Bush To City: Drop Dead
The Bush Administration has treated New York City like a battered wife who still gets displayed for photo-ops and state dinners. George Bush and the Republicans who control both houses of Congress have starved New York for three years with fiscal policies that alternate between abuse and neglect. But now Bush will stage his renomination convention in the city he has used and abused--sticking his finger in our eye and exploiting our bereavement. This August, Karl Rove, the kitschy guru of political theater, will try to convert the crematorium of Ground Zero into a re-election billboard.
One of Bush's first TV ads of the season was another example of his exploitation of New York. It contained footage of New York firefighters carrying the remains of a dead co-worker on a gurney draped with an American flag. The image was an icon of the carnage. Scores of 9/11 widows and firefighters condemned the ad's poor taste and hypocrisy. As Jimmy Breslin wrote in Newsday, "In his first campaign commercial, George Bush reached down and molested the dead."
There are many ways in which the Bush Administration has attempted to strangle New York. The most telling has to do with its treatment of the city after the September 11 attacks. But there are others that show the extent of Bush's contempt not just for New York but, by implication, all of urban America.
In the first round of homeland security funding, in 2003, New York--twice targeted by terrorists, in 1993 and 2001--received 25 percent of the total of $100 million, which was divided among seven cities. In the 2003 supplemental budget, New York's share had shrunk to 18 percent, and the money was split among thirty cities. By last November, when New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in testimony before Congress that New York was being shortchanged, the city's share had dwindled to less than 7 percent, and the money was divided among fifty localities.
The most at-risk city in America had been cut by two-thirds. Homeland security money has become another run-of-the-mill pork-barrel patronage operation, like highways. Kelly says, "The credible threat of terrorism is considered a secondary factor in Washington in the way homeland security funding is allocated."
In February Bush proposed an increase to $1.4 billion in homeland security funding for so-called "high-risk cities." But fifty cities are still designated as high risk, so New York's share is only $94 million--a fraction of what is needed. On a per capita basis, New York State ranks forty-ninth among the states in antiterrorist funding, far below rural, sparsely populated Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. According to the New York Daily News, New York is also forty-ninth in per capita funding among cities: $5.87 per person. Compare that with $35.80 for Pittsburgh. But then, Tom Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania. Or look at Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor. Miami gets $52.82 per person. Orlando gets $47.14--as if Disney World is a bigger terrorist target than the New York subway system, the United Nations, the Stock Exchange, Times Square, JFK Airport, Yankee Stadium on opening day, or our reservoirs and water system. What's the biggest recipient of any US city, at $77.92 per person? New Haven, Connecticut. Is Yale a high-priority target because both Bushes are alumni?
Or consider the Bush Administration's treatment of first responders. It has recently eliminated its only program providing funds for upgrading police and fire department radio communications. On 9/11 the FDNY's radios did not function. Warnings over police radios to evacuate the towers immediately were not received by the firefighters trying to rescue trapped office workers. On that one day, 343 New York City firefighters died, and about 120 of these deaths have been attributed to the futile radio transmissions.
Since this catastrophe, New York's firefighters have emerged as international symbols of bravery, suffering and grief. Tourists still visit firehouses to offer condolences and leave flowers. George Bush famously embraced a firefighter on his visit to Ground Zero right after the attack. Bush has displayed members of the FDNY in the gallery at his speeches, wrapping himself in the glory of first responders.
But now, his Homeland Security Department has killed a federal program to integrate police and fire communications systems; New York will lose $6 million. Bush and Ridge have announced a $200 million cut in similar programs for next year, and a cut of 33 percent in the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.