Change Comes to Brooklyn
The best news from Primary Day is that Darlene Mealy won the council seat in Brownsville. She worked for it, she deserved it, and it was high time somebody reminded the Boyland clan that the public is sick of politicians who endlessly scheme to put their personal goals above community need.
Brownsville suffers from failing schools, high crime and the highest infant mortality rate in New York City. While this was going on, William Boyland Sr. spent two uneventful decades marking time in the state assembly before passing his seat to his son in a rigged election.
Recall, for a moment, the way it happened. Boyland Senior successfully ran for re-election in 2002 without telling anyone he planned to quit rather than take his oath of office. That left it up to a group of party hacks to pick a new assemblyman, William Boyland Jr.
With that deception accomplished, Boyland Senior took a job on the payroll of Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman, who is currently on trial for corruption. Mealy=s victory is a welcome and long-overdue signal that Brooklyn can do better than entrust mediocre, under-performing pols to handle the people=s business.
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The Agony of New Orleans
The images from New Orleans depict America=s original and continuing sin: the shabby, contemptuous treatment this country metes out, decade after decade, to poor people in general and the descendants of African slaves in particular. The world sees New Orleans burning and dying today, but the televised anarchy – the shooting and looting, needless deaths, helpless rage and maddening governmental incompetence – was centuries in the making.
People were living through a disaster long before the storm hit. Half of New Orleans households make less than $28,000 a year, and 28% of the population lives in poverty.
In the late 1990s, the state=s school systems ranked dead last in the nation in the number of computers per student (1 per 88), and Louisiana has the nation=s second-highest percentage of adults who never finished high school. By the state=s own measure, 47% of the public schools in New Orleans rank as Aacademically unacceptable.@
And Louisiana is the only one of the 50 states where the state legislature doesn=t allocate money to pay for the legal defense of indigent defendants. The Associated Press reported this year that it=s not unusual for poor people charged with crimes to stay in jail for nine months before getting a lawyer appointed.
Louisiana ranks 46th among the 50 states in the percentage of people living in poverty, 48th in the percentage of adults over 25 years old with a high school degree, and 49th in the percentage of working-age adults holding jobs.
Local government has proved unable to defeat these deep-rooted problems. A stunningly honest long-term master plan called Louisiana 2020, published by the state government in the late 1990s and regularly updated, isn=t afraid to list one of the most painful obstacles to progress: Athe perception that Louisiana is a >Banana Republic= with self-serving governmental leaders who lack the political will to enact and sustain fiscal and socioeconomic reforms that will facilitate broad-based economic growth and prosperity.@
As former congressman Billy Tauzin once put it, Ahalf of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment.@
That=s putting it mildly. Adjusted for population size, the state ranks third in the number of elected officials convicted of crimes (Mississippi is No. 1). Recent scandals include the conviction of 14 state judges and an FBI raid on the business and personal files of a Louisiana congressman.
In 1991, a notoriously corrupt Democrat named Edwin Edwards ran for governor against Republican David Duke, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan. Edwards, whose winning campaign included bumper stickers saying AElect the Crook,@ is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for taking bribes from casino owners. Duke recently completed his own prison term for tax fraud.
The rot included the New Orleans Police Department, which in the 1990s had the dubious distinction of being the nation=s most corrupt police force and the least effective: the city had the highest murder rate in America. More than 50 officers were eventually convicted of crimes including murder, rape and robbery; two are currently on Death Row.
New Orleans officials issued an almost cynical evacuation order in a city where they know full well that thousands have no car, no money for airfare or an interstate bus, no credit cards for hotels, and therefore no way to leave town before the deadly storm and flood arrived.
The authorities provided no transportation out of the danger zone, apparently figuring the neglected thousands would somehow weather the storm in their uninsured, low-lying shacks and public housing projects. The poor were expected to remain invisible at the bottom of the pecking order and somehow survive.
Our challenge for America is to remember the faces of the evacuees who will surely be ushered back into a black hole of public indifference as soon as the White House and local officials can manage it. While pledging ourselves to remember their mistreatment and fight for their cause, we should also be sure to cast a searching, skeptical eye on the money that Bush has pledged for rebuilding.
More than $50 billion is about to pass into the sticky hands of politicians in the No. 1 and No. 3 most corrupt states in America. Worried about looting? You ain=t seen nothing yet.