Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Government

New York City Council Redistricting


 

The latest round of redistricting plans were presented to the City
Council on December 16, 2002. The third round of public hearings begin
February 3. A final plan must be drafted by March and submitted to the
Department of Justice for approval.

View the Districting Commission's proposed new maps for the 51 City Council districts.

Stated Meeting
January 22, 2003
NYC Economic Development Corporation
110 Williams Street
4th Floor Conference Room
New York, NY 10038

Queens
POSTPONED

Staten Island
POSTPONED

Bronx
Monday, February 10, 2003
6-9PM
Lehman College
The Lovinger Theatre
250 Bedford Park Boulevard West
Bronx, NY 10468

Brooklyn
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
6-9 PM
Medgar Evers College, CUNY
Medgar Evers Auditorium
1650 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Manhattan
Thursday, February 13, 2002
6-9 PM
The Council Chamber
City Hall
New York, NY

Stated Meeting
February 26, 2003
NYC Economic Development Corporation
110 Williams Street
4th Floor Conference Room
New York, NY 10038

Ticket Scalping


Say you want to see Janet Jackson this summer, and so does your cousin. You live in Brooklyn; your cousin lives in Chicago. Tickets for concerts in both cities went on sale a couple of weeks back and there are no good seats left at the first places both of you usually go to buy tickets, the box office and the ticket-selling service Ticketmaster.

Your cousin goes online to TicketsNow.com, a Web site she heard always has good seats available. Sure enough, the site has a great seat for the Chicago Janet Jackson concert, but it costs four times what it would have if your cousin had been able to get it at the box office.

TicketsNow.com also has a similarly priced good seat for the New York concert. But when you try to buy it, this message pops up on the computer screen: "New York State statutes currently prohibit us from selling tickets for events taking place in New York State to New York residents."

TicketsNow.com is a ticket broker that buys tickets in order to resell them. In New York State, reselling a ticket for more than 10 percent above its box office price is considered scalping and is prohibited, whether it is done online, from an office or on the street. It is also illegal to hawk tickets at any price within 1,000 feet from where the show is taking place. Though an anti-ticket scalping law governing the resale of tickets has been on the books, in one form or another, for 80 years, scalping for New York sports events, Broadway shows and concerts remains pervasive.

So, if you really want a good seat to the New York Janet Jackson concert you have two options left: 1) Since Illinois law does not cap ticket resale prices, you can get your cousin to buy you the ticket to the concert at Madison Square Garden, assuming you can afford the exorbitant going rate. 2) Wait until the night of the concert and buy a cheaper ticket from one of the illegal scalpers on 34th Street.

Clearly, New York's law -- designed to keep scalpers away from venues and insure ticket prices remain affordable to the average fan -- needs a tune up. But how to fix it as it comes up for renewal this month is unclear. Some advocate scrapping the price cap completely. Others claim eliminating the cap will not lower ticket prices. After all, your cousin from Chicago, where scalping is legal, paid a lot to see Janet Jackson there.

IS SCALPING GOOD?

The president of the League of American Theaters and Producers has called New York's anti ticket scalping law "unrealistic." Rocco Landesman, president of the Jujamcyn chain of Broadway theaters, has complained that the law does not stop the scalping of tickets to New York events, but just forces it out of state. Big venues like Madison Square Garden are most concerned about rampant street scalping and have pushed for increasing the no scalp zone from 1,000 to 1,500 feet. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says the root of the ticket problem is "ice," a slang term for bribes given in exchange for tickets at the box office, and fraudulent promoters who divert the best seats to networks of connected brokers. He favors cracking down on this big time corruption but letting the free market dictate prices for scalped tickets. Others favor keeping the law until fraud and bribery are eliminated, arguing the free market is not really free if premium scalpers control the best seats and manipulate prices.

Some economists and policy makers agree the free market approach is the right solution. They argue that box office prices are too low and that if fans were not willing to pay higher prices, there would be no scalping. Scalpers, they argue, are paid to wait in line by people who cannot do so. Ticket brokers and some legislators have added that uncapping New York's ticket resale price will bring brokers and their tax dollars back to New York, lead to an increase in ticket supply and lower prices.

But supporters of a cap on the price of tickets being resold point out that tickets were neither cheaper nor more plentiful when New Jersey experimented with a free market in tickets between 1995 and 1997. Some economists argue the free market would hurt the long term economic growth of the entertainment industry as it steadily loses the fans who cannot afford scalped tickets. The affluent fans would stand to gain most. Consumer advocates believe average fans could not compete with the corporate accounts for good seats. The real consumer issue would be the unavailability of tickets for those who cannot afford the brokers' prices. And, since public tax dollars underwrite venues, it is important that there is a fair ticket distribution system, says advocate Russ Haven of New York Public Interest Group.

COMPLEX DISTINCTIONS

How do you craft a single anti-scalping law that can apply to the immense variety of events and ticket buyers in New York City? The diversity encompasses:

  • A hit Broadway musical like The Producers
  • A two night stint of Yo Yo Ma at Lincoln Center.
  • The not-so-hot Mets at Shea.
  • A one night only Britney Spears rock concert for preteens.
  • A long-running show for tourists.
  • A season of the opera for subscribers.
  • Meetings with clients at the Giants game.

Should limited run, super popular events be treated the same way as ongoing, more easily-accessed events? Should a distinction be drawn between sports and theater? What about between plays in Central Park and Mel Brooks' The Producers at the St. James Theater?

For example, Broadway is having a hot year while sport ticket sales are in a slump. Scalped tickets for The Producers cost two to five times the box office price. Meanwhile, a March Wall Street Journal survey found that corporate types were practically giving away their prime seats to sports events and you could get Knicks tickets on Ebay auctions for less than the price listed on the ticket. Sometimes scalped tickets for less popular events cost less than the original price; some scalpers do not gouge consumers but deliver great deals.

Finally, the distinction between scalpers on the one hand and entertainers, producers, and original sellers on the other is not always clear. Many performers feel scalpers have too much power and devise creative ways to make sure fans, not "diggers" hired by scalpers to wait in line at the box office, get tickets to their shows-- giving out bracelets, running lotteries, keeping lists of names and checking IDs. When Hootie and the Blowfish discovered that over 500 tickets for their 1996 Jones Beach concerts were withheld from public sale and then sold directly to ticket brokers, they voided those tickets and re-released them directly to the public. Alternatively, some entertainers work closely with ticket brokers, such as professional ball players who make money by selling their allotted seats. Though Ticketmaster says it prevents brokers from buying up blocks of tickets by limiting the number of tickets a person can buy for a given show, Ticketmaster plays the scalper in charging large convenience or service fees that raise ticket prices more than 10 percent above the original box office prices but are considered legal anyway. Ticketmaster kicks back a portion of these fees to theaters and promoters in exchange for exclusive rights to sell their tickets. Theaters also charge maintenance fees, which are tacked on to rising box office prices. Finally, scalping can even be good P.R. for producers of a Broadway show: brokers who buy up many tickets ensure shows are sold out. Long lines at the box office are great advertising. Plus producers and performers stay on the good side of fans by shifting all blame for high ticket prices to the scalpers.

THE PUBLIC INTEREST

The debate over ticket scalping legislation belies a more fundamental ideological debate over an industry that is at the heart of New York City's identity. Should going to a ball game be a protected right for all those who live in the entertainment capital of the world? Should all scalpers -- scrappy entrepreneurs, season ticket holders, and corrupt profiteers -- be treated equal? These questions are not new; they have been batted around since New York passed its first anti- scalping statute in 1920.

The slang term scalping was originally used to refer to a killing, political or economic. Stock and grain scalpers of the 1880s were speculators who bought with the intention of making profits on resales. Street scalpers selling fake train tickets were the menace of the railroad companies and their passengers 100 years ago; in response, elaborate ticket seals and watermarks were devised. (Today, serial numbers are used.) In the theater, some ticket brokers played a role in underwriting performances.

But by the 1920s legislators believed brokers were monopolizing the market of top theater tickets for popular shows and began regulating resale prices. Soon afterwards New York's cap on ticket resale prices was deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that price regulation was permissible only when the business to be regulated was "affected with a public interest" and the entertainment industry did not satisfy this criterion. This logic, however, was soon turned on its head and by the 1960s the federal court concluded that anti-ticket scalping legislation was designed to protect the public interest.

In 1967 a woman bought two $20 tickets from the box office to "Die Fledermaus" at the Metropolitan Opera. Her husband refused to go with her so she placed an ad in the newspaper offering the tickets for sale. Plainclothes police officers purchased the tickets for $40 each and then arrested her for scalping. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled her not guilty and distinguished between those who are in the business of scalping and those who are just looking to unload a ticket they intended to use. The Court said that the purpose of the state's anti-scalping legislation was to eliminate speculation in the business of reselling tickets.

Over the past 10 years, there have been plenty of stadium arrests; the stellar 1998 Yankee season ended with 242 charged with scalping. But the focus has been on organized ticket rackets. Members of the Consumer Affairs Bureau and investigators from the State Attorney General's office investigated the source of the confiscated 1998 Yankee tickets to see if blocks of tickets were being sold illegally to scalpers by box office workers. Last summer, an organized ring of bribery schemes that diverted Yankees and Mets tickets from ticket agents to scalpers was discovered by the Attorney General and Manhattan District Attorney's Office. An investigation into the 1994 Barbra Streisand concerts at Madison Square Garden revealed that approximately 50 percent of the seats never went on public sale; the tickets were held by promoters, producers and other insiders and eventually ended up in the hands of scalpers. Scandals like this one have prompted legislators to propose that ticket sellers be legally required to notify the public as to how many seats are held back from public sale.

Some of the hardest rackets to track involve out of state brokers selling tickets to New York events. In 1995, an appellate court affirmed that the New York State's anti-scalping law could be applied to a Connecticut ticket broker who scalped in New York. Making sure that Internet scalping abides by New York State law is difficult.

SOLUTIONS

What do the fans want to do about scalping and ticket prices? Most think scalping should be legal but do not think it would be fair for a sport league to charge exorbitant free market prices for tickets (Click here and see lessons two and four for rationales).

How to try to please the fans:

  1. Eliminate the middle man and let the entertainers arrange deals between season ticket holders and fans looking for tickets. Letting entertainers sell their own tickets, however, certainly is not guaranteed to lower prices.
  2. Get those freebie tickets for celebrities, politicians, and insiders back to the box office.
  3. Compromise: Raise the ticket resale price cap to 20 or 30 percent above the box office price -- enough to allow scalpers a fair profit, but not so much that fans get ripped off. In other words, treat scalping like securities trading: legal but regulated. Alternatively, raise the box office price a bit for popular events in order to try to stem runaway scalping. (This is what the producers of "The Producers" did when they raised the top ticket price to $100. It did not help much.)
  4. Allow venues to establish a designated area on site where tickets can be resold for their box office prices. These areas accommodate season ticket holders who may have extras they don't need on a game-by-game basis. Click here for an online equivalent of this idea.

 

Polls


With races for the United States Senate and the Presidency running neck-and-neck, New Yorkers reside in a special hell this year -- a polling hell. If the election were being held today, all we REALLY know is that some politicians would be winners, and others would be losers.

The only advantage of the races being so close this year is that New Yorkers will be spared the normal spectacle of a candidate way behind in the polls suddenly, to the media's amazement, ALMOST closing the gap as Election Day approaches. This is not some odd inexplicable (and regularly repeated) miracle. It is a calculated strategy on the part of the candidate ahead in the polls: Better to run out the clock, letting the opponent get close, than to change the stump speech, introduce a new idea, and thus perhaps risk a gaffe that could cost the election.

But with Bush or Lazio ahead in one day's poll, and Gore or Clinton ahead in the next day's, we are getting a horse race that is less exciting than confusing - as well as pointless, and inaccurate.

I'm a big fan of polling. But I'm not a big fan of most reporting about polls. News organizations use polls to call a winner. We should instead be using polls to understand the pols, and how they are framing their campaigns. Journalists should be more upfront about the limitations of our polling methods -- and there are many. And we should spend more money to do the job of polling correctly.

MIXING APPLES AND ORANGES

Polls showed Al Gore way ahead in the race for the Presidency right after the Democratic National Convention in August, but then falling behind by the second week of October. Was this a measurement of an actual decline in support for the Democratic nominee? I think not. The early polls were polls of registered voters. The later polls were polls of likely voters (those who have voted in the last few elections). Democrats are somewhat less likely to vote than are Republicans. This makes the Democrats show up better in polls of registered voters, while Republicans show more strength in polls of likely voters. This crucial fact is occasionally explained in print stories about polls. It is never explained on radio or local TV.

