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Vacations. Permanent & Otherwise.
June 14, 2004: June is upon us. Buds burst in Crayola colors. Lawn chairs gather around the altar of the BBQ grill. The sun stays longer every day but never becomes an unwelcome guest. Pools are being filled, bags are being packed and graves are being dug.

OK. A dash of noir to break the Summer doze. Yet in fact, the early part of the season has been marked by notable passings.

Glenn Cunningham, Mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey died suddenly of a heart attack in late May. Cunningham was nearing the end of his first term. He was Jersey City's first black mayor and was also state senator. Cunningham became mayor in 2001. Hope for political reform played a part in his election. That not enough came of this hope had more to do with Hudson County than it did with Cunningham. Over the past 4 years a string of federal indictments and convictions have demonstrated, yet again, how deep corruption is woven into the fabric of Hudson County political life. Not every thread is twisted but straight ones tend to get caught in the tangle. Yet Mayor Cunningham embodied reform in a meaningful way: he didn't ooze sleaze. Constituents might disagree with his policies, but didn't feel they needed a bath after being in his presence. Cunningham was respected and generally liked. An ex Marine and former U.S. Marshall, he was no wimp. At the time of his death he was waging political battles on a number of fronts. Including ones with members of the area's hoary political machine, the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Some say Cunningham opened too many battles and that the tension may have contributed to his death. Whatever. Right now he's probably relaxing in a heavenly lawn chair (or at least on a waiting room couch) sipping something topped with a paper umbrella and looking down on the pols who began jockeying for power before his body was cold. Saying: Boy, am I ever glad to be out of that.

When President Ronald Reagan died in early June, I thought of Hoboken, another, but smaller city in Hudson County. Reagan visited Hoboken in July of 1984, during his second presidential campaign. Hoboken was abuzz. Not only was the Prez coming, so was the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra. To Hobokenites, possibly more important. Hoboken was Sinatra's home town, but one he never revisited. Rumor had it Sinatra hated Hoboken. Connecting it with his less than stellar youthful years. But if accompanied by Reagan, Sinatra was willing to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong. Both the President and the Chairman were set to appear at St. Ann's, a Catholic church at the back of Hoboken, during its annual festival.

On the big day I headed over to check out the scene, with the idea of joining an announced protest. One held under the auspices of the venerable, leftist, "Workers World Party". By the 80's a number of its members had moved to Hudson County, driven out of NYC by high rents. Plus, NYC (or at least, Manhattan) was becoming a Wall Street workers' world and hence, not the stuff of which Marxist Leninist dreams are made. Though officially formed in the late 50's, the roots of Workers World Party (WWP) lay in the American left of the 1930's, as refracted through various faction splits. Many similar groups have disappeared. WWP however, proved remarkably tenacious and is still active nationally. But though admirable in their ability to press on despite detours in the inexorable march of history, they've never been known for their humor. This day was no different. Though unaffiliated people such as myself also gathered beneath their banners, the demo mood was the typical one of grim determination. Unhampered by false consciousness, WWP knew Santa Claus wasn't coming to town.

Wanting to get a closer look at the misled throngs of seemingly happy Hobokenites waiting to see Reagan and Sinatra, I worked my way into their crowd. Everyone was excited. Laughing and smiling. Waving little American flags. Talking with strangers. I suddenly found myself at the absolute front of the crowd, right behind the police barricades. The street was narrow: I'd be only a few feet away from the limo of evil! If Reagan was on my side in the car I'd be able to scowl right in his face; showing him not everyone in the crowd was brainwashed. "Here they come" shouted someone. And sure enough, there they were. I couldn't see Sinatra but as hoped, Reagan was right in front of me. Except for the glass I could have reached out and touched him. He was leaning forward slightly in his seat. Smiling, waving and making eye contact with people in the crowd. For an instant he did so with me. And darned if instead of scowling, I didn't find myself waving and smiling back.

