Week of 18 June 2001:
For five years Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield has been seeking to convert
to a for-profit health insurance company. Both the Greater New York Hospital
Association and the health care union local 1199 opposed the move, arguing
that a private Blue Cross would value its stock price over its patients, who
are primarily the poor. But the two opponents have now become supporters
after Empire promised to give half a billion dollars from its initial stock
offering in charitable donations to hospitals to buy computer systems. The
hospitals said this would help reduce errors. The union said that
financially stronger hospitals would make them less likely to lay off
workers. "It was not immediately clear how buying such systems would help
poor patients get insurance or health care,"
the Times reports.
Faced with court testimony by a building industry consultant that
contradicted his earlier denials, Councilmember Thomas Ognibene yesterday
reversed himself and admitted that he had accepted gifts from the
consultant, who is at the center of a corruption inquiry involving the
Archie Bunker Dead
Carroll O'Connor died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 76. For 13
years starting in 1971, O'Connor, a New York native who grew up in Forest
Hills, played the character Archie Bunker in two hit television series,
depicting a familiar stereotype of a certain kind of white man from Queens
who was a blue-collar, narrow-minded bigot. But with the percentage of white
people living in Queens falling from 47 to 32 percent in the last ten years,
the loss of once-plentiful manufacturing jobs in the city, and a massive
influx of immigrants of color turning Northwest Queens into the Lower East
Side of the new millennium, it is not just O'Connor, but Archie Bunker, who
The Rent Guidelines Board last night gave residents of New York's 1 million
rent-stabilized apartments a bigger rent increase than anticipated, enraging
tenants but disappointing landlords. At a meeting so raucous the police had
to be called, the board approved a hike of 4 percent for one-year leases and
6 percent for two-year deals, upping the 3 percent and 5 percent increases
it had tentatively approved on May 9. According to the
New York Post, neither tenants
nor landlords could recall another year when the board changed its
Many tenant leaders blamed Mayor Giuliani for the board's change, noting
that all three of his new appointees switched their votes to support the
higher rents. Last month, the mayor had pressed to keep the increase to 3
percent and 5 percent.
Yesterday's rowdy meeting caps a strange year for the board. At its May
gathering, the group first approved the 4 percent and 6 percent hikes, then
reversed itself, saying one member had not understood what he had voted for.
It then approved the 3 percent and 5 percent raises, only to go back to 4
percent and 6 percent yesterday.
The panel rejected a $15 surcharge for tenants paying rents under $500.
Counting On Chaos
Political maneuvering in Albany has created the possibility that New York
City may have to use paper ballots in the September primary. The legislation
being debated arose from court decisions that said the city must give voters
the ability to write in candidates. But the Assembly and Senate differ on
which versions of the legislation to pass because some provisions would give
political parties more control over the State Board of Elections. Daniel
DeFrancesco, director of the New York City Board of Elections, said that
with six major mayoral candidates and nearly 300 City Council candidates,
there was not room on the machines to allow people to write in challengers
for dozens of party positions, like district leader or judicial delegate.
Without new legislation, he said, the only option is paper ballots, which
would mean counting more than a million pieces of paper. That could take
more than two weeks and could delay a runoff election.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of an explosion in the
Astoria hardware store on Father's Day that injured more than 50
firefighters and killed three of them. As in most such tragedies, officials
were looking for a lesson to learn, a mistake in procedure to fix, a policy
to implement. Yesterday, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said that no
lives would have been lost had there been a sprinkler in the basement where
the fire started. The building was not required to have one because it was
built 128 years ago. The Commissioner called for laws requiring sprinkler
systems in all buildings where flammable materials are stored
Though the city continues to add jobs, and in other ways indicates that it
is doing better than the nation as a whole, there are signs that New York
City's economy is "losing steam," according to Crain's New York Business.
Cutbacks in crucial industries such as Wall Street, high tech and
manufacturing have not yet been reflected in the official city data, several
analysts said, and they are likely to get worse. The real shock will come in
December, Crain's said, when Wall Street bonus payments will be much less
than the $13 billion this year, "and are one reason why the New York economy
has held up so well compared with the rest of the country. Wall Street
profits for this year are now likely to be only a third to a half of last
year's, which would reduce bonuses by at least that amount." In anticipation
of lower profits, according to the Wall Street Journal, brokerage houses are
cutting back expenses, sometimes in trivial ways: In some offices of
Salomon Smith Barney, for example, brokers are now forbidden to call 411
directory assistance, and indeed have the number blocked on their phone.
New Charter Revision
Mayor Rudy Giuliani formed his third commission in four years to revise the
city charter late Friday afternoon. Former Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro was
again appointed chairman, as he was for the 1999 commission, whose
recommendations the voters overwhelmingly defeated. What will the new
commission try to change? Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said that he would like New
York City to have nonpartisan elections, an idea proposed by Republican
mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg and one seen as favoring Republican
candidates. Other proposals: to place the scandal-ridden and inept Buildings
Department under the control of the Fire Department, and to make permanent
two agencies that the mayor created by executive order, the Administration
for Children's Services and the Office of Emergency Management.
Good-government groups criticized the mayor for once again giving such
little time for the public to consider the proposals and the commission to
do its work; the commission has only until early September to decide what
recommendations to pitch to the voters on the November ballot. "The mayor
has one last chance to degrade the process of amending the city's
constitution," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research
Group, "and he's taking it."
"Unless unexpected political shifts occur," the Times reports, "lawmakers
will go home without passing a budget, now 11 weeks late, or reaching
agreement on most major bills before them."
The Bush Administration is keeping on Mary Jo White as United States
Attorney for the Southern District of New York, largely to complete two
politically charged investigations (one of Clinton's pardons), according to
Last week's stories...