If polling likely voters is more accurate than polling registered voters, and if movement up or down from week to week can only be measured accurately if the polling method is consistent from poll to poll, why don't we always just conduct polls of likely voters? One answer is simply that it is more expensive and more time-consuming to do so. It literally doubles the time and cost to find a likely voter rather than make do simply with a registered one. But there is an even less honorable reason, which I will explain in a moment.

WHY POLLS ARE INCREASINGLY INACCURATE

Even if just one polling method were used consistently, the truth is, typical polls are much less accurate than readers (and, I suspect, editors) have been led to believe. There are many reasons for this.

First, voters are getting harder and harder to sample. Pollsters nowadays make five to ten calls to get one valid response. In the 1988 presidential race, pollsters made two or three calls to get a valid response, and complained about that.

Second, people move more frequently, changing their voting address on average once every five years or so. This makes it more difficult for pollsters to confirm likely voters by asking for whom they voted in previous elections.

Third, new patterns of quasi-marriage and racial intermarriage that have emerged over the past decade have made it more difficult to "profile" a voting district. Pollsters must make an estimate of all voters' age, family status, gender and race to draw a representative sample. If 50 white Christian males from a certain district are polled, do they stand for 5,000 likely voters in the district's population or 8,000? If 5,000, then their answers might be magnified in the poll 60 percent more than if they stand for 8,000. Is a family counted as black if only the husband is black? Pollsters usually do. Is a family counted as Hispanic if only the husband is Hispanic? Some pollsters do, at least for some election polls, and some don't. Does this square with YOUR views on family life?

This campaign season presents extra difficulties for pollsters because it has been a full ten years since the last federal census. The data collected in the count this April will not be released until well after the elections.

They simply are not ready. That means pollsters have been dependent on 1990 base data, updated by marketing data collected by commercial companies. Such data tends to be pretty good in wealthy districts, but not in poor districts. Marketers are simply not as interested in poor districts, and thus don't put as much effort into understanding them. The typical American has moved at least once since the last census in 1990, and the poor have, on average, moved even more often.

Finally, voters' opinions are often quite fluid and changeable. Something in the news that day could affect their opinions, which could change the next day. They also have become more poll-savvy. They shape their responses to what they think pollsters want to hear. Seven years ago, polls showed David Dinkins winning over Rudy Giuliani. It turned out that many people who simply would not vote for a black candidate told pollsters they would. The same thing could happen this year in the Presidential race, with a Jew on the ticket.

INHERENT INACCURACY: THE "MARGIN OF ERROR"

This season's races are being called "statistical dead heats" and "too close to call," even though on any day a poll will show one candidate with at least a small lead. My own informal discussions with members of the public suggest they don't really understand how there can be a tie if the numbers show one candidate ahead in a poll, nor what the anchors mean when they throw in something about a "margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent." If they have any opinions at all about this, they ascribe the weasel wording to imperfections in polling techniques -- the difficulties in getting the most representative people to interview, due to the issues discussed above.

But even if the sample of actual voters polled were an exact demographic representation of the electorate as a whole (which is never the case), the results would still not mirror the real world exactly. This is a simple fact of statistics. Think about what happens when we "poll" a penny about "voting" heads or tails. If a perfectly balanced coin is tossed many thousands of times, the "poll" will end up even: Half the time the penny will wind up heads, and half the time tails. But if we toss it up only ten times, it is more likely to have uneven results, perhaps seven heads to three tails. We call this a "winning streak." Thousands of tosses have many such streaks of heads or tails, which cancel each other out.

Choosing a person to be polled is like tossing a penny. One person may say Lazio (Heads!). A second person, demographically identical, might choose Clinton (Tails!). To make sure the "streaks" cancel out, the pollster must talk to many, many voters -- more, indeed, than they usually talk to.

That is why polls usually carry a disclaimer -- a "margin of error" -- which is based loosely on the work of a mathematician named Jacques Bernoulli. Bernoulli died more than 80 years before the Constitution was ratified, so he never met a United States Senator. In fact, the city where he lived was close to the border between what is now Italy and Switzerland, and changed hands during his lifetime, so he tended to stay out of politics. But he understood the process. [Math-averse readers may want to skip the next several paragraphs] He said that if we "poll" the coin 1,000 times, we would rarely get a precise 500-500 tie between heads and tails. But 19 times out of 20, he discovered, we will get a result between 465 and 535.

Statisticians call that "19 times out of 20" an expression of the "confidence level." If you divide 19 by 20, you get 0.95, or 95 percent. The difference between 465 and 500 (or 500 and 535) represents the margin of error--35, in our example. The 35 divided by 1,000 (the size of the sample) is 0.035, or 3.5 percent. That 95 percent level is the most commonly used in the statisticians' version of the real world.

Thus, a poll of 1,000 people would say that 95 percent of the time the reported results fall within 3.5 percent of the results that could be expected if the entire electorate were polled. That statement is roughly in line with one approved more than a decade ago by the American Statistical Association.

The smaller the number of people polled, obviously, the larger the margin of error. But that is true as well for a "subsample" in a large poll. Given our hypothetical newspaper poll of 1,000 people, for example, if we want to talk about men's opinions (based on the 500 men interviewed for the poll), the margin of error has increased to plus or minus five percent. If we talk about black men's opinions (based on the 100 black men interviewed), the error limit reaches more than 10 percent. And if we talk about Hispanics' views (based on 50 Hispanics interviewed) the error limit cannot even be calculated using Bernoulli's math.

The problem is not only that the public is generally uninformed about these inherent inaccuracies in polling statistics. It is also that the media rarely provide the basic information about specific polls -- such as sample sizes, dates the poll was run, error limits - in order for even informed viewers to assess them. This is certainly true when they are reporting on polls by other organizations -- and most people read or hear about one news organization's poll only when another news organization reports it.

WHY THE PRESS USES POLLS ANYWAY

It is not just the public who understands little about polls. Most reporters deliver the results of a steady stream of polls -- simplistically reducing the results to "who's ahead, who's behind" -- without themselves having seen (much less analyzed) any of the raw data or any detailed explanations of their methodology. Why do they do this? By using polls for "horse race" reporting, news reporters don't really have to think, and the news organizations that employ them don't have to pay them extra for the time to do so. Why actually read and understand the candidates' position papers when you can report on poll results, especially results of others' polls you haven't put any money or effort into?

But saving time, expense and thought are not the only motivations for bad polling methods and bad reporting of poll results. One definition of "newsworthy" is "surprising." A badly done poll may produce surprising results, and thus be more widely repeated!

Paradoxically, our shallow use of polls often results in the least surprising, and most dubious, interpretation of the reality of candidates and their campaigns. We as journalists wind up reinforcing the standard images of the candidates (often created, or helped along, by their opponents). It is hard for me to believe that George W. Bush is as dumb as he looks, that Al Gore is so wooden, that Hillary Clinton is so dishonest or that Rick Lazio is so mean.

WHY THE PRESS SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO POLLS

Despite their inherent problems, news organizations and academic institutions should be polling, to give them better insight into the candidates' campaigns. Consider this defensive polling. Candidates themselves poll constantly - first to produce numbers they can show to early donors, often even before they announce a candidacy. Candidates then poll to see potential voters' reactions to specific issues, and thus refine their positions on those issues. And candidates track their progress during the campaign itself with weekly and sometimes even daily polls.

Polling is thus integral to modern campaigning. Before Election Day itself, candidates' carefully honed images, guided by polling, are shaping the outcome.

The media should be focusing on the reality behind those images, images that tend to become more cartoon-like and one-dimensional as Election Day approaches. The closeness in the polls this year, for example, can help explain why the candidates are still experimenting with their messages, only a few weeks shy of the election.

There are many polling techniques that have been developed over the years, mainly for use in survey work on sexual practices, that can overcome the inherent errors in polling. Yes, they would cost more, about double what it normally costs now (which is up to $50,000 for a poll of 1,000 voters). It seems a small price to get it right.

Steve Ross teaches at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, and conducts several polls and surveys each year, including the largest annual survey of how journalists use cyberspace. He has authored 18 books, including one on statistics.

The Press and the Process


 

When George W. Bush made an insulting remark about New York Times reporter Adam Clymer that was inadvertently picked up by the microphones at a campaign stop last month, Times editors debated whether to refer to the comment as a "vulgarity" or an "obscenity." Whatever it was, it was not a political liability. Bush refused to apologize. And why should he? It was not the first time a presidential candidate (or for that matter a president) had insulted a journalist. His very father had revived a sagging campaign a decade ago by attacking CBS News anchor Dan Rather. This time around, other members of the press editorialized on how the comment would help the younger Bush's popularity: If there is anyone lower in public esteem than a politician, it is a member of the press.

During a campaign season, though, it is hard to keep the two apart.

For much of the first hundred years of American history, voters went out to see and hear candidates for themselves. But since 1896, when presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant first took reporters along on the campaign trail, the role of the press in political campaigns has steadily increased.

Despite the growing amount of political coverage, some voters complain that they cannot learn about the issues they really want to know about. What they get instead are detail after detail on the candidates' private lives, the "horse-race," the politicians' personality, the campaign tactics. Political journalists "are interested mainly in pure politics and can be coerced into examining the substance of an issue only as a last resort," James Fallows wrote four years ago in "Why Americans Hate the Media."

It is ironic that Bush's anger towards Clymer was reportedly based on Clymer's coverage of Texas' abysmal health care record and a story that rated the accuracy of a Bush ad on prescription drugs as "zero." But what became the big national news story had nothing to do with health care or prescription drugs; it was that Bush had uttered a cuss word.

Voter turnout has continued to fall over the past 40 years, while the substance of press coverage has gotten more superficial and the business of covering the campaigns has become more lucrative. Is there a connection: Has the press played a role in the transformation of the citizen from participant to spectator? There may be no way of knowing for sure, but if Americans are generally not impressed with journalists, they do not blame them for this decline in political engagement. It's not just voter turnout that is down, after all; the number of people who seek out campaign news is at record lows as well, something surely the news organizations aren't trying to bring about. But even if they are not to blame, critics say, the press still could be doing things differently -- and that could make a difference.

THE MEDIA CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN

Though New York City is known as the media capital of the world, with a tough, sometimes mean-spirited, press corps, as well as powerful, and entertaining, politicians, there are firsts even here. And so it was in February, when the Apollo Theater housed the first presidential candidate debate ever in Harlem, between Democratic primary opponents Al Gore and Bill Bradley. It was a rare opportunity for an African-American community to gain the attention of the national candidates.

With hundreds of journalists at the scene, chanting crowds of supporters, and nine television trucks along 125th Street, the media frenzy had many in Harlem wondering if the debate had deteriorated from a historic event into a big show.

"It's nice that it's at the Apollo, but this is a circus," said Harlem resident Shawn Faloye, as a man on a six-foot-tall unicycle with an Al Gore sign peddled past. "What I'm looking at doesn't seem real."

Before the debate had even started, news organizations announced polls showing Gore held a 2-1 margin over Bradley among black voters, making any substance seem irrelevant. The focus turned instead to showmanship and the insults being hurled by the two candidates who debated in front of a handpicked crowd that included prominent politicians and celebrities.

The press headquarters was situated across the street from the Apollo, in the second floor of a church. There, over one hundred journalists sat at rows of tables, snacking on cold-cut sandwiches, talking on the phone, and typing on laptop computers. In the front of the room, ten televisions broadcast the debate.

In the end, much of the national press had traveled hundreds of miles to watch the historic Harlem debates on TV, just like the rest of the country. Two-thirds of the public still gets their election news primarily from television.

THE MEDIA TOWN GOES TO THE CIRCUS

This summer, the New York Times sent a staff of 70 to cover the Republican and Democratic conventions and filled five to six pages a day. They were not alone. A record 15,000 journalists received credentials to cover each of the conventions. This was an incredible number, especially considering that the arenas only seat around 50,000 people at a time, and that the national conventions have not produced any real news in four decades; they have become essentially massive pep-rallies to publicize foregone conclusions.

With the expansion of magazines, cable stations, and the Internet, political media outlets have flourished and the amount of material needed to fill those outlets has increased.

New Yorkers have more ways to follow the national and local campaigns than any other city. There are four daily newspapers, scores of alternative, community, and ethnic newspapers, 24 hours of local news, one of the most prominent public radio stations in the country, and a host of local election websites.

But more doesn't necessarily mean better. Danny Schechter of the public interest organization, MediaChannel.org, gives the New York press a poor rating for their campaign reporting.

"The coverage is often stripped of context and, while reporting on what candidates say, rarely investigate the interests they represent, or the background of the issues they raise," Schechter says. And in the weeks leading up to election day, he adds, the temptation to cover the sensational increases.

