I Sit and Look Out: Queens not safeguarded against abuses of power

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The arrogance of power. King David of Israel had it. How do you think he got Bathsheba? But it did lead to the magnificent Psalm 51, if indeed he wrote it.

England’s King John had it. It led to his giving the barons of England and all of us the Magna Carta.

England’s King James II had it. It led to the Glorious Revolution and the rule of William and Mary.

Great Britain’s King George III had it. It led to the loss of America.

France’s King Louis XIV had it. He said, “I am the state.” (See Tom DeLay, below). It led to the French Revolution and Le Deluge, or “the flood,” King Louis XV’s fulfilled prophecy that refers to the decline of the French monarchy.

But you don’t have to be royalty to show the arrogance of power.

Developer Robert Moses had it. Don’t get me wrong; I think Moses was a great man in many ways — look at the park system he carved out in the city and elsewhere (e.g., Jones Beach). Before he was through, the parks acreage had tripled in the city, according to the Encyclopedia of New York City (which is a good source for information about his achievements and his arrogance). But like so many in power, he started believing his own press releases.

A case in point: The Queens Post, then a sister publication of the Bayside Times, one of the TimesLedger Newspapers, did a series on the neglect of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In text and pictures, it documented many problems. Sure, it went a bit overboard on occasion during the series, but the hard facts were there.

The Queens Post each week sent copies of the articles to Moses, then at the height of his powers as construction czar of the city and state, and asked on the front page what he was going to do about the problems.

Finally, Moses had it. In a statement to the press, he denounced the charges in the series as baseless and said it was all a circulation stunt.

Just before he issued that statement, the Queens Post had published a photograph showing a gaping hole in a decaying wooden bridge. Not long after Moses’ denunciation, a boy on a bicycle fell through the hole in the bridge and drowned.

The bridge and other problems in the park were quickly repaired.

Robert Moses. Long ago. Alas, the arrogance of power knows neither time nor place.

Some recent examples include one in Queens and others out of Washington, D.C., but they affect all of us.

Twice this past year, reporters from the TimesLedger Newspapers were denied admission to borough meetings at which the public’s business was discussed. Despite the state’s so-called Sunshine Law, they were turned away because, technically, they could be denied access in these instances. What the refusal to admit them showed was a disrespect for the intent and spirit of that law — that government functions should be transparently open to public scrutiny at all times.

At about the same time, according to the Washington Post, Tom DeLay (R-Texas), majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, wanted to smoke a cigar in a restaurant on federal property. When told it was prohibited to do so, DeLay is reported to have said, “I am the federal government.” (See Louis XIV, above.)

This is the same Tom DeLay who proposed housing the delegates to the upcoming Republican Convention in New York City on a luxury liner in the Hudson River, thus avoiding the hotels, restaurants, theaters and sidewalks where those people might meet New Yorkers. DeLay is known as “the Hammer” and, if memory serves, before we taxpayers became his major source of income, he was a pest exterminator. Perhaps the Hammer and his pals believe that we New Yorkers are part of the species he used to attack with chemicals.

And this is the same Tom DeLay who had members of his staff try to have the U.S. Department of Homeland Security round up Democratic members of the Texas legislature so that the Republicans could pass a redistricting bill that would be in their favor. That questionable maneuver is now being challenged in the courts. The U.S. Department of Justice is reported to have called the Hammer’s move “wacko.”

Of course, some human beings have recognized the limits of their power.

The original Moses took off his sandals when he heard the Voice of the Law.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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