Tuesday, November 15, 2011

After All, It Is a Park

City Moves on Zuccotti Occupiers

After Two Months' Acquiescence,

Next Round Will Be in Court

Last night, the city administration used its power to close down, at least temporarily, a street demonstration that had occupied Zuccotti Park, a previously uncelebrated 33,000-square-feet plot of choice Lower Manhattan real estate with trees and benches softening the skyscrapers surrounding it on three sides.

The Park is located on the west side of Broadway, between Cedar Street and Liberty Place, roughly two blocks north of Trinity Church, which is at the head of Wall Street. It is public open space, owned and maintained by Brookfield Properties and intended for passive recreation. It was created through a transaction in which Brookfield was permitted to build a substantially larger office building on the site. Mr. Zuccotti, a former first deputy mayor of New York City during the Beame administration, serves as the co-chairman of Brookfield, a Canadian company.

Zuccotti is a highly regarded public servant and a successful and innovative real estate executive. When the city was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1975, a principal demand of the business and civic communities was for his appointment as first deputy mayor, in effect the city's chief operating officer. His leadership helped to restore the reputation of city government, whose credibility had been seriously impaired as a result of misleading financial statements over the years, which concealed the city's failure to cope with deficits.

It is interesting that Zuccotti's name is more likely to be widely known for the two-month forcible occupation of the park designated to honor him than for the good works he accomplished for the city at a critical time in its history.

We must point out that today, in 2011, thirty-six years after that narrow escape from financial ruin, the city's position, although not so dire as it was in April 1975, when bankruptcy papers had been prepared by the law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges to be filed in Federal Court, nonetheless conceals structural weaknesses. At this time, due to thirty years of relative fiscal restraint, the city is not as badly off as either the national government, with its $15 trillion public debt, the New York State government, which faces a $3.5 billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, or the euro zone, whose stability is widely regarded as precarious.

Unfortunately, there is no John Zuccotti on stage or in the wings today to deal with these fiscal problems. We must face these issues in the closing stage of a twelve-year mayoralty which largely avoided disaster and disrepute, and which initiated many worthwhile programs, particularly in health and housing, while being unable to eliminate the structural imbalance which has plagued city finances for over a generation.

While reserving for another time a discussion of the current mayoral candidates, we believe it is safe to say that none has demonstrated the stature or skills of a Zuccotti or a Felix Rohatyn, to cite two leaders of the past generation. As people criticize Mayor Bloomberg for various aspects of his persona, they should not forget the substantive achievements of his tenure or the relatively high quality of his appointments.

We will be fortunate if the next administration at City Hall is comparable in achievement to the current one. Political leaders are often more highly regarded after they have left office. Harry Truman epitomizes that history. The inevitable reassessment of the current administration is likely to start sooner than the Truman redemption. Our problem, however, is not with what will be Mayor Bloomberg's place in history, a position which will be measured in part in consideration of his enormous personal wealth, employed in the public's interest as well as his own.

The issue which will dominate the next two years in our municipal history is who the successor will be, and whether he or she will have the ability to deal with the daunting issues that still face the city. We have sounded the call that danger lies ahead, and it will take enormous effort and sacrifice to deal with the problems that have gravely impaired so many other places, both in this region and around the world. Time always gets shorter, and we should devote our abilities to a wide search for equitable solutions, because inaction leads to the aggravation of existing problems as the time to resolve them inevitably diminishes.

StarQuest #785 11.15.2011 714 words

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