DOING LESS WITH MORE

Despite the massive amount of money and time spent covering politics and elections on the national level, voters don't seem to be impressed with the result.

In a recent study, 68 percent of voters gave the 2000 presidential campaign coverage a rating of "fair" or "poor." Only 5 percent rated it as "excellent." They also felt they learned the most from watching a live political debate (the least frequent programming) and least from Sunday morning political programs and radio talk shows (the most common kinds of programming).

Some critics say that's because real and original reporting is actually shrinking.

A study by the Pew Research Center showed that three-quarters of the national election coverage between February and June included two main themes: Gore lies and is marred by the Clinton scandal, and Bush is "a different kind of Republican."

Jane Hall, a teacher of journalism ethics at American University, said the reoccurring themes stemmed from "pure opinion, rather than journalistic analysis."

But it's not just opinion being used to fill pages and television news.

As comedian Al Franken once remarked, "There are so many great things about CNN. If something important happens, CNN will show it over and over again -- like when Bob Dole fell down at a campaign rally."

COVERING THE PERSONALITIES

Last week, local journalists tried to keep pace with Senate candidate Hillary Clinton, as she set a frantic campaign pace in the city.

They rode in vans from her chat with Brooklyn law students to a meeting with teachers in Manhattan. They mingled at the open bar before she gave the keynote address on gay rights at the Empire State Pride dinner. They tripped over each other in an effort to position their tape-recorders and microphones for the quote that would shape a daily, and perhaps, national story.

The City Hall reporters, on the other hand, were shuttled to the Bronx to hear the mayor give a pitch for the new fundraising plan at the New York Botanical Gardens. Giuliani was presented with a tree and quipped about how he had cleared his schedule that night to watch the Yankees.

It wasn't the prize assignment the City Hall reporters expected.

Before Giuliani dropped out of the Senate race, the reporters were set to cover arguably the most watched race in the country. With Clinton and Giuliani exchanging words nearly a year before the election, the race was shaping up more like a showdown for City Sheriff than a Senate seat.

But they weren't the only local reporters whose careers took a downturn because of a change in Republican candidates. This summer, two biographies of Mayor Giuliani came out within days of each other, obviously timed for the middle of a heated campaign. However, the authors soon found themselves on the radio talk shows and in newspapers explaining why the books were still relevant. The first printing of "Rudy!" the book by Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett, was cut from 100,000 to 45,000 copies.

Still, that's 45,000 people who wanted to read a book whose biggest revelations were about Giuliani's long-dead father.

While most voters say they do not want to know about candidates' private lives, they do like to know about traits like honesty, and they like to be able to connect with them on a personal level.

And despite polls throughout the Monica Lewinsky affair that said the public thought the media was making it too big an issue, the Barbara Walter's interview with Lewinsky drew an estimated 48 million people. Only the Super bowl drew more viewers that year.

ADS INSTEAD OF NEWS

In this year's primary race in New Jersey, residents of New York City were ten times more likely to see a campaign ad from John Corzine than a news story about the race.

That's not just because he's from a neighboring state and doesn't deserve news coverage. Critics say media organizations that are supposed to provide voters with information are, instead, profiting from it.

This year local and national TV stations will earn somewhere between $600 million and $1 billion in political advertising, compared with $90 million twenty years ago. With the networks headquarters and the largest media market in the country, New York City media corporations see substantial portions of that money.

While ad income from campaigns is up, some networks are deciding to cut the less "profitable" kind of campaign coverage.

Although this presidential race is the closest in years, NBC and Fox Networks decided not to air the first presidential debates, showing baseball and a season premiere instead.

Earlier this year, broadcasters opposed proposed changes in Federal Communications Commission regulations that would allow for free political airtime. Media lobbyists mustered the political weight to defeat the proposal in the Senate and sway even campaign finance reform advocate, John McCain, who stated that the "FCC is clearly overstepping its authority here."

A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity cited television broadcasters as the biggest block to campaign finance reform.

But the battle for reform in television coverage hasn't stopped. Last week, under pressure from campaign reform groups, CBS and NBC announced that they would allow five minutes per day of issue discussion in the month before the elections.

HORSERACE AND TACTICS

In a 1999 study, only one in ten voters said they were interested in polls about which candidate was winning or losing at a given time. But this year, evening network news stories examining 'horserace' coverage are up 26 percent since the last election. [See Steve Ross' analysis of polling in this week's Feature]

But polls aren't always just meaningless facts to tease and amuse the audience. A recent study by the Poynter Institute indicated that voters who were poll-savvy also knew more about the issues and the candidates.

Polls also give the public, rather than the candidates or journalists, a chance to voice their opinion.

The problem, critics say, is when the polls drive the news and replace a meaningful discussion of issues.

"When employed inappropriately by overzealous reporters and analysts," said Kathleen A. Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News, "polls can be used to create an exaggerated sense of precision that misleads more than it informs."

Another criticism is a journalistic tendency to focus on "behind the scenes" strategy and political maneuvering.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton held a meeting with thirteen teenagers who asked detailed questions about guns in school, job-training programs, and scholarships for inner-city kids. Just a month earlier, the President met with a panel that consisted of the network anchors, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw. The questions posed by the two groups were vastly different.

"None of the questions from these news professionals concerned the impact of legislation or politics on people's lives," Fallows wrote in his article "Why American's Hate the Media." "Nearly all concerned the struggle for individual advancement among candidates."

Journalists find it "more fun and easier," Fallows said, to write about "positioning" and "handling" an issue than they do looking into the policy issue itself.

WHAT THE PRESS CAN DO

It's not just good government groups concerned that less than half of the population voted in the last national election. News programs are also concerned if people care less, and therefore read and watch less.

Critics suggest that that there are things news organizations can do in order to improve their coverage and get voters to engage.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, says that news organizations should reach out to a younger audience, emphasize the issues and their importance, and report less on private lives and political tactics. But even he admits there are limits to what anyone can accomplish.

"In the end, it may turn out there is nothing that news organizations can do to stem erosion of the political news audience, short of sending Gore and Bush to a desert island and having people vote to banish one or the other."

 

Bush Plan Doesn't Add Up


There he goes again.

Last week, President George W. Bush announced the details of his new plan for restoring economic prosperity, the premise of which should be all too familiar by now: hundreds of billions of dollars in giveaways for the wealthiest of America's taxpayers.

Meanwhile, most city and county governments around the country are drowning in red ink and reaching for service cuts and property tax increases as their only available life preservers, just as the mayor and the City Council were forced to do here last year.

The Bucks Start Where?
Who is going to solve New York's fiscal crisis ­ Washington, Albany, or the city itself?
Transcript of President George W. Bush's Economic Proposal
Governor George Pataki's State of the State Address
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's remarks at the Citizens Budget Commission
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's Reaction to the Bush Proposal

If President Bush is really interested in keeping our taxes low and the streets of our communities safe, then what he should have proposed was a federal revenue sharing program that offers aid directly to local governments.

Federal revenue sharing means that Washington D.C. would establish a large pot of federal dollars that could be distributed to cities and counties on the basis of population. In exchange, these local governments would agree touse the funds for budget-deficit relief and to hold the line on property tax rates.

By helping local governments balance their budgets, Washington D.C. would also be preventing drastic reductions to the vital services provided by our police officers, fire fighters and sanitation workers.

By helping local governments maintain these services without resorting to property tax hikes, Washington would also be shielding our recovering economy from the deflationary effects of new taxes.

Compare the benefits of such a program with the Bush administration's current plan to direct so much tax relief to America's wealthiest one percent ­ relief that would be put to better use by keeping cops on our streets and property tax rates stable.

A real $80 billion federal revenue sharing program would help cash-strapped localities from Seattle to Schenectady and its benefits to New York City would be substantial. The average city homeowner could see his or her property taxes fall by $207, while the average co-op owner could see a reduction of $307. Revenue sharing would also provide more than $1 billion in budget deficit relief, thus allowing the City Council and the mayor to spare vital services like police, fire, and sanitation from some of the more dreadful cuts that now seem unavoidable.

What Americans ­ and New Yorkers especially ­ need is responsible leadership from Washington ­ not a cynical shell game. To stimulate the economy, the president should stop offering endless tax giveaways for the few while forcing local governments to raise taxes for the many.

During periods of recession, it becomes even more important for local governments like ours to provide the services that make our communities livable and safe. We need every resource we can get to keep fighting crime,to address homelessness, and to maintain the quality of life.

President Bush could have announced a different plan last Tuesday, a plan to help local governments and homeowners across the nation. Instead, he gave us more of the same.

 


 

2003 State of the State Address


 

The Bucks Start Where?
Who is going to solve New York's fiscal crisis ­ Washington, Albany, or the city itself?
Transcript of President George W. Bush's Economic Proposal
Governor George Pataki's State of the State Address
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's remarks at the Citizens Budget Commission
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's Reaction to the Bush Proposal

We meet at a pivotal time in New York's history a time when you and I in this chamber ­ and collectively, all New Yorkers ­ have within our grasp the power to consciously determine whether we, as a people who have been tried and tested by great adversity, have the will and courage to transcend that adversity in a way that demonstrates the strength of our collective character.

There is no question in my mind about the direction in which that collective character will lead us. If you believe that "every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before" there can be no doubt about New York's future.

This generation of New Yorkers has already given us every right to believe that ours is a future rich with hope and promise. We have already demonstrated our strength, our character and our courage in defiance of those who would rob us of our freedom. Now we must rally that same spirit against a crisis that threatens our prosperity.

And in doing so, we must be frank, honest and clear about the scope of the crisis we now face.

We live under the continued threat of terrorist attacks. At the same time, we are coping with the devastating economic fallout from a barbaric assault on New York City. And we are still recovering from a national recession that has cost our state jobs while decimating our state's finances. Yet, despite the gravity of these challenges, our greatest asset is the spirit of unity that has guided us in the past.

I said it last week, and I'll say it again: La union hace la fuerza ­ In unity there is strength.

Times are tough but our future is bright, because we made the right decisions during the past eight years ­ and most importantly ­ because New Yorkers are strong, united and share a common purpose. We faced extreme adversity in the past, and we prevailed.

Now, we face challenges that threaten our future -- and we will meet those challenges with the same mettle and equal resolve. And while we deal with the immediate crisis we must also look beyond today and focus our sights and our energies towards the bright future that awaits us tomorrow.

For we know that if we act responsibly, the crisis before us will be temporary, and if we build on the remarkable progress we've already made, the promise of the future we seek will be unlimited. It will be a future that will see New York become a world leader in the high-tech economy in the 21st century, just as we were leaders in manufacturing in the 20th century. Where all students with a degree in computer science, biology or physics, will be able to begin a high-tech career right within commuting distance of their hometown.

It will be a future where families move to New York to send their children to our first-class elementary and secondary schools, just as students from across the country and around the globe today come to New York to attend one of our world-class colleges or universities. It will be a future where every single child has access to affordable, quality health care and one where our senior citizens think more about where they'll spend their vacations, than how they'll pay for their prescriptions. It will be a future where taxes are lower than they are today, the economy is stronger and families are more prosperous. It will be a future where every family feels safe not only in their homes and in their neighborhoods, but from the threat of terror. It will be a future where people from around the globe seeking the promise of freedom in America will find a good job, affordable housing and a good education, right here in New York. It will be a future where New York's air and water are even cleaner than at the turn of the century and where millions of acres of open space and wildlife habitat are preserved forever.

And it will be a future where all New Yorkers, all Americans and people from across the globe come to visit, work and live in a reborn Lower Manhattan ­ in numbers greater than ever before.

Our future will be one of unlimited opportunity if we responsibly navigate the rough waters we face today. The only way we can do it is together. Partisanship must once again be cast aside. Differences of opinions will exist but they must be worked out in good faith. Partisanship and parochial concerns will only undermine our efforts to overcome the challenges we face. Senator Bruno, Speaker Silver and all my colleagues in the Legislature, I once again extend my hand in cooperation.

I know we can go forward in a non-partisan manner. I know we can because we have in the past. I know we can because we must. The decisions we make will not always be easy ­nor will the actions we take ­but they will be necessary, and they will lead New York back to prosperity.

Yet, the value of prosperity is diminished unless New Yorkers feel safe. Protecting New Yorkers from harm must always be our top priority.

During the past eight years we've enacted some of the toughest crime-fighting policies in the nation. And today, neighborhoods across New York State are safer than they've been since 1975. Since September 11, we've had to face the sobering reality that there are terrorists, both at home and abroad, who want to harm us and who plot against us. It is a reality I address every day. The threat is real, but so is our resolve.

