Residents of New York City are preparing to vote for a new mayor after three straight terms of billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg running the city that never sleeps. In what has been a surprisingly bizarre and entertaining mayoral campaign (courtesy of serial texter Anthony Weiner and the sudden huge popularity of the Afro of Bill de Blasio’s teenaged son), I must say that none of the candidates appeal that much to me, nor do I really believe that a mayor has all that much power and influence.
For, just like congressmen, senators, governors and even presidents, the mayor of New York City is essentially a figurehead. He has to answer to a host of special interest groups and other powerful entities that hold the real power behind the curtains. For example, Republican lawmakers in New York tend to have to answer to such organizations as corporate lobbyists and real estate developers, while the Democrats are usually in the pockets of labor and teachers’ unions who promise big turnouts.
In addition, the mayor must “share” power with the City Council and the court system – not to mention, subject himself to constant scrutiny and criticism from a rabid mass media. It's not a happy life being mayor – but probably fills one's egotistical dreams of attaining power, or at least the illusion of power.
Alas, the candidates from both parties this year have spewed vague, cliché-ridden promises should they win the election – namely, a vow to cut taxes while not reducing social services (an impossibility), while pledging to protect the interests of the middle-class (an ambiguous subset of the populace that no one can properly define). They also claim to espouse “law and order” (yet another vague concept that only satisfies the naïve without ever dealing with the root causes of crime and violence).
From a purely personal perspective, not one of the mayoral candidates has addressed any of the issues that interest me. Yes, as a “middle-class” New York City taxpayer I, too, am concerned about such topics as crime, the cost of living and the various other mundane things the candidates endlessly bloviate about. But I am far more obsessed with the “quality of life” in Gotham and the state of its “culture.”
So, herewith is a list of some things I would do if by some magical power I ever became mayor of New York City. (But first allow me to preface my platform by admitting that I am totally unqualified to hold public office, that my proposals range from the trivial to the fanciful to the hopelessly unrealistic, and that, as mayor, I must operate as a “benevolent dictator” in order to pursue my programs. Oh, and I also fully realize, that my proposals will never ever see the light of day.)
*Clean The Damn Subways!
According to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, some 5.4 million people ride New York City's subways on an average day. And every single one of those poor souls hates it – subways are slow, dirty, unpleasant, while subway stations are unclean, dreary and depressing. If New York truly wants be a “world-class city,” it will follow the examples set by Paris, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul (among others), and maintain its subterranean transport system as a spotless, shiny, efficient and clean machine.
The MTA has already successfully prevented hoodlums from covering their locomotives with horrid, ugly graffiti (check out photos of subways from the 1970s), so why can't they keep the trains' interiors and stations clean and attractive?
This will, of course, require an enormous financial commitment from the MTA – but with a $13.7 billion preliminary budget for 2014, the MTA has plenty of cash to hire a 24-hour-a-day-7-days-a-week cleaning crew. Also, keep in mind, metropolitan Seoul and Tokyo have double, even triple, the population of New York City, so if they can enjoy a dazzling, invigorating futuristic metro system, there’s no reason we cannot.
*End Obesity By Shutting Down All Fast Food Joints.
There are literally thousands of “restaurants” in New York City selling the most appalling, fattening, artery-hardening crap-foods and artificial sugary garbage that has damaged the health and lifestyles of millions, particularly poor ethnic minorities, who have been brainwashed by ceaseless mass media advertising that promotes such atrocities as McDonald's, Popeyes, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and other establishments as places of “nourishment.” These places need to go – and replaced by businesses that sell healthy meals, i.e. foods made from organic ingredients cooked with love from scratch. Yes I know, the costs of running such enterprises would be high... but no higher than the extravagant health care costs that arise from obesity.
There’s no delicate way to say this, but too many people are just too fat. Not only are they at grave risk for a number of life-threatening diseases (including type 2 diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis), but they burden the health care system and are simply unsightly to look at and unpleasant to be around.
I am not disparaging middle-aged people who naturally gain weight as they age; rather I am talking about young folks and even teenagers who tip the scales at 300 pounds! There is simply no justification for this horror!
According to data from the State of New York, 56.4 percent of New York City residents are obese or overweight. (Call me a "weightist" if you must, but the only way to eliminate obesity is to dramatically change our food culture and promote more physical exercise).
