I wonder who they will come for next?
Everyone remembers Thomas Jefferson being pulled down and carted out the back door of City Hall a couple of years back.
Well, earlier this week there was another hearing at City Hall on how to remove more of the city’s monuments.
It came amid a longer session on such crucial and important questions such as a racial “truth and reconciliation commission” and — naturally — reparations.
But the council still had time to discuss which statues are allowed to stay up.
At one point Council Member Chi Ossé was questioning someone called Sreoshy Banerjea.
Apart from introducing herself as a “she/her,” Banerjea is Executive Director of the Public Design Commission.
That means she is in charge of what you and I are allowed to see as we walk around this city.
If some old statue or monument is for the chopping block then it comes across Banerjea’s desk first.
As she told the Council, she/her is in favor of helping this city to “come to terms with” its history.
What does that mean in practice? Well, when asked about a certain statue at Columbus circle she/her said that she supported “increased dialogue about it.”
I wonder what that dialogue might consist of? Perhaps it would be very well-rounded, and not at all one-sided? Who knows.
In any case she’ll have her work cut out — as will the council.
Because apparently there are now 2,500 pieces of public art which need “extensive research” as part of a “complex evaluation process.”
Or maybe it won’t be that complex. Because it seems that on the matter of New York history Banerjea is judge, jury and executioner.
In fact she said that she has already decided that “a lot” of these 2,500 works of art qualify for removal.
And if you thought that this was a bad day at City Hall, I have news. That’s an average day’s activity now.
Just take the next day. Wednesday was time to have a hearing about AI in public schools.
Not about education. Not about why the city’s public schools keep performing so badly despite so much money.
Instead education officials talked about the need for more machine learning and AI in schools. This included “reimagining the school experience.”
What were the priorities? Well one witness, Melanie Mac (Senior Executive Director for the Office of Student Pathways at NYC Public Schools) got right to the heart of the math and literacy problems of the city’s schools.
She talked about an initiative called CS4AII which, as she said, seeks to expand computer science participation for “Black, Latinx, and students who identify as girls.”
The reason this is important, apparently, is that there are too many white and Asian students in computer science and not enough “Black, Latinx, and students identifying as girls.”
When asked by Council Member Vicki Paladino about the benefits of AI for kids, Mad Mac said it was “an equity issue.” Isn’t everything?
Whenever I watch hearings like this I must admit that I have my head in my hands. It is like entering a parallel universe where officials and their witnesses testify in some alternative reality.
In City Hall people can talk all day about “people who identify as girls” and “equity ratings” and whether or not Christopher Columbus should still be standing.
But out there on the streets are the realities that people actually live with.
As it happens one such reality confronted Council Member Pierina Sanchez on her way to work on Wednesday this week.
Descending to the Park Place station she had the now familiar New York pleasure of seeing a homeless person exposing himself and masturbating.
This great New York tradition is just one of the many things that it seems the Council can do nothing about. Just a fact of life. Like changes in the weather. And crime. And homelessness. And drug addiction.
And the fact that 51% of the city’s 3rd-8th grade students didn’t score proficient in reading last year. Or that 64% of Latino students and fully 64% of black students didn’t score proficient in those same tests.
These are figures that would shame a third-world country.
And all despite the massive, first-world spending that this city pours into education. How can such figures even be possible?
In part it is because our elected officials spend their days focusing on things they can do nothing about instead of concentrating on things they can.
They cannot alter the life of Christopher Columbus. But they can make sure that when we go into the subway we don’t see a homeless one-hand shake.
They can’t create a situation of “equity” in which every student (even “people who identify as girls”) always get the same outcomes.
But they can create a situation in which every New York student gets the best possible start in life.
Everybody at City Hall seems to know what a pronoun is. How about teaching the city’s kids what verbs are?
The UN needs to meet somewhere else
There’s no shortage of reasons to dislike the UN. The talking-shop. The hypocrisies. The dictators all flying in to lecture us on human rights and climate change.
But for anyone who lives in Manhattan this week always gives another cause for loathing.
How much time have we all spent in city traffic this week?
Or been stopped on the sidewalk by law enforcement so that some murderous thug can exit his hotel more peacefully?
I don’t think there’s one meeting I’ve had this week where I have turned up a sweaty mess from trying to cross the city by subway, car, bike or foot. Sometimes all four.
Last year I was stopped from entering my own street. I think it was the leader of Iran who was at the end of the block. Which didn’t make me love him any more.
Not for the first time I wonder why, if all the world’s dictators and despots (and a few friends) want to gather somewhere, can’t they visit the Adirondacks?