No state is doing more to protect its citizens than New York. Within one month of the attacks we established the Office of Public Security to coordinate efforts with the federal Department of Homeland Security. We unveiled the Counter-Terrorism Network, a secure communications system that provides local law enforcement with instantaneous terrorism-related alerts, advisories and background information. Lt. Governor Donohue has been traveling the State educating local departments on its use. Mary, thank you for all you have done on this and so many other issues of importance to the people of New York State.

We've completed the nation's first vulnerability assessment of key infrastructure areas across the State.

Our Cyber-Security & Critical Infrastructure Coordination Initiative is working to protect individuals and businesses from Internet crime and terrorism. Our Fraudulent Documents Task Force has resulted in the shutdown of criminal ID mills and the arrest of more than 600 suspects. In the fight against bio-terror, we put in place the Health Alert Network to collect, analyze and share reportable disease data between the State and health care facilities.

We upgraded security at all of our airports, using the most advanced technology at JFK and La Guardia. And in late October, the Transportation Security Administration agreed to our request to require criminal background checks on employees working in "sterile areas" of airport terminals, the area between bag screening and the plane.

We have strengthened security at our borders by increasing the number of State Police who secure vulnerable points of entry. And we'll continue to work with Washington to make sure that federal agencies such as the INS, Customs and the FBI are fulfilling their responsibility for border security.

We also have the protection of the finest National Guard force in the nation. I have activated our Guard more than 30 times since becoming Governor. Each time they have responded quickly, courageously and heroically. The men and women of the National Guard have also been called by the President to fight overseas. They've served in Afghanistan and as we speak, hundreds are deployed in such nations as Bosnia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and thousands more are ready to go. They are today's minutemen and they are always there for us. As always General Maguire, and to all of the men and women of the National Guard, New York salutes you.

Despite all we've done, we know that a terrorist only has to strike once to wreak havoc.

A carefully thought out and vigilant security effort can reduce the danger and lower the likelihood of such attacks. I urge this body to build on the progress we've already made by passing additional anti-terror measures developed in conjunction with Attorney General Spitzer. We must abolish the statute of limitations for all terrorist crimes, and change the penalty for anyone caught in possession of chemical or biological weapons to life in prison without parole. We must also give New York City and State law enforcement the same tools federal officers have in tracking and arresting terrorists. And we must do it without delay. We must also continue to enhance our State's preparedness in the event of natural disasters or future terrorist attacks. A coordinated approach must rely on strong partnerships among all State agencies and the private sector.

Today, I'm pleased to announce the appointment of someone we all know well -- Jim Natoli -- as Director of Disaster Preparedness and Response. This new role is essential in ensuring that New York continues to be pro-active in preparation of our response and recovery procedures.

As we work to continue to shield New Yorkers against further terror, we must never forget the men and women who risk their lives in foreign lands fighting the enemies of freedom.

I mentioned the National Guard. There are thousands of other New Yorkers who proudly serve in all branches of the military. Their cause is just, their courage is great ­ and the people of New York stand with them and with President Bush in their heroic efforts to defend America.

In August of last year I received an email from three Army Reserve soldiers from Rochester who were deployed in Afghanistan. One of those men, Captain Steve McAlpin, is with us here today and he brought something back from his tour of duty that he and his troops wanted us to see. The slab of marble Captain McAlpin holds comes from a bombed-out palace in Afghanistan. The palace was once used as living quarters by Osama bin Laden...not anymore. This slab of marble will now go to our new State Military Museum in Saratoga and forever be a symbol of our resolve to destroy the forces of terror.

Captain McAlpin, New York thanks you for your service to our country, and please pass along our thanks and appreciation to the soldiers in your unit, and particularly Sergeants DelGado and Morales.

As we strengthen public security, it is imperative that we also take swift and aggressive steps to strengthen our economy.

The backbone of a strong family is a good job, and since 1995 we've worked hard to change the policies that discouraged economic growth and job creation.

By September 11, 2001, those policies had helped to create more than 700,000 new jobs. In a single day, much of that progress was wiped out. The terrorist attacks directly led to the loss of almost 100,000 jobs. And the national economic downturn has further jeopardized our efforts to create new jobs.

That is why we must continue the policies that were the foundation for unprecedented growth prior to the attacks; a foundation built on the understanding that New York is the place where dreams come true, where ideas are nurtured, where vision is valued and opportunity is real.

Even in these difficult times, there is a confidence that New York will persevere and will stay on a path to job growth.

That is why the budget I propose will not delay the tax cuts we've already passed. It will, in fact, add new targeted tax incentives to attract additional investment and good, high-tech jobs.

Each of us, time and again, has talked to our constituents about creating jobs, about fighting for every job. And over the past eight years, together, we have fought for every job and created hundreds of thousands of new ones. Let's make sure that what we say at home is what we do in Albany. Let's not say we are going to fight to create jobs and then come to Albany and vote to raise job-killing taxes. It's a choice between the two. We must choose jobs.

As other states adopt massive tax increases in response to their fiscal crises, we must look beyond the short term to the future we want for ourselves and our children.

It's not just about getting through this budget session or even the next. It's about believing in our pro-growth agenda and in the people of New York who make it work -- knowing that their perseverance will lead New York beyond this crisis to even greater economic strength and prosperity.

While other states raise taxes, let us out-compete any state and continue to create new jobs by maintaining New York's eight-year record as the tax-cutting capital of America. In doing so we must pay special attention to the needs of the new high-tech economy.

Two years ago, I set forth a simple but powerful idea: Combine the power of our high-tech industry with the strengths of our top-flight academic institutions -- add active State government support -- and we can create a new economy and a new prosperity for New York. This notion is embodied in our Centers of Excellence -- a network of high-tech research and economic development centers stretching from Buffalo to Brookhaven -- creating an Empire State High Tech Corridor that teams our universities with industry. Already, this corridor has attracted nearly $1 billion in investment from industry, the federal government and the private sector, and it has gained national and international attention.

Fifteen years ago, a new consortium of computer chip manufacturers called SEMATECH announced it would create a state-of-the-art research and development facility. New York State, along with a host of others, vied in an intense competition for that facility. New York lost that competition to Austin, Texas in 1988, and New York lost big. Since that time, Austin's population doubled, and the high-tech economy grew to more than 100,000 employees. When we heard of SEMATECH's plans to launch a second research initiative we knew we had made New York a different place ­a better place for growth and for investment. And we knew this was our second chance. So last year we quietly, but aggressively, went out to convince SEMATECH that New York was the place for it ­ and this time New York won.

This past summer, I announced that International SEMATECH would establish a $400 million Research and Development initiative, right here in Albany. The work at this center will produce the next generation of computer chips, and will make New York a leader of the high-tech frontier. Due to our success with SEMATECH, we are the envy of many states and nations, and after that important announcement, many wondered what we would do for an encore. They are not wondering now. Just this November, we announced that Tokyo Electron Limited, one of the world's largest makers of semiconductor tools, will establish a $300 million R & D center at the Albany Center of Excellence, its first center outside Japan. Together, we have created a powerful nanoelectronics cluster upstate that will bring new investment and new high-tech jobs to New York.

Companies across the state will benefit ­ equipment and material suppliers like Solid State Cooling near Rhinebeck, Praxair in Tonawanda, Ferro Electronics Materials in Penn Yan, Veeco Instruments in Plainview and Air Innovations in Syracuse ­ just to name a few. We are building state-of-the-art facilities across the State with the best in equipment and research capability.

In Buffalo, we have broken ground on the new bioinformatics facility. In Greater Rochester, they are moving forward with labs in a new photonics facility. In Syracuse, site selection has begun for an environmental science facility. In Albany, steel is up and more is on its way for the Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics, and on Long Island site selection and planning is nearly complete for the new construction of the facility for their Center of Information Technology. Along with the facilities, we need to have top talent -- the intellectual capital required to move our efforts forward. And we have that talent right here in New York.

Dr. Jeffrey Skolnick is the new director of the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics. Jeffrey is the MVP in bioinformatics. He began his own successful bio-tech company in California and has brought his extraordinary talent to New York. I know Jeffrey will revitalize the Life Sciences in Buffalo, just like Drew Bledsoe has re-energized the Bills.

And we also have others leading our efforts.

Yacov Shamash -- a leader in creating Long Island's new economy -- from the Long Island Center of Excellence in Information Technology.

Jianshum Zhang -- an international leader in the study of indoor environmental quality -- from the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental Systems. Don Keck -- the father of fiber optic cable -- and Alexis Clare -- an internationally known glass scientist and researcher -- from the Greater Rochester Center of Excellence in Photonics. And Alain Kaloyeros who helped us bring SEMATECH and Tokyo Electron to New York State -- from the Albany Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics.

These New Yorkers are making our state the high-tech capital of the world. Please join me in welcoming these important members of our all-star, high-tech team -- the best and brightest minds you'll find.

And it's not just new people we are attracting with our investments in the future. It's industry giants ­ like IBM and Tokyo Electron ­ and now, another you might have heard of ­ Advanced Micro Devices out of California. AMD is one of the world's leading chip manufacturers, a Fortune 500 company with sites in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Asia.

Today I am proud to announce that AMD, in partnership with IBM, will launch an advanced chip development venture in the Hudson Valley ­ making an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars and creating good, high-tech jobs. AMD is coming to New York because we are making New York State the home of high technology.

But we need to continue our momentum by expanding our Empire State High Tech Corridor.

Therefore, we are moving forward with additional Centers of Excellence -- in Westchester with leading research institutions like New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell and Columbia universities, New York Medical College, and companies like IBM and GE, focused on biotech. And in New York City, with Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Columbia, NYU and other medical research institutions, to build on the biotech industry and academic strengths there.

We must build on the other high-tech and biotech investments we have made -- in our STAR Centers, our Advanced Research Centers and our Centers for Advanced Technology -- in places like Alfred, Binghamton, Potsdam and Ithaca, and throughout our Empire State High Tech Corridor.

Industry and university collaboration are essential to our goal of creating a new economy in New York, and thanks to the efforts of you, my friends...my colleagues in the Legislature, we have made tremendous progress.

This is a critical time in our state's history. All these new projects and initiatives hold promise and they are loaded with incredible potential. They need to be nurtured with the same energy that was used to conceive and attract them.

There is a reason why SEMATECH chose New York, why AMD is coming here. There is a reason why Deutsche Bank located its North American headquarters in Lower Manhattan and why IBM chose to make the largest investment in America in eight years right in the Hudson Valley.

It's because they have a new confidence in New York that didn't exist eight years ago, or 15 years ago. Yes, it's good policies and smart programs, but above all it's a renewed confidence in the State. Confidence in where we are, where we are headed and where we will be in 20 years. They have confidence in a New York that, despite our temporary fiscal crisis, is inherently stronger than it's ever been, but not as strong and not as good as it's going to be.

We have every reason to have confidence in our future, knowing that we can again turn crisis into comeback if we heed the lessons we have learned over the last eight years.

We face a fiscal crisis today of a magnitude that we have not faced in our lifetime. How we meet this challenge will be crucial in shaping the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. It will require tough decisions, but we have made them before and they have worked.

During the past eight years we brought fiscal prudence and responsibility back to State government. We cut taxes more than any state in the nation to help create jobs. We held the line on spending. Only two states have been as restrained in controlling general fund spending as New York.

We set aside record amounts and bolstered our rainy day funds by billions of dollars. As a result, we built our reserves to the highest level in State history.

We reduced the size of the state workforce and made our government more efficient. And we enacted historic debt reform measures and created the first fund in state history to pay down existing debt.

As a result of our efforts, New York's finances were in the best condition in decades and we received four credit rating upgrades - giving the State our best credit rating in 24 years.

That is our record, and we can be proud of it. Now, this crisis requires that we do it again. Our record provides us with a road map to renewal.

The budget plan I will put forward in three weeks will spend less money than we did last year. With the exception of public security, no segment of the budget will be exempt.

While this year we reduced the State workforce, reduced agency spending, and reduced our debt costs, we still face a potential $2 billion deficit in the current fiscal year. And we know the deficit will be several times larger next year.

Unlike the deficits of the past that resulted from poor policies, today's crisis is a result of the horrible attacks of September 11th, exacerbated by the national recession and the unique difficulties of the financial industry so critical to New York's economy.

And this fallout has turned out to be much more severe and drawn out than virtually every economist had predicted just six months ago. But then, the economists had nothing to compare with the devastation of September 11th.

As a result, we simply must spend less money. It is what we did in 1995 and in 1996. There were dire predictions then, but our finances soon improved, and our economy boomed.

While seeking to avoid layoffs, we will work with our public employee unions to further reduce the size of the State workforce and make government the most efficient it can be.

