Autumn slithered into New York with a cold, wet weekend, but then came two days of crisp air, glorious sun and crystalline sky, and you knew beyond any doubt: Summer was finally over, and the best of all seasons in the city had come. Everything old was new again, and the possibilities seemed infinite. Autumn in New York is like spring everywhere else.
The city, of course, still has its problems. Homeless people, for example, are once again an issue. Activists insist the number of homeless is growing, although the police and city officials say it is not. What has changed, they say, is that the homeless are now more visible than before. As one of the security measures taken after Sept. 11 the cops began rousting them from tunnels and other underground passages where they had been sleeping. Consequently, the city says, the homeless now turn up in more public places.
Most likely that's true, and no one, not even the activists, suggests that the homeless problem is what it was in the bad old pre-Giuliani days. Actually hardly anyone seems to think it will ever be that way again, although they may be reluctant to admit it. One of Rudy Giuliani's great accomplishments as mayor was that in overcoming entrenched liberalism he gave vagrancy a bad name, and made parks and playgrounds safe for families and not for junkies and bums. Much of the so-called homeless problem then melted away.
Meanwhile the weekend also saw the first debate between the candidates for governor of New York State, and in its way it was a hoot. In 1994, candidate George Pataki refused to debate Gov. Mario Cuomo when Cuomo insisted that all minor-party candidates join in the debate as well. But that was then, and now that he is governor, Pataki has assumed the Cuomo position: He said he would not debate Democrat H. Carl McCall unless all other candidates were in the debate, too.
And so they were, not just Pataki and McCall, but also the hopefuls from the Marijuana Reform, Right to Life, Libertarian, Independence and Green Parties. They all had equal time in the 90-minute televised debate. No one, however, said anything interesting except the Right to Life candidate, Gerard J. Cronin, a parochial school teacher. "How are you, kids?" he said to his students.
Other than that there was only the insistence by Pataki and McCall that they both had a "plan" to deal with the state budget crisis, even though the shortfall may exceed $10 billion. Neither, however, offered any details about their plans, although both said they would not raise taxes or cut state programs. You did not believe either one, but you had to admire their chutzpah.
Both Pