It was truly improvident of Rockefeller Center to have begun a tradition of lighting its Christmas tree during the week after Thanksgiving, when it should have anticipated that a president might show up at the same time rattling a cup for his re-election campaign.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
As a result of the center’s lamentable lack of foresight, Manhattan went on gridlock alert Wednesday night, with a wide swath of Midtown closed to normal traffic.
Some were quick to blame the mess on President Obama, because he could have picked a less predictably frantic day to drop in. He floated around town to not one, not two, but three fund-raising events. But clearly the onus fell on the people at Rockefeller Center. They should have figured out when they started the annual tree decoration eight decades ago that something like this could happen.
O.K., let’s get real: This was not the White House scheduling office’s finest hour. Maybe its blooper will even cost Mr. Obama a few votes among hard-core drivers who, like Charlton Heston talking in 2000 about his rifle, will let go of the wheel only when it is taken from their cold, dead hands.
But you don’t need the president to have traffic jams here, despite some hyperventilating about his visit in certain corners of the news media. The city manages to create snarls all on its own, thank you, mainly because too many cars carry no one but the driver. As I wrote a few weeks ago in a different context, studies show that 60 percent of vehicles entering Manhattan during the workweek are driver-only.
Still, traffic jams come and go. We endure.
Perhaps a more fruitful exercise would be to consider whether the city should be reimbursed by the Obama re-election campaign and by Rockefeller Center. Their activities added to New York’s municipal burden, including for the overtime that undoubtedly had to be paid to police officers — or as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg calls them, “my own army.”
Speaking Tuesday night at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Bloomberg began with a riff on why City Hall was better than the White House. “I have my own army in the N.Y.P.D., which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” he said. “I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.”
Actually, Mr. Bloomberg’s “army” is nowhere near the world’s seventh largest. NationMaster.com, a Web site that gathers national statistics around the world, puts Vietnam in seventh place, with 412,000 troops. New York’s Police Department is more like No. 35 or 36, just below Libya and above Norway.
But why quibble? The mayor’s remarks were offered lightheartedly. Nonetheless, he then went on to make other comments suggesting that he hadn’t abandoned the notion that “President Bloomberg” has a nice ring to it.
Back to Mr. Obama and the Christmas tree. Asked about the cost to the city on a day like Wednesday, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said in an e-mail that “we get about $25 million annually from the federal government for dignitary protection,” including for visiting foreign heads of state.
Mr. Obama is surely a dignitary in need of protection. But an argument could be made that he came to town not in his capacity as president but rather as a political candidate in search of an A.T.M. Why shouldn’t his campaign pay the city for its troubles? The same goes for any other presidential contender.
Ditto for the Rockefeller Center tree or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. They draw huge crowds that require swollen police details, yet the events are “policed without cost to the private entities associated with them,” Mr. Browne said. Instead, he said, off-duty officers are authorized to be part of “paid details.” They may work in uniform to bolster the security force, and are paid by Rockefeller Center or Macy’s.
That’s fine for those officers, who no doubt can use the extra cash. But what does the city treasury get out of it except a headache?
While we like the tree and the parade as much as anyone, they are, after all, promotional tools for commercial enterprises. To slightly rework a line that is No. 25 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations, show us the money!
For more local news, including new focus on one of city comptroller John C. Liu’s quietest but most influential gatekeepers, complaints about a Brooklyn assemblyman’s indifference and a push by the city’s health commissioner for doctors to begin aggressively treating H.I.V. infection as soon as it is diagnosed, see the N.Y./Region section.
Here is what City Room is reading in other newspapers and blogs.
A couple were charged with abducting a deaf woman from a street in East New York, Brooklyn, trying to force her into prostitution and beating her when she refused. The woman escaped into a post office in Bedford-Stuyvesant after she was driven around for hours, and the police caught the couple after a police chase on the Jackie Robinson Parkway. [ABC Local]
The lead detective in the Bronx ticket-fixing scandal may have leaked information to a former internal affairs officer who is now under indictment in the case, law enforcement officials said. [New York Post]
The federal authorities arrested 20 people suspected of operating a human-trafficking ring tied to a Times Square strip club and the Bonanno and Gambino crime families. [DNA Info]
Department of Education officials are investigating the principal of Jane Addams High School in the South Bronx over allegations that she inflated course credits in classes like tourism and cosmetology, jeopardizing graduation for half of the senior class. [Daily News]
The federal authorities are pursuing charges against employees of three prominent investment firms as the latest development in an insider trading investigation. [Wall Street Journal]
A fugitive wanted for attempted murder in Connecticut was arrested in the Bronx, two years after eluding federal marshals in Queens. [New York Post]
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg referred to New York’s police force as “my own army” in a speech at M.I.T. that seemed directed at Washington. [DNA Info]
The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center released its annual Human Rights Report Card for New York City Council members. How does your council member stand up? [Metro Focus]
Senator Charles E. Schumer elicited an apology from Senator John McCain after Mr. McCain glibly insulted Long Island. [Daily News]
A Midtown dentist is suing a former client, claiming the client violated a privacy agreement after he complained in an online review that she overcharged him. [New York Post]
A tribute to Brooklyn’s famed pornographers. [The Brooklyn Paper]
Parts of New Jersey are still struggling to recover from the impact of Tropical Storm Irene. [Wall Street Journal]