We'll look to privatize certain state assets, take advantage of low-interest rates by refinancing state bonds to reduce debt service costs, and continue our reform efforts to lower the cost of Medicaid and other government programs.

We will look to utilize other available funds, such as tobacco settlement funds and other resources, to help close the shortfall the State will be facing. The use of these funds will allow us to make the necessary spending reductions in a reasoned and responsible fashion.

As we take decisive actions, we must always remember to look for solutions that go beyond this year's budget problems, keeping a clear focus on decisions that will shape our common destiny for years to come.

We only need to look at our own record to know that tough decisions today will lift our State to a stronger, more prosperous tomorrow.

In 1989, New York and the nation faced a recession. New York's government chose massive tax increases in response to the problem. It was the wrong choice. The recession ended in the rest of the country in a short eight months, but in New York it lasted for more than three years, and it cost our state more than 500,000 jobs.

In 1995, when New York's economy and finances were still in a state of crisis, we made the right choice. We cut taxes, reduced spending, and led New York's economy to renewal.

The result was the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs. And that growth allowed us to make record investments in education, health care and the environment.

We know what works and we know what doesn't. Let us work together in the coming months to address these fiscal challenges, relying on the proven fiscal policies and practices that we have put in place together during the past eight years.

And as we look to a future of a safe, fiscally sound and economically vibrant New York, we must always look to improve the education of our children.

Together, we've had many successes in improving and reforming education. We achieved historic New York City school governance reform. We enacted landmark school safety legislation -- a national model. We created quality after-school programs, providing extra learning opportunities and a safe haven from the streets.

We created innovative teacher recruitment programs like Teachers of Tomorrow that, by the end of its third year, will have recruited, retained and trained over 30,000 teachers. We have more certified teachers today than at anytime in our State's history.

We brought about some of the highest learning standards in the nation, and we have provided record resources to implement those standards.

We have made progress, but we need to do more. Last session, we made historic reforms to the New York City school system, putting control and accountability for the city schools where they belong -- with the mayor.

These reforms were a long time coming and I thank Senator Bruno, Speaker Silver and my colleagues in the Legislature for your efforts on behalf of the children of New York City.

Mayor Bloomberg, you're already implementing sweeping reforms. Your leadership is breaking the mold on education. Congratulations.

That law provided more accountability in New York City. This year we should also give the Mayors of our other urban centers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany more input and a greater voice in their school systems.

And as we make the largest school systems more accountable, we must demand the same accountability from the state's education bureaucracy. This year, I will advance sweeping reforms to governance of our schools statewide, by reforming the way our State Board of Regents is chosen. We must make our statewide education system more accountable to parents and their children.

And as we make reforms, let us also refocus the mission of the State Education Department on its primary goal -- educating our students so they can meet our standards and compete in the 21st century economy.

Acupuncture and massage therapy have proven physiological benefits. But let's let the Department of State deal with the testing and licensing of these and nearly 40 other unrelated professions ­ not the Department of Education. Let's let them concentrate on the education of our children.

And while we have made good progress by addressing the teacher shortage, today we must continue to look toward the future. Today, I urge the creation of the finest urban centers in the nation to train the next generation of teachers, to transform the Richardson complex in Buffalo into the premier urban training center for teachers in the 21st Century in partnership with Buffalo State College and the people of Western New York.

And with Mayor Bloomberg and City University of New York, we will work to achieve a similar transformation of Governors Island, to make these historic facilities beacons of educational excellence. Let's turn these crumbling vestiges of the past into a shining example of hope, opportunity and leadership for the future.

And as we march toward that future let's empower New Yorkers with an even greater voice in our democracy. Currently, voters in nearly half the states have initiative and referendum. Let's empower the voters of New York State with that fundamental right, and let's start this year.

In the coming months, I will once again put forth a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill to change a process that has gotten out of hand and needs to be reformed. We all agree that it needs to happen. Let's get it done.

Let's reaffirm our commitment to New York's seniors by protecting the STAR program so they can keep their homes and remain in the communities they helped to build.

And we must continue to pass smart criminal justice reforms. Let's start by expanding the DNA database to include all convicted criminals. We already abolished parole for all violent criminals and witnessed crime rates plunge, let's abolish parole for all convicted felons. Let's help women and children by further improving our domestic violence laws by ensuring any history of violence is taken into account when determining bail for accused abusers, by lengthening orders of protection and by extending the domestic violence laws to protect unmarried couples living together.

And once and for all let's reconcile our differences and reform the failed Rockefeller Drug Laws. Let's begin the process of court reform as Chief Judge Kaye has proposed.

Let's continue New York's national leadership in health care by strengthening and renewing HCRA.

Let's continue to reclaim our waterfronts and provide new recreational opportunities for the families of New York. And to that end, today I am pleased to announce the addition of our newest State park -- we are going to transform Gallagher Beach into a great new recreational facility for the families of Buffalo and western New York.

Let's reform and refinance the Superfund and let's work to reduce greenhouse gases by adopting the carbon dioxide emission standards for motor vehicles which were recently proposed by the State of California.

We can also make New York a national leader in renewable energy usage. I am directing the Public Service Commission to implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard ­a program which will guarantee that within the next 10 years at least 25 percent of the electricity bought in New York will come from renewable energy resources like solar power, wind power, or fuel cells.

And let's show the world how strongly New York City is coming back. New York City has already beaten San Francisco to become America's finalist for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Let's continue our partnership with Mayor Bloomberg to help New York City take the next step and show the international community that there is no better place for the Summer Games than the City of New York.

And at the same time, let's work together to bring the Winter Games once again to Lake Placid and to the North Country. Today, I'm proud to announce that we are working with Premier Landry of Quebec to put together America's first ever bi-national Olympic bid ­ a bid to have the games hosted jointly by the North Country and Quebec.

And who better to lead New York's efforts than someone who led Lake Placid's effort in 1980 -- with great success... someone who knows this room well. I am honored to welcome back, and announce as head of our Winter Olympic effort -- Senator Ron Stafford.

And as the Olympics will bring international attention and national pride to New York, nothing will compare with our efforts to revitalize Lower Manhattan.

The last year in Lower Manhattan was a painful time. We mourned our loved ones at so many funerals. We stood shoulder to shoulder to move tons of earth and steel and we laid the foundation for a new day in Lower Manhattan, a future so bright it would eclipse even our darkest hour.

If 2002 was the year of recovery, 2003 will be the year of renewal. We will begin by keeping a promise to remember those we lost.

Today, a committee of dedicated volunteers ­ including many family members of September 11th heroes ­ released a mission statement that will serve as the guiding principles for design of an appropriate memorial.

These principles recognize that as September 11 united our nation in tragedy, the memorial must properly honor each individual killed on September 11th in New York, as well as in our nation's capital, and in Pennsylvania.

Despite the tremendous efforts of thousands of rescue workers, and the dedication of medical professionals, the remains of many of our loved ones are still unidentified. The guiding principles rightly call for an area of the memorial as a dignified, final resting place for all those who are known only to God.

And the proposal would preserve the footprints of the towers forever. This will ensure that even as our City heals, the memory of what happened on September 11 will never fade from our hearts.

But make no mistake, New York City will heal. We will move forward in the weeks ahead with the City and all our partners to develop a single plan for the site and its surroundings.

This plan will be refined over time but it will enable an international memorial competition to proceed this spring, allow for a 21st century transportation network, and set Lower Manhattan on the path to fully reclaim its place as the financial capital of the world.

Like so many others, September 11 will always fill me with deep emotions, from profound sadness at the loss of so many innocent people to great pride in the countless heroes, in and out of uniform. For me, the restoration of Lower Manhattan is not just an obligation, it's a duty of the highest order. We owe it to the families -- to our city, state and nation -- to do it right. And I know we will.

You and I were elected to lead -- and to strive at all times -- to make the right decisions, decisions that are best for New York, and best for New Yorkers.

In the weeks and months to come, it would be easy for any of us in this chamber today to sidestep that solemn responsibility and choose the path of personal political expediency.

It would be easy to do that. Easy but wrong -- wrong for New York, wrong for New Yorkers, wrong for the young people who will inherit any crisis we fail to confront, and wrong for the people who need our help most. We all agree that New York faces a serious crisis. We can either face it now and make the right choices to end it quickly, or we can pretend that it doesn't exist, thus guaranteeing that it will still be plaguing our state for years to come.

Ultimately, someone will have to make the tough choices that will transform today's fiscal crisis back into even greater economic prosperity than we enjoyed before September 11th.

As President Reagan said: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

It must be this year, and it must be us.

As a father of four, I have no intention to bequeath hardship on my sons and daughters ­or anyone else's.

And as governor of the state which showed the world that cowardly terrorism is no match for character, courage, unity ­I know we won't have to.

I'm optimistic about the challenges we face and the future that awaits us because I've seen what a united New York is capable of. Over the past 16 months, you and I have put partisan politics where it belongs ­ away, and hopefully forever.

As we move forward, I hope we all remember that our worst hour was also our finest.

Our shared history has given us the strength to shoulder the burdens that destiny has placed upon us, and the courage to confront them as one state, as one people, with one purpose and one future.

Let the experience of that shared history unite us in a way that not only strengthens us today, but enlightens us tomorrow, and binds us forever.

May God give us the strength and wisdom to do this. God bless you all. God bless New York. God bless the United States of America.

 


Is Gangs of New York Historically Accurate?


On Friday, December 20 Gotham Gazette's NYC Book Club had a live chat with Tyler Anbinder, author of Five Points, and Jay Cocks, screenwriter of Gangs of New York. They talked about the fact and the folklore behind the movie Gangs of New York and what the Five Points area was really like.

 


Gotham Gazette: Good afternoon everyone and thanks for coming. Welcome to Gotham Gazette's NYC Book Club. The books this month are Gangs of New York and Five Points: The 19th-century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became The World' s Most Notorious Slum. Our guests today are Tyler Anbinder and Jay Cocks. Good afternoon Professor Anbinder.

Tyler Anbinder: Hello.

GG: For those book club members who have not read your book, Five Points, what was Five Points? When did it begin, when did it end?

Anbinder: Five Points was a neighborhood in 19th century New York in what is now Chinatown. It got its name because of an odd five cornered intersection that resulted from the intersection of 3 streets. The streets are now Baxter, Worth, and Mosco. The neighborhood faded away from memory at the beginning of this century as much of it was torn down to make way for parks and courthouses.

GG: When you say the beginning of this century, you mean the beginning of the 20th century, correct?

Anbinder: Yes, sorry about that. The demolition began in 1897 with the tearing down of the infamous Mulberry Bend block of tenements.

GG: Why is there so much interest in this neighborhood a century after it ceased to exist?

Anbinder: I think a number of factors. Interest in old New York has increased after 9/11. Also, as New York again becomes home to huge numbers of new immigrants, New Yorkers are more interested than ever in finding out what immigrant life was like in the city's past. The Gangs of New York movie hasn't hurt either.

GG: In your history of Five Points, you write that the very first known press account of the neighborhood, in 1826, called it "the resort of thieves and rogues of the lowest degree." And for decades afterwards, everybody from Charles Dickens to Davy Crockett weighed in with similar judgments. Why did the neighborhood get such a notorious reputation?

Anbinder: First, it was built over what had been a lake. In the 19th century, Americans associated dampness with disease and death, so no one wanted to live there. It also became the city's main red light district early on, and that added to the notoriety. Because it was built on not-so-solid ground, the buildings began to lean and tumble down quickly, and this gave the neighborhood an old and decrepit look even soon after it was built. Finally, it was the home of more immigrants than any other part of New York, and immigrants were associated with crime and lawlessness. The Irish in particular became renowned for rioting there, and that sealed the neighborhood's reputation.

GG: The subtitle of your book is: "The 19th-century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became The World' s Most Notorious Slum." You've told us about the notorious slum. Tell us about the other two.

Anbinder: When the Irish got to Five Points, they found a neighborhood already teeming with African Americans. The two groups often found themselves in the same dance halls in the neighborhood, and the Irish dancing their jigs and reels combined with the African-Americans dancing American dances such as the "Shuffle" to make a new dance form, tap dance.

As to stealing elections, the neighborhood became renowned for electoral lawlessness. Before the Civil War, this mainly involved rioting at the polls to prevent one's opponents from voting. After the Civil War, Five Points precincts became renowned for casting more ballots than there were elegible voters, sometimes two or three times as many votes as should have been cast.

GG: Beeeej asks, "Have you seen the Scorsese film yet?"

Anbinder: I am going to see it this weekend, but I did read the screenplay for Scorsese just before he went to Italy to begin shooting.

GG: In his review of the movie, David Denby writes in the New Yorker: " Gangs is an example of the fallacy of research: they got the hats and knives right, but the main lines of the story don't make much sense." Did they get the hats and the knives right?

