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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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NY History Lesson

President Harry Truman said the only thing new in this world is the history that you don’t know.

The thought came to mind while reading a fascinating book Governor Andrew Cuomo has reportedly been touting to his colleagues, The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975 (State University of New York Press, 2010). The 193-page tome, co-written by former state Senator Seymour Lachman and former Newsday reporter Robert Polner, offers observers of the 2011 political scene perspective on the upcoming budget battles in New York State and New York City. To make things clear, the ‘New York’ the co-authors allude to in the title is ‘New York City,’ and it is the city’s brush with insolvency that drives the narrative.

Governor Hugh Carey, who had been a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Brooklyn, was elected to the first of his two, four-year terms in 1974. He won an upset victory earlier that year over the presumed Democratic gubernatorial nominee and party favorite, Howard Samuels. Thus, the way Governor Carey arrived in Albany freed him from owing much to the state and city Democratic power brokers of the day.

“In the very simplest of terms, this government and we as a people have been living way beyond our means,” Governor Carey declared, in first State of the State Message in January 1975. “Indeed, so lavish was the style of our government that we came to depend upon it for life itself, forgetting that government was only the result of our industry and not its source.”

Then, as today, the public-sector employee union leaders were determined to retain in their entirety whatever pay raises and benefits they had secured, seeing no connection between the government running out of money and their paychecks bouncing. One difference: New York City Mayor Abe Beame rescinded city employee raises in 1975. Today, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 leadership is getting away with its manic hostility to economic reality because state lawmakers enacted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) payroll tax to help fund the TWU’s three-year, 11 percent pay hike. But I digress.

The Carey administration and the state Legislature created in 1975 the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC), and that entity was the main reason the city averted bankruptcy, the co-authors convincingly argue. MAC allowed the city to market its debt obligations after a perilous time during which it was unable to do so. At the center of the MAC-related chapters are individuals who would go on to much bigger things, such as Felix Rohatyn, who became U.S. ambassador to France, Richard Ravitch, a future New York lieutenant governor, and Donna Shalala, the president of the University of Miami, FL, who was then a professor at Columbia.

A minor complaint: while the co-authors acknowledge their work was commissioned by the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform, established in 2007 at Staten Island’s Wagner College, they burnish their book’s protagonist a little too much. Isn’t it enough to be characterized as ‘the man who saved New York?’

NY History Lesson
President Harry Truman said the only thing new in this world is the history that you don’t know.
The thought came to mind while reading a fascinating book Governor Andrew Cuomo has reportedly been touting to his colleagues, The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975 (State University of New York Press, 2010). The 193-page tome, co-written by former state Senator Seymour Lachman and former Newsday reporter Robert Polner, offers observers of the 2011 political scene perspective on the upcoming budget battles in New York State and New York City. To make things clear, the ‘New York’ the co-authors allude to in the title is ‘New York City,’ and it is the city’s brush with insolvency that drives the narrative.
Governor Hugh Carey, who had been a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Brooklyn, was elected to the first of his two, four-year terms in 1974. He won an upset victory earlier that year over the presumed Democratic gubernatorial nominee and party favorite, Howard Samuels. Thus, the way Governor Carey arrived in Albany freed him from owing much to the state and city Democratic power brokers of the day.
“In the very simplest of terms, this government and we as a people have been living way beyond our means,” Governor Carey declared, in first State of the State Message in January 1975. “Indeed, so lavish was the style of our government that we came to depend upon it for life itself, forgetting that government was only the result of our industry and not its source.”
Then, as today, the public-sector employee union leaders were determined to retain in their entirety whatever pay raises and benefits they had secured, seeing no connection between the government running out of money and their paychecks bouncing. One difference: New York City Mayor Abe Beame rescinded city employee raises in 1975. Today, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 leadership is getting away with its manic hostility to economic reality because state lawmakers enacted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) payroll tax to help fund the TWU’s three-year, 11 percent pay hike. But I digress.
The Carey administration and the state Legislature created in 1975 the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC), and that entity was the main reason the city averted bankruptcy, the co-authors convincingly argue. MAC allowed the city to market its debt obligations after a perilous time during which it was unable to do so. At the center of the MAC-related chapters are individuals who would go on to much bigger things, such as Felix Rohatyn, who became U.S. ambassador to France, Richard Ravitch, a future New York lieutenant governor, and Donna Shalala, the president of the University of Miami, FL, who was then a professor at Columbia.
A minor complaint: while the co-authors acknowledge their work was commissioned by the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform, established in 2007 at Staten Island’s Wagner College, they burnish their book’s protagonist a little too much. Isn’t it enough to be characterized as ‘the man who saved New York?’
Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

 

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net