Diarist

Adam P. Glick
Signs of the Times
Winter 1993

Go to Central Park at around 80th Street and Fifth Avenue and your vista will include a chain-link fence, some overturned sod, a large mound of dirt, and occasionally a backhoe or two.

In the middle of this debris sits a sign announcing that what you are actually witnessing is something called the Southwestern Metropolitan Museum Landscape Restoration. Fair enough. But if you read on you will be affronted by a list of names: David Dinkins, Mayor; Ruth Messinger, Manhattan Borough President; Betsy Gotbaum, Parks Commissioner, etc.

Huh?

Did any of the aforementioned move one mound of earth, plant one tree, or spend even a few minutes operating any heavy machinery? Are we to guess that these are the individuals who actually paid for the work?

The answer doesn’t require much thought. Why should incumbents be able to employ the public’s tax dollars towards their reelection campaigns?

Good question.

Years ago, this wasn’t the case. When the government decided to do some building, a sign usually went up announcing, YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. The advantage of these simple announcements was that the same signs could be ferried from site to site as work was completed. They weren’t “administration specific.” These signs, however, were employed quite some while back. Today, our tax dollars are more likely to be found vacationing in the Caribbean, sitting in a lounge chair with a piña colada at their side. (Or, more accurately, paying a sanitation worker eight hours’ wages for four hours’ work.)

The cost of replacing the aforementioned signs with each administration is nothing compared to the abuse of power involved. And the most egregious offender is none other than Gotham’s very own salad-bar-patron liberator, consumer czar Mark Green.

The City of New York insists that certain businesses be licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Fine. Additionally, it has decided that these shops should be forced to post their licenses prominently at their places of business. Not so fine. It has also gone even further and required that each one of these signs list the name of Mark Green in a type larger than that of the businesses’ license numbers. Crazy. The last person to require that signs carrying his name be emblazoned on every shop was Pharaoh Ramses II (or maybe Mussolini). Anyhow, why is Mr. Green, who has never built a pyramid, or managed to make the subways run on time, entitled to the free publicity?

There is a way out of this mess, and it doesn’t even require legislation. Each company doing business in New York, when presenting a bill to its customers should, next to the line item for city sales tax, mention David Dinkins, Mayor. Next to the state sales tax, Mario Cuomo, Governor. Garages, salad bars, etc., could post a sign that says, “This business is licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Our license cost X. We have passed that cost on to you. Mark Green, Commissioner.” Manhattan real estate tax bills could list the taxes owed, comma, Ruth Messinger, Manhattan Borough President. Etc.

This way New Yorkers will have a daily reminder of whose hands are in their pockets. If the elected officials of this city insist on taking credit for spending the public’s dollars, then let them also take credit for collecting them.

Jazz musicians have a saying: “Silence swings.” What this means is that the notes a musician chooses to avoid are as important as those he plays. Until the officials of our city realize this, and begin to take credit for projects they choose to avoid, taxes they lower, and licensing fees and onerous local laws they eliminate, the noise emanating from city hall will only get louder. Discretion is the better part of valor, but it’s also the better part of governing.

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