Re Reaganomics, I agree with certain libertarian critiques that Reagan didn't accomplish what either left or right claim. He talked a good one but didn't really get much government off most people's backs. Plus during the Reagan years, government spending developed a more hidden, and hence less accountable, face. Under Reagan, the ideological move to privatize government services gathered steam, then rolled on through Bush Clinton Bush. After initial distrust Democrats embraced the concept as warmly as did Republicans. They knew government expansion when they saw it-- even when it came tricked out in terms such as "investment" "development" and "contractors". The poo poo platter of programs derived from, and inspired by, the ideological construct of privatization has meant no reduction in taxpayer burdens-- and has helped inflate political corruption. It's breathed new life into old, corrupt machines by giving pols more power to channel public money into un-elected, unregulated maws. Plus the bogus language of "privatization" has made it more acceptable for more people in ever higher income brackets to go on the taxpayer dole. For instance, would middle income and wealthy citizens be as eager to avail themselves of federal "development" funds if they were called "welfare"?

Unlike purist libertarians I believe government, as a human creation, does some things well. And that it has a necessary, role in social welfare and public protection. Limits in its role should grow out of realism about what government can accomplish in a world of free will and the knowledge that when government grows too large, it becomes detached from the control of its creators. I also believe that when Americans say they are willing to pay taxes to help others they are thinking of the truly needy-- not Joe Gentry, Ken Corporation, or Dan Pol plus cronies. I think most Americans don't want people to starve or be without access to life and death health care. And they want people in poor neighborhoods to be able to walk the streets safely and children in ghettos, who may not have PTA parents, to be able to attend clean, safe haven schools that give them a real chance at a way out.

Speaking of schools, safe havens and vacations, the upstate New York city of Albany has seen a recent whirlwind departure of major public personnel. On June 1st, schools superintendent Michael Johnson resigned after just one year on the job. Johnson is black. He was brought in from the "outside" and made waves in a city where stagnant floats political boats. One of Johnson's mad iconoclastic ideas was to cancel classroom birthday parties, saying they waste learning time. As if such events don't involve math! Think how many birthday candles students get to count in large classes. Another was to suggest that the awarding of federally funded summer jobs for teens, be tied to academic improvement. An outrageous scheme which drew the righteous wrath of Albany's Mayor Jerry Jennings. But worst of all, Johnson had the zany notion that being schools superintendent meant taking charge and doing what he thought best for students-- not juggling the egos of adults and learning to walk on stagnant water. Or in the words of the Albany Times Union: "Each constituency must be accommodated without alienating the other." So for the time being, Albany schools remain as they were when Johnson arrived. Too bad for "the families, mostly poor and black, for whom the schools are largely a failure."

Another striking departure from Albany's public stage is that of its Public Safety Commissioner, Jack Nielsen. Though the Albany Police department has been buffeted by scandal over the past year and the city faces a law suit over the accidental, fatal shooting of an innocent bystander during a police chase on New Year's Eve, these factors have nothing to do with Nielsen's resignation. He's off to pursue greater career opportunity as a private contractor for the U.S State Department in Haiti. Teaching the new regime how to whip their own police forces into shape. Helping make Haiti safe for democracy. Back when I resided in Albany, Jack Nielsen lived in the same building in the Hudson Park section of downtown Albany. In October, 2002 he attended a neighborhood association meeting in the bordering neighborhood of Park South. A low income neighborhood with crime problems. At this meeting Nielsen commented that "...he has two guns on him at all times" and he couldn't walk the bordering streets of Park South to go to the local supermarket "...without being a little careful because he doesn't want to shoot someone." I'd walked to the same supermarket and also had to be careful. Even though I didn't carry guns.

At the same meeting Nielsen explained that difficulty solving public safety problems in Park South grew out of the changing "social and economic level" of its residents. Park South was once solidly blue collar and "..it isn't anymore." Nielsen also said "they" were listening but didn't have the answer and that the answer wasn't for him to "tell the Mayor to put more police over here." At that point someone at the meeting inquired what was the answer. Nielsen replied he wasn't there to tell what the answer was, because he didn't know. But that "we need to look beyond what we think is the obvious."

Good luck in the new job, Jack. Be careful no one slips gris-gris powder into your Planter's Punch. Haiti doesn't need any more zombies!

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

"My boyfriend's back he's gonna save my reputation. If I were you I'd take a permanent vacation."

The Angels "My Boyfriend's Back" 1963.

"Well, anyway, thank you all. God bless you. And now I have to work for my supper. I have to pull, I understand it, the winning raffle ticket."

President Ronald Reagan. St Ann's Church, Hoboken. 07/26/84

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Copyright (c) 2004 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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