*Revamp The Public School System
New York City’s public school system is an utter disaster and a failure across the board. Lazy teachers, unmotivated students and weak curricula have infested the system – a status quo that the teachers union enforces.
Even those kids who ”graduate” from New York City public schools often fail at such basics as reading, writing and math. According to a report from the Village Voice, 80 percent of students at CUNY need “remediation” courses (meaning that they are incapable of doing college-level work) and only 14 percent passed CUNY’s algebra placement exam! (And these are the boys and girls who somehow managed to snare a high school diploma!)
Education specialists repeatedly complain about declining state funding for schools – but all a child needs to study and learn are paper, pencils, pens and textbooks; and that's it. Surely, these items cannot cost an extraordinary amount of money!
Fancy computers and carpeted classrooms are lovely, but hardly essential to gaining a top-flight education.
Of course there are many excellent and dedicated teachers in the schools, but the overall system must be overhauled. The teachers -- who are generally underpaid and overworked, simply cannot cope with an avalanche of students who are completely unwilling to study and learn.
We must also admit to the sobering reality that not every student is a scholar, nor do they all possess the aptitude, discipline and motivation to learn.
The notion that every child can conceivably become a doctor or lawyer is not only unrealistic, but also damaging, self-defeating and wasteful. There is absolutely nothing wrong or shameful about becoming a truck driver, nurse, garbageman, or auto mechanic – these are all valuable, pragmatic professions that society desperately needs to keep running.
So, I propose that at the age of 14 or so, every student in the public school system take an aptitude test that will determine their academic suitability, strengths, weaknesses and commitment to learning. Motivated, driven, gifted students will pass the test with flying colors and continue onto higher education (high school, college, etc.). Others will be steered to vocations that match their talents and desires, i.e., they would be sent to special schools to train them in whatever disciplines they are interested in (auto repair, medical technology, carpentry, etc,.) Otherwise we are simply wasting oceans of time and money in a hopeless and futile attempt to turn unmotivated, uninterested students into “intellectuals” and “scholars.”
*Change School Curriculum
The United States is falling behind other nations like China, South Korea and India in terms of developing students who excel in science, technology, computers and medicine (all the “geek” subjects). Without a solidly technocratic populace, the U.S. will not be able to compete in a global marketplace. (Hence, part of the reason why American corporations continue to import so many tech and science specialists from foreign countries).
Thus, referring to my aforementioned idea of testing 14-year-olds, the students who excel in math and science should be placed in institutions that offer rigorous training in these topics (physics, calculus, chemistry, computer science, etc.). Unless we aggressively develop more homegrown, scientists and engineers, the U.S. will slip from its First World status and perhaps never regain its one-time global supremacy and dominance.
Ironically, while too many people in New York (and the country as a whole) are addicted to their mobile phones, most have no clue how they actually work.
In connection with a focus on math and science, high schools and colleges need to eliminate frivolous and pointless "soft" subjects like "music appreciation," "ethnic studies," "gay studies" and the like. While there is nothing inherently wrong with exploring such subjects, they should be pursued during one’s free time, not in classes at school.
*Legalize Small Amounts of Marijuana
New York City police arrest far too many people for possessing small amounts of marijuana (which jacks up arrests stats and creates a false sense of security and law and order). But pot is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco (both of which are gleefully sold by the state). Such arrests tie up valuable police time, clog the courts and ruin the lives of otherwise law-abiding young people with a drug rap on their permanent records. According to the New York Times, in 2011, the NYPD arrested almost 51,000 people for possessing small amounts of marijuana (more than the entire number of similar arrests from 1978 to 1996 combined). These arrests cost the city some $75 million – all for a completely harmless “crime.”
*Encourage Youths To Learn About High Culture
I enjoy sports and television as much as the next person, but too many people are obsessed with the worst aspects of modern-day pop culture (namely TV reality shows, tabloids, hip hop and rock and roll music, vulgar movies, etc.) and this phenomenon has seriously -- perhaps permanently -- scarred the nation’s psyche.
This, of course, would be an enormously difficult “social revolution” to engineer, but we have to do something to get more kids interested in cultural activities of enduring value that uplift the soul (namely ballet, opera, classic films, chamber music, ancient history, great literature, etc). Such measures have to begin at home, where parents should be encouraged to direct their kids away from crap-entertainment and towards things that will profoundly influence their hearts and souls.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.