
low enough those folks from the city whose skin
is darker couldn't get out to his Jones Beach, because
the bus would be too high? Is that the same guy?
I don't know how you'd get a mix of Robert Moses
and Jane Jacobs.
What you need is a person who knows government
and politics, knows all the players, loves the city,
loves its neighborhoods, is a historian of the city
and is a visionary. My style of managing is different
than Rudy Giuliani's, which is very centrist, top-down
instruction. I happen to know as comptroller how
much I don't know. People ask me, you're the comptroller,
are you an accountant? No. Are you a lawyer? Are
you a budget analyst? Well, I know budgets pretty
well from 20 years in the legislature. Are you an
investment banker? No, I'm none of these things.
What I know how to do is, first, win an election.
Two, how you find the best people who are much more
expert than you are and delegate to them the responsibilities.
You sit down with them and you say this is what
I want out of your division. I want you to run it,
I want you to pick your personnel, I want you to
define for me next Tuesday the goals that you want
to reach, in addition to the statutory mandates
that you have. What is it that you want to accomplish
in a month, in three months, in six months and in
a year? And I want you to report to me that we've
met those goals and we're going to negotiate them.
I'm your representative to the outside world, to
the press, to the political institutions. But you
delegate to those people, and you do it with a long-term
view. So you need somebody who has a sense of what
he or she wants to see the city be in 2010 and 2030
Now, what is the planning agenda? It is huge. And
the idea that we do it c risis by crisis means we
lose in the long term. We have a huge number of
responsibilities. I don't believe that we can afford
to allow the West Side, over by the Javits Center
and that whole area, to be haphazardly developed
by whichever developer gets whatever spot before
somebody else. There's got to be a planning process
that protects neighborhoods and that encourages
We have to zone differently to save some of the
industries that are under threat, such as the manufacturing
industry. A quarter of a million people make their
living doing manufacturing. We have to renew the
tax benefits and rebates that help to develop the
downtown renewal that is below City Hall. We have
to expand the empowerment zone and the methodologies
that have created jobs in the empowerment zones
through tax benefits.
We have to beat the hell out of New Jersey. They've
taken 50,000 jobs away from us, by having a long-term
plan of how to steal jobs. Those industries, those
businesses from lower Manhattan, particularly, ought
to be out in Queens; the back-office jobs from Chase
Manhattan ought to be out in Queens. We have to
protect residential neighborhoods. We have to extend
the Second Avenue subway. We have to have the Number
7 line extended to the West Side. We have to build
a rail freight system, because we depend completely
and totally on truck traffic in this city, which
is an enormous burden for us in terms of traffic,
in terms of health care. The asthma rates on the
routes that are used by trucks cause huge health
problems. The agenda is enormous and there has to
be a centralized planning function in the mayor's
And the final topic was how would you use your
community boards? Would you add to the community
boards' responsibilities and planning function?
The answer is yes. I will commit in principle to
[some professional planing operations for the boards],
but not specifically, because that's a budget issue
and I don't know where our budget's going to be.
The boom is ending. I'm going to have some greater
level of austerity than we've been used to the last
five years. But that planning function is critical.
Bringing community boards to the table.
I believe that the mayor has to be the toughest
person in the city. I really do. But the mayor also
has to have a deep and profound commitment to the
notion that there are huge numbers of smart people
in the city that he better listen to. And not have
the arrogance to think that he's got all the answers.
And also to believe in consensus. Consensus means
getting the best ideas, the best brains from every
sector of the community, putting together a coherent
plan, balancing the opinion makers and those who
are active in the community, the elected officials
and the civic leaders and the business leaders and
so on. And do it with the sense of the long-term.
It's hard to do, the pressures are great, but it's
absolutely crucial to a great city.
We've had a boom. We're a great, great city and
if we do this right we make this great city the
greatest city for the next century.