Anbinder: I would say they definitely got the hats right. The knives are right so far as it goes, but the neighborhood was not nearly as lawless as the movie implies. There were robberies to be sure, especially at night, but people were not afraid to walk through the neighborhood in the daylight hours.

GG: The neighborhood existed for almost the entire 19th century. Did it change from decade to decade?

Anbinder: It changed a lot. It was at its worst in the 1830s and 40s. In the 1850s, Protestant religious groups made cleaning up Five Points a priority. That, and the ebbing of the immigrant tide, eventually led the neighborhood's inhabitants to fare far better economically than they had in the past. By 1860, Five Points was said to be tame. Then it became notorious again in the 1880s as Italians and Chinese, newly off the boat and poor, replaced the Irish.

GG: Professor Anbinder, let us go through the details of the movie one by one. Was New York, as Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie puts it, " a city full of tribes and war-chiefs"? Is it true that "our great city was born in blood and tribulation"?

Anbinder: He is right in the sense that New Yorkers certainly thought about themselves very much as Protestant or Catholic, Irish, or German, etc., and so the city was divided to a large extent. The blood part is also true in that the city was a very riotous place in the 19th century. It was common to read about election days, for example, "a quiet day at the polls, only two killed." So public violence was more common, espcially in the political realm, than we imagine. On the other hand, gangs were not fighting in the streets every day, not even every month, often not even every year. The huge melees depicted in the movie were very rare events. And the kind of Super Bowl of gang warfare I've seen in the clips I have seen did not take place in the 19th century in Five Points.

GG: Peter asks, " The nativists were largely Protestant?"

Anbinder: Right, nativists in the 19th century were almost all Protestants who believed that Protestantism made America great, and that Catholics were a threat to the peace and prosperity of the nation.

GG: Mr. Cocks, how closely does the movie follow Asbury’s book, or other historical accounts?

Jay Cocks: Hi....thanks for having me around. Doesn't follow the Asbury book at all. We supplied the story. Asbury supplied inspiration and a little history.

GG: This is a question for both of you: When did you first hear about the book Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury? First, Professor Anbinder? And how did you react to it?

Anbinder: I read it in grad school. Asbury was famous for cranking books out. They all tend to have the same theme. He wrote books VERY similar to Gangs of NY about Chicago, San Francisco, etc.

Cocks: 1970. Marty [Scorsese] and I discovered it on the same day, at the same time, talking on the phone, this time of year.

GG: What was your reaction?

Cocks: Thought the book was swell and full of rich fictive possibility.

Anbinder: I would add that Asbury is very good at finding material. The problem is that he lacked judgment, so he missed obvious lies and falsehoods about the neighborhood, and New York in general.

GG: Mr. Cocks, do you agree?

Cocks: Gave us the chance to be Ned Buntline [creator of the dime novel]. Make up our own myths, based in history. Don't know. But lies and falsehoods can often be more helpful to drama than fact.

GG: Let us ask both of you about some of the characters and details in the movie. First, there really was somebody named Bill the Butcher. Was he anything like the character as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis?

Cocks: We wanted Bill to be larger than life. Daniel added to his size.

Anbinder: The real Bill Poole was something like Bill Cutting, but only a bit. He WAS famous for having been killed by an Irishman in 1855 and having said "I die a true American," which made him a hero to the nativists.

GG: Does he say that line in the movie, Mr. Cocks?

Cocks: Yes, Bill says something very similar in the movie.

Anbinder: But he was not a nativist gang leader. He was a well known Whig, a bit more of a politician than shown in the movie.

GG: Was there really a gang called the Dead Rabbits?

Cocks: Yes. And please don't forget...our Bill is not supposed to be Poole. He's Bill Cutting.

Anbinder: There was a gang identified in the press as the Dead Rabbits. But the members all wrote to the newspapers after the riot they were in in 1857 and insisted that that was not their name. They said they were the Roche Guard (named after a local saloon keeper) But the press loved the name so it stuck.

Cocks: Stuck to us too.

Anbinder: The term became one used across the nation to describe bad characters, but there was definitely no rabbit on a pike being brought to a riot. But it looks good in the clips I've seen!

GG: How about the building called the Old Brewery. Did it look like dark Roman caves?

Cocks: That's the way we dreamed it.

Anbinder: No one knows what it looked like inside. It did not have the big, open spaces shown in the movie. No landlord would let all that space go to waste. Descriptions from the time say it was carved up into little cubicles to fit as many tenants in the tenement as possible.

GG: Did the New Yorkers who lived in Five Points watch while terriers attacked rats? Did they engage in bloody boxing? Did they watch knife-throwing for sport? Were these popular games?

Anbinder: I've never seen a description of knife throwing in Five Points per se. But rat pits were somewhat popular, though more by the waterfront than at Five Points.

Cocks: Spectators came from uptown too.

Anbinder: Bare knuckle prize fighting was very popular, but because it was illegal it was usually done out of town. Going to the theater was VERY popular. Five Pointers could recite Shakespeare as well as many uptowners.

Cocks: Uncle Tom's Cabin scene in "Gangs" was inspired by a real actor's riot.

Anbinder: There were also bars where sparring matches with gloves were held legally, but the unscheduled fights drew the most notice and fame.

GG: Did firefighters really fight each other rather than fires?

Cocks: Yep.

Anbinder: Yes, but that was not their only reason for existence. Most firefighters really wanted to put out fires and be heroes. Political fighting was definitely part of the job, but it was not the only part.

GG: Why were there so many riots?

Cocks: Why was there so much poverty?

Anbinder: Rioting was one of the ways for people who felt powerless to express themselves and be "heard."

Cocks: Vox pop. With fists and clubs.

Anbinder: Once guns became prevalent, rioting became more infrequent, because now instead of being bruised you might be killed.

Cocks: Marty [Scorsese] thought our gangs would be too poor, for the most part, to afford guns.

Anbinder: It is notable that after the "Dead Rabbit" riot of 1857, elections etc. were VERY quiet for the next few years. People for the first time saw what guns could do to an old-fashined bricks and clubs riot.

Cocks: Quiet elections make for bad drama.

Anbinder: At the Dead Rabbit riot of 1857, both sides had guns, but mostly the Bowery Boys (the Nativists in the movie). They had quite a few. The Bowery Boys were somewhat well paid politicos.

GG: Professor Anbinder, you write: "Northerner and Southerner, slaveholder and abolitionist could all use Five Points to justify their political views. Each of the groups that shaped its reputation had some incentive to make it look as horrible as possible." Why is that?

Anbinder: By associating one's enemy with Five Points, one could make the ultimate insult of the perid. Since no one "respectable" came from there, you could insult the Five Pointers reputation without fearing that you would hurt the sales of your newspapers or your votes on election day, unless you were from New York. Besides, sensational stories sold papers.

Cocks: Let's hope the same goes for movies.

GG: Some critics, Mr. Cocks, have said the movie has depicted the neighborhood as worse than it actually was. Is this true, and what was your incentive?

Cocks: Incentive was solid drama. Inspiration was Fellini's "Satyricon," Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" and Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" as much as fact. Probably more.

GG: A collection of artifacts from Five Points -- dishes, combs, tea pots -- was housed in the World Trade Center and was destroyed on September 11. Mr. Cocks, how helpful were these for your movie?

Cocks: They would have been wonderfully helpful, if I'd known they were there.

GG: Professor Anbinder, did you use these materials for your book?

Anbinder: I did. They give a great sense of what life would have been like. They also led me to hunt especially hard for bank records, since the archaeology showed that at least SOME Five Pointers were not dirt poor.

GG: Is there any lasting meaning or consequences for New York of Five Points?

Anbinder: Five Points' story, like that of "Gangs," shows that the making of the multi-ethnic America we know today was a lot more difficult than we remember. We tend to think that our ancestors were not like immigrants today, but in almost every way they were.

Cocks: New York is a city that seldom looks back. It should.

GG: Thanks to Professor Anbinder and Mr. Cocks for participating in the chat.

Cocks: Thanks back.

Anbinder: Thanks for having me.


 

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How Should the City Close It's $5 Billion Budget Deficit?


 Remarks given at a conference hosted by the Citizen's Budget Commission, December 7, 2002.

The Bucks Start Where?
Who is going to solve New York's fiscal crisis ­ Washington, Albany, or the city itself?
Transcript of President George W. Bush's Economic Proposal
Governor George Pataki's State of the State Address
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's remarks at the Citizens Budget Commission
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's Reaction to the Bush Proposal

The mayor's job is not just to balance the books. The mayor must ensure that New York City not only survives, but that it thrives. And if we don't do that, we don't have a future.

That's what I had in mind last January when I presented the budget for the current fiscal year. No one thought then, or last June when the budget was adopted by the City Council, that it was the right moment to raise taxes, even if we knew back then that we would need the revenue down the road. In the aftermath of 9/11, New York City needed stability. Time to settle. We had to guard against the possibility of companies and residents deciding to leave the city.

It had nothing to, as the press keeps saying, with the electoral schedule, trying to protect anybody or get anybody elected. If you think back then, everybody was worried about people heading for the exits. Losing them would have meant losing our tax base and, as a result, our ability to provide the quality of life that the citizens of New York want and deserve.

Today, the story is vastly different.

Lower Manhattan has recovered more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible a year ago. Rather than fleeing, more than 60 large companies, along with thousands of small business, have made long-term commitments to Lower Manhattan in recent months. Just this week, Deutsche Bank announced that their North American headquarters would be relocating from Midtown to 60 Wall Street. And I was there for the announcement and I pointed out to them that I came to New York in 1966 to take a job at 60 Wall Street on that very site that worked out for me and I told them it was going to work out for them.

The rebuilding is underway, I'm presenting our vision for a downtown neighborhood, one that imagines Lower Manhattan as a vibrant, 24-by-7 commercial and residential community. But not just Lower Manhattan is doing well. Almost all our city's hotels are full. Real estate prices are up. Four major media companies are building corporate headquarters skyscrapers in Midtown: Bloomberg, Time Warner, New York Times and Hearst. If that isn't commitment to this city, I don't know what is.

The 2012 Summer Olympics for all five boroughs are a real possibility. Even Tom Glavine has chosen New York City as his home and he's chosen to work in Queens, I might point out. Helen Marshall will be thrilled.

But there's no escaping the fact that major problems still confront this city.

The national economy's sluggish performance has cut into wages, profits, and, as a result, our tax revenues. This is particularly true with Wall Street which accounts for about one-third of New York City's total payroll. That tax revenue decline opened up a huge gap, $1.1 billion in the current fiscal year, over last June's forecast. And, a total budget gap for fiscal 2004 of roughly $6.4 billion. Now I don't know any more than anybody else what the tax revenues will actually be, but I think we have used in our projections a realistic, somewhat pessimistic assumption: things can be worse, things can be better.

But you have to pick somebody realistic when you plan and I think we have done that. And I think the public understands that the law requires us to close the gap and balance the budget, and I will do that. It's the law; there is no gray area. Unlike at the federal of state level, or in other municipalities around the country, there are simply no alternatives. Our expenses and revenues have to be the same and, regardless of the pain, we will make them so.

Simultaneously, however, it is also my responsibility to main New York City's quality-of-life, the very reason that we live here. We've got to keep crime going down and we have. Diana Fortuna (of the Citizens Budget Commission) talked about the high cost of police in this city. Sure, it costs us $3 billion a year. Would you really rather live in any other major city in the United States where crime is going up while ours continues to go down? Crime is down nearly an additional 6 percent this year; that is critical to our continued economic recovery. We've got to pick up the garbage and keep the streets clean; we're doing that. We've got to put out the fires, incarcerate our criminals, and protect the environment. Every single day, we do a better job at these things than we did the day before. We're housing thousands more people in our shelter system. Even the judge overseeing our efforts admits that Commissioner Linda Gibbs and the city is doing a spectacular job. We didn't cause the national economic recession, but this is a compassionate city and we are not going to let people sleep on the streets, no matter how much of a sacrifice we have to make.

One of the most impressive things is that the care at our public hospitals has soared to the extent that the Health and Hospitals Corporation's hospitals, at least the five that were ranked this year, are ranked as the best in the city, even better, on average, than our world-renowned private and voluntary ones. If you get sick and you want to recover, go to an Health and Hospitals Corporation hospital.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, my administration is committed to doing whatever it takes to dramatically change the public school system, because improving our kids' education is fundamental to New York's long-term prosperity.

All these things cost money, but they are all well worth the investment. During the boom years of the 1990's, that investment came at a much more appealing price than available today. Revenues went up every single year. So the city was able to maintain an increase in spending right through the end of the decade. Essentially, city and state government could cut taxes and improve services during these growth years, both desirable goals and both things that the public demanded and remember we have a democracy.

Unfortunately, when the boom ended and the economic cycle turned south, we were left with a tax structure that provided $3 billion less in revenue every fiscal year than it did at the beginning of the Ĺ’90s, but with an expense burden almost 70 percent greater than existed back then. Let me repeat those numbers. Our annual tax revenues are $3 billion less per year, our expense our 70 percent more over the decade. And the attacks of 9/11 just exacerbated that problem.

Who's at fault for our current economic woes? No one's at fault or maybe, in a different sense, we all are. We just have to adjust to a different world. If we had to do it all over again, I think we all realize we probably would have done exactly the same thing. Let's today not look to the past and say what might've been if we knew what was going to happen; let's focus on what we have to do with today's reality.

As of today, I believe the city has done its part to close this gap.

My predecessor appropriately started to cut expenses in fiscal year 2001 when tax revenues began declining. Since January, separately, our administration has reduced city expenses by more than $2.3 billion for fiscal year 2003 and $2.8 billion for fiscal year 2004. For the most part, New Yorkers have taken these cuts in stride, realizing that when everybody shares the weight, the burden is lighter. The new reality is some things we can continue to do with efficiencies, some we can continue to do on a reduced schedule and some, unfortunately, we just can't continue to do in this day and age.

But from this level of expenditures, and I'm not talking about those things mandated by Albany, there's no question that the city is committed to trying to work with Albany and with the unions to achieve efficiencies. But short-term, when we have to balance the budget now, the fact of the matter is, we have cut as much as I believe we can.

I can only tell you that my company, which I no longer run, but I know what they're doing, they are committing more to this city than ever before. As I said before, we are building a new building, we are moving people from around the world to New York City because this is the place that will allow our company to grow and I believe that most business people understand that. We cannot cut so much so that our quality-of-life starts to decline. We made that mistake in the 1970's, and I think we've learned our lesson. If you remember, crime soared, fires weren't put out, the garbage wasn't picked up and the school system kept falling apart more and more. In the end, while nobody likes a high-tax location, the thing that is clear is that people will not stay in a place that they are not safe, healthy and can get an education for their kids along with a job so that they can feed their families.

And I think together with the City Council, we've made the first hard choices necessary to balance the budget dramatically and, particularly for the City Council and the speaker, courageously, cutting spending and concurrently raising the property tax rate by 18.49%.

No one likes higher taxes. No elected official wants to vote for them. But with the legal requirement to balance the budget, after cutting as much as we can, after starting the long-term efforts to make city government more efficient, and after categorically refusing to leave our problems to our children, that's what we must do. Not a ways to win a popularity contest, but that's not why we were elected. We have a city to run and we're going to do it.

Now, it's time, since we've done what we can, for others to step up to the plate: Albany, Washington and the unions.

The next step is for the Albany legislature to conform the city's personal income tax to the ways taxes are already imposed by New York State, the State of New Jersey and the State of Connecticut. What is appropriate for these three states is also appropriate for New York City - that is, to tax equally all who work in a political jurisdiction regardless of where they live. This reform makes all people pay for the services they take advantage of‹police, fire, sanitation, water‹and by spreading the burden, everyone's rates are kept low.

Let me remind you, for those that come into the city that say, "I don't use all of the services the city provides," that nobody uses all the services that any government provides. Last time I checked, when the firefighters went into the World Trade Center, they didn't ask anybody where the hell they lived. We should never forget that. This reform makes all people pay equally.

Contrary to press reports, this tax reform is not a reform that favors the rich. The 800,000 commuters who would be included make an average salary of more than $115,000 per year. That's almost double the average salary of the 2.4 million New Yorkers who live and work in the five boroughs. This is a reform that, by broadening the tax base, decreases the burden on those who currently pay the city's personal income tax by over 25 percent, at the beginning, scaling to 37 percent. Last time I checked, everybody thinks that reducing taxes is a good idea and I think that's exactly what is needed here.

More importantly, the combination of property tax increases and personal income tax reform will bring in $2.7 billion in new revenue for fiscal 2004 helping us to balance our budget. Contrary to some columnists' inaccurate reports, that's roughly the same amount as the $2.8 billion in expense cuts that are in this plan, some in the form, incidentally, of 6,000 staff reductions already implemented since January and the 8,000 more planned in the next fiscal year. Think about that: pop tax increases, pop expenditure cuts, and still we will be able to maintain the reason why everybody wants to live in New York City.

But we also need more. We're also asking the state and federal governments for aid totaling $400 million to balance the budget. It's the right thing for them to do in spite of the fact that they will have some severe economic problems themselves. The bottom line is, it's a good investment for them. We are the economic engine for this state and the financial capital of the United States. And for those that live in other states, let me just remind you that when your elected officials need to raise money to get their message out, they come and do their fundraisers here, folks.

And finally, our budget balancing plan calls for $600 million in the form of increased productivity from the city's workforce. That is over and above the $2.8 billion that we already cut out of our expense budget.

I was elected largely on the basis of my business background, and I think New Yorkers expect me to run city government in much the same ways I ran my company. Fair enough. I'm doing exactly that. Those who think businessmen, smart businessmen and women, would indiscriminately slash a workforce, particularly one where seniority dictates who goes and who stays, just don't understand what makes an organization succeed.

I didn't build the world's most successful media company in the world with layoffs. I did it by making my employees part of the team with the incentives and desire to do more, do it better and do it with less. And as long as we get labor's help, and that's a caveat that everybody should listen to very carefully, we will do exactly that. We need cooperation from, not warfare with, our employees. Fortunately, as least I hope, the Citizens Budget Commission understands that.

You change by evolution, not revolution, if your objective is to create an organization that works going forward as opposed to just having a great photo-op and please a handful of editorial boards. I'm sure that today's sophisticated, practical, municipal union leaders understand exactly that. I was pleased to see in papers that the Citizens Budget Commission and I are on the same page in that department in many ways. Your report on special education (in pdf format) presents stark evidence of the need for change. At a time of fiscal urgency, for a system to both fail students and be excessive in costs, is intolerable.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is working on exactly this. Addressing special education and other problems in the public school system is an important part of Chancellor Klein's Children's First strategy, a plan to foster systemic reforms in our school systems. He is doing exactly what is necessary, step-by-step, methodically and in the appropriate order.

Some of your other suggestions work as well. Some would work in a perfect, or at least a different world, where the mayor wouldn't have to participate in the democratic process of getting legislative approval or negotiating collective bargaining. But the fact remains, we do have a democracy and the mayor just can't walk in and say, "Do this," nor should the mayor be allowed to do that. And some of your ideas, I just don't think work at all. Some that make cuts in one place, but increase total expenditures even greater elsewhere.

Remember government differs from business in that most of the services government provides are mandated by court order, the law or political reality. You can reduce the workforce dramatically and instantaneously, just by fear, but someone's still got to do the job, and overtime's expensive. Policies that replace workers with overtime eventually bankrupt you and denigrate the quality of the services provided. The most important thing we can do, at this point in time, is get productivity gains through new work-rule changes and gradual reassignments and adjustments to the workforce. For that, we need our great municipal workforce's cooperation.

Unfortunately, in the real world, that has not already, always been there. For example, the city has already proposed, as you recommend we do, amended the work schedules of police officers. Keeping our police officers on duty for 10 additional days, which would require no extra work on their part, all you have to do is take 20 minutes out of their 8-hour and 35-minute-a-day shifts, which saves this city approximately $60 million and give us the ability to provide the spectacular police services that we have been providing, just doing it with less people.

But the recently completed binding arbitration for a Police Benevolence Association contract. In that process, the PBA and the independent arbitrator were unwilling to change the work rules one iota. It is not in anybody's interest to have binding arbitration. It takes the city's ability to negotiate with its workforce out of its hands. And I think, in the end, it takes away the power of the unions to get the best deal for their members. But the Albany legislature has seen fit to give some of our unions binding arbitration and that's exactly the result. In fact, this arbitrator gave a raise greater than the City had budgeted without work-rule changes.

Still, I do think there is hope going forward.

We have opened up negotiations with District Council 37, one of our other municipal unions, and I think that they understand we are serious about trying to find negotiated productivity gains in everything they do so that we can keep them working and eventually, after we balance our budget, to pay them more. I hope and expect these contract talks to better reflect today's economic realities.

Our message to the labor force is the following. Any collective bargaining increases in the future must come from productivity savings and that, above and beyond the $600 million in productivity savings already scheduled, but not yet identified, that we need to balance the budget in 2004 and to avoid layoffs. And let me also give you one other fact. The days of retroactive savings are gone; you can't get it.

So we can no longer have retroactive salary increases. The practice of stalling for years and negotiating compensation for past periods just no longer works. There isn't any choice. This is not a negotiating position. It's just a statement of today's reality. There just isn't the money for raises there or in New York City for productivity, for salary increases without productivity enhancements. And all the threats of an illegal and, I believe to both the city and the union, devastating strike, won't change that fact.

As to our budget plan, I think it's fair, I think it's obtainable and, given the world today, I think it's essential. The fact is we have a revenue shortfall. Every year, we spend billions imposed on us by other levels of government that they want and we pay for, and we spend billions a year on services that we want and we will have to pay for.

Someone once said that the holidays are when kids get what they want and adults pay for it. A budget shortfall is when adults get what they want and their kids pay for it. It's true. Think about the effect of our last fiscal crisis.

Every year still, the first $500 million of New York City's sales tax revenue goes to paying interest and retiring bonds from the 1970's, and that will stay going on through fiscal 2008--$500 million, every year, for 1970s problems. We're not going to do that again.

We're not going to barter our fiscal well being for future generations to secure our own. We will get through this, but we've learned from the past. We'll be responsible and take care of our own problems, now, not later. And with the help of groups like the Citizens Budget Commission, we will create a legacy of responsibility, fortitude and security for future generations. For nearly 70 years, the Citizens Budget Commission has provided useful analysis of city services and operations. Keep up the good work. I will make a commitment to you today, in spite of what happens and in spite of what the papers write, if you invite me back next year, I will come.

 


Budget Modification Signed Into Law


Details of the Budget Agreement
On December 2, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a budget package that includes an 18.5 percent across-the-board increase in city property taxes and a delay of the mayor's proposal to eliminate 8 fire companies. Last week, the City Council approved the budget modification by a vote of 41 to 6 (4 were absent). The plan would also restore about $50 million of the $880 million cuts the mayor proposed. The plan would also restore about $50 million of the $880 million cuts the mayor proposed.

The City Council and Mayor have agreed to two new tax proposals:

- An 18 percent property-tax increase

- A proposal to the state for a surcharge on absentee landlords

And they have agreed to restore $50 million in cuts proposed by Bloomberg, including:

- Administration for Children's Services, including 2,500 day-care slots, preventative services, programs and rates for foster-care families, $18 million

- City University of New York, including community colleges and Peter F. Vallone Academic Scholarship Program, $9.6 million

- Department of Youth Services, $6.4 million

- Saving of 37 ambulance tours for EMS that the mayor proposed privatizing, $2.5 million

- Weekend meals for elderly residents, $885,000

- Seasonal workers for parks, $802,000

- Sanitation Department supplemental basket collection, $700,000

- Health and mental health, $537,000

- Retirement communities, $530,000

- Saving of layoffs at Hunter College schools, $490,000

The restorations came as the City Council decided to cut other parts of the budget:

- Administration for Children's Services, $18 million

- Bus subsidies, $15 million

- Refinancing debt service, $10 million

- Heating and electricity costs in city buildings, $5 million

Council Vote: November 25, 2002. Approved 41-6 (4 absent)

YES: Joseph Addabbo, Jr., Maria Baez, Charles Barron, Tracy Boyland, Gale Brewer, Yvette Clarke, Leroy Comrie, Bill DeBlasio, Ruben Diaz, Erik Dilan, Simcha Felder, Lewis Fidler, Helen Foster, Alan Gerson, Eric Gioia, Sarah Gonzalez, Robert Jackson, Melinda Katz, G. Oliver Koppell, John Liu, Miguel Martinez, Michael McMahon, Gifford Miller, Hiram Monserrate, Eva Moskowitz, Michael Nelson, Bill Perkins, Madeline Provenzano, Christine Quinn, Domenic Recchia, Diana Reyna, Joel Rivera, James Sanders, Larry Seabrook, Helen Sears, Jose Serrano, Kendall Stewart, Peter Vallone, Jr., Albert Vann, David Weprin, David Yassky

NO: Tony Avella, James Davis, Dennis Gallagher, Andrew Lanza, Allan Jennings, James Oddo.

ABSENT: James Gennaro, Martin Golden, Margarita Lopez, Philip Reed.

Read More About the Agreement:

Cell Phones


When Emily Post wrote her landmark book on etiquette in 1922, she advised people not to let small children answer the phone, and thought a businessman committed an appalling breach of etiquette when he told his secretary to place a phone call and then was not available to take it. Now, Post's granddaughter, Cindy Post Senning, executive director of the Emily Post Institute, has a whole new world of phone issues to confront: cell phones and the frequently infuriating behavior of those who use them.

Take the man at the crowded gate at LaGuardia airport, who "was doing major business discussions with dollar amounts," Post Senning says. "Everybody around him had to hear every detail. It was uncomfortable." Because of countless rude intrusions such as this, Post Senning says, "We use cell phone 'etiquette' as an example of what happens when there are no rules."

Convenient and relatively inexpensive, cell phones have become part of the fabric of culture and society. In congested New York, where people pride themselves on being constantly on the run, cell phones are a fact of life. But there are probably as many gripes here as there are phones.

Even incessant cell phone users complain about loud one-sided conversations on trains and buses; about ringing phones interrupting theater performances, sermons and even funerals; about bumping, oblivious chatting pedestrians and the rude airing in public of the most intimate details of a person's life.

Such complaints are winding up at City Hall, where legislators such as Councilmember Phil Reed -- who has introduced two separate bills about cell phones -- are busy trying to address the real risks as well as the nuisances of this rapidly growing phenomenon.

"The majority of people are fed up with the proliferation of chatter," says Reed, "and I feel like somebody needs to legislate etiquette, or just help New Yorkers get some peace of mind."

OF RIGHTS AND RUDENESS

Last year, some 128 million Americans subscribed to a cell phone service, says the national environmental research organization INFORM. And a recent survey found that more than 60 percent of New York City adults owned cell phone last year.

Not surprisingly, some of those people are rude. "Cell phones don't cause rudeness, people do," says Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert with the Protocol School of Palm Beach. Most Americans think those people are other people. In a survey conducted by the Metro North commuter rail, 87 percent of the riders said they were bothered by cell phones -- even though 76 percent said they used them. In a "Rudeness in America" study earlier this year, Public Agenda received hundreds of complaints about cell phone abuse. Forty-nine percent of respondents said that they often encounter people using their cell phones in a loud and abrasive manner, and 40 percent claim to be very bothered by it. While the survey does not have statistics for New York City, it found the problem to be more serious in urban areas than in rural ones.

A web site promoting good cell phone manners, devotes an entire section to New York City. A person who calls himself Spanker the cell phone spy -- he will not reveal his identity -- seeks out and reports flagrant abuses, such as overhearing a woman on line at the Port Authority bus terminal tell her boyfriend what underwear she had on. "I'm no prude, but some stuff ought to remain private."

LEGISLATING COURTESY

Councilmember Phil Reed has been trying to regulate cell phones since 1999, when he introduced a bill that would have banned them on buses and subways. "People all ride the buses at some point," he said, and having to listen to other passengers talking on cell phones "just drives you out of your mind." But the bill died before being seriously considered."I think that the previous leadership just didn't get it." Reed believes that now the time is right. This summer, the council enacted a monthly 35 cent surcharge on all wireless devices in New York City. Reed now wants to go beyond simply cashing in on cell phones. He wants to reel them in as well.

He has re-introduced his bus and subway bill, and he has proposed another bill, for which he is conducting a hearing this week in the City Council's consumer affairs committee, that would prohibit the use of cell phones in performance places such as movie houses and Broadway theaters, but not outdoor locations such as sporting events. The proposed fine is $50. "The misuse of cell phones has made it more difficult to enjoy the arts in New York."

Cell Phone Etiquette

Here are some tips on how to use your phone courteously.

--Make it silent. Turn off your phone, or at least set it to vibrate, at movies, plays, religious services, meetings or other places where the noise would irritate people.

--Turn it off. When an establishment, such as an airline or hospital, asks you to turn off the phone, do so. Ignoring that rule, in a hospital or plane, for example, can endanger others.

--Speak softly. Respect your privacy and that of others. Don't speak loudly into the phone while in a crowded public space. Strangers do not want to hear who you're meeting for lunch or what you got paid for the trinket you just sold on e-bay. And make sure the phone ring is quiet as well. New York is noisy enough without phones adding to the cacophony.

--Make it short. In public places, keep your conversations as brief as possible.

--Be alert. Don't become so distracted by your conversation that you bump into others or ignore people who are talking to you.

--Obey the law. Don't use a cell phone while driving unless you have a hands-free model. If you get an important call while driving, pull over.

(Compiled from various web sites on cell phone etiquette, including LetsTalk.com.)

At a recent hearing, theater lovers hailed the measure. When a cell phone rings during a performance, "the damage to the art created on stage is palpable,"said Barbara Janowitz, speaking on behalf of the League of American Theatres and Producers. "The mood is broken. The audience abruptly loses the thread of the play or musical, forgetting that they have been transported to 1920s New York City, or Paris in the 1800s, or the Oklahoma territory. The actors lose their link to their characters, and have to fight to remember their place in the script and regain the special bond they have forged with the audience."

Greg Elmer of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers agreed. "You can not stop a jerk from being a jerk. They are self-centered, nobody else on the face of the earth matters," said Elmer, his voice and even his hands quivering with rage. "The only way you are going to curb them is a law.'

Some council members, however, questioned whether a law would help. "As much as we'd like to, I think that it is very difficult to legislate against inconsiderate jerks," said John Liu. "And this is New York, and unfortunately, we have our share of inconsiderate jerks."

Robert Sunshine, executive director of the Association of Theater Owners of New York State, thinks such a law would be difficult to enforce and could create confrontations between theater employees and belligerent cell phone users. "The interaction of ushers and management with sometimes unstable patrons of theatres can create terrible, terrible scenes," he said.

But some politicians argue the bill could reduce those simmering tensions. "If we don't get in control of this, then the patrons will," said Councilmember Charles Barron. "I've seen potential conflicts where people try to [stop others from talking on cell phones] because they are annoyed and aggravated by it. That's what my main concern is -- that the movie goers who are opposed to the cell phones will yell out, "Hey, turn off the phone." And you're going to get serious conflict occurring."

CALLERS ON A TRAIN

Councilmember Reed has mounted a challenge to the wireless phones on another front: the subway system. For now at least cell phones remain silent on much of the system because the devices do not work underground. But one wireless service provider, Sprint, is talking with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about wiring some high-traffic subway stations and long underground stretches for cell phone use. Customers have been "coming to us and wanting to be connected underground," says Steve Bugg, director of marketing sales and operations for Sprint.

Reed wants to make sure that does not happen --- and hopes to bar cell phones from buses as well. "People are trying to find some space where there's some quiet," he says.

In an informal poll on the Straphanger's Campaign web site last February, 45.2 percent were in favor of wiring the subway system for cell phones, and 54.8 percent were opposed. "Many people view the subway as a sanctuary," the campaign's Neysa Pranger says. "I don't know if anyone should go messing with that culture."

Amtrak has instituted a "Quiet Car" on almost all trains that run in the Northeast Corridor (between Washington, New York and Boston). In the Quiet Cars, cellular phones, pagers and loud conversations are banned. "The company's trains will be a place where all people can live in harmony -- regardless of their feelings for portable communication," says Stan Bagley, president of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

Metro North has said implementing such a policy on its trains would be difficult because, during the crowded rush hour, commuters dash for whatever space is available and would not be able to determine whether cell phone use is banned or approved in their car. Instead, the train line urges people to speak softly and move to car vestibules for long conversations. Similarly, the Long Island Rail Road urges its passengers using "cutting edge technology" to "show cutting-edge courtesy."

PHONING AND DRIVING

While cell phones on trains can enrage people, cell phones in cars may injure or even kill them. Motorists talking on cell phones while driving are four times more likely to get into accidents than their silent counterparts, according to a study published in 1997 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded.

In response, last year New York became the first state to ban the use of cell phones, except for the hands-free models, while driving. Violation of the law carries a $100 fine. Other states have since followed suit, instituting a range of acceptable driving-while-gabbing guidelines. The bill was signed into law in June 2001. Ticketing for the offense began last November, though, between December and March, violators could have their tickets waived if they purchased a hands-free device.

The law has been a boon to manufacturers of hands-free technology. California-based Plantronics, which made the headset Neil Armstrong wore on the moon, saw a dramatic rise in sales after the New York law passed. This phenomenon may be responsible for the rise in New York pedestrians who walk down the street talking into tiny headsets, prompting others to wonder why so many more people are suddenly talking to themselves. (It has also inspired at least one wag to update an old Lily Tomlin joke, and suggest that the city should start a beautification campaign by handing out cell phones to every street person who really IS talking to himself, so that it looks as if he is talking on the phone.)

Another company, TDK Systems has developed technology that allows motorists to connect their mobile phones to their vehicle's electrical system, so that the phone sound comes out through the radio.

HEALTH HAZARDS

But is phoning while driving the only risk? In 1992, a Florida man filed a lawsuit alleging that cell phones caused his wife's fatal brain cancer. The court dismissed his suit, but since then a number of researchers have investigated whether the radiation from cell phone use causes brain cancer. Most of the studies have not found such a link, two experts, Kenneth R. Foster and John E Moulder concluded in an article in IEEE Spectrum, although they called for additional research. They said people concerned about possible hazards might want to use an external earpiece that keeps the phone away from their heads and use their phones less. "Neither of us would recommend such measures on health grounds," they wrote, "but people can decide for themselves whether to take such precautions."

But more studies are emerging that raise new doubts about the safety of cell phones, David Kirkpatrick reports in Fortune "Anybody who tells you that cell phones are either safe or unsafe doesn't know what they're talking about," Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, told him. "It remains an open question."

For some people, including those who drive in isolated or unsafe areas, cell phones represent a kind of life line, a way to call for help. The New York City Department of Education officially banned cell phones in the schools. But after the September 11 attacks, when parents and students were desperately trying to get in touch with one another, many schools began to allow cell phones as long as students keep them turned off during class.

Interestingly, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein proposed a plan last week that might encourage cell phone use. He suggests that schools rent roof space for cell phone antenna. In return, the schools would get much needed money and free or discounted cell phones and connections to the Internet. Companies must submit bids for the space by November 13. Suburban school districts have floated similar proposals, but parents have balked, citing fears that the tower would emit harmful microwaves.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR

While governments debate what to do about cell phones, some in the private sector have already taken action. Sunrise Express, a bus line that runs between Long Island and New York City, banned cell phones over a year ago, after customer complaints (the phones also interfered with the driver's on-board radio). Customers can only use their phones for emergencies, or to arrange rides home from the station. Although there is no mandated punishment for breaking the rule, company representatives report that people "usually cooperate."

Restaurants have become another battleground. If patrons can afford to eat at Aureole, a chichi spot on the Upper East Side, they can buy themselves an evening of relative freedom from electronic devices and concentrate on their mustard-crusted dayboat scallops or caramelized guinea hens. But at Dojo, a popular stop for bargain eats in the Village, no such controls apply. "This is not a quiet environment," the host explains.

Faced with public irritation, wireless companies themselves have jumped on the polite bandwagon. Cingular Wireless's "Be Sensible," campaign tries to educate users about how to use their phones in a safe and courteous manner.

Such advice really boils down to common sense, says etiquette maven Cindy Post Senning -- or at least, it should. When you're in a public place, keep it "quick and short," she says. In a more social setting, "just turn them off," unless you're expecting an important call, in which case, take advantage of vibrate mode. "Think about the person next to you," Post Senning urges.

FLAUNT THAT PHONE!

But to some, such discretion misses the point. Cell phones represent freedom, says Mark Montano, a Lower East Side designer. In his recent Fashion Week show, Montano sent models down the runway with Sprint PCS "Vision Phones." "We can go wherever, and do whatever we want," he enthuses, and cell phones are part of that.

The cell phone don'ts for Montano have nothing to do with modulated voices or brief conversations. Never, ever carry a klunky big phone hanging off a belt. "People really do have those," Montano says with disbelief. He suggests carrying a small phone in a "little teeny disco bag or chain purse" or painting the phone with Sally Hansen chrome nail polish.

Montano's attitude does not surprise Sam Binkley, who teaches a class at New School University entitled "Consuming New York." People in New York "are constantly being looked at by strangers" and want to make an impression, he says. One way to do that is to walk down the street, using a trendy cell phone, conveying both fashion sense and popularity --- after all, they have someone to talk to. And so, says Binkley, wireless culture "turns the sidewalks even more into high school" than they already are. No wonder so many people find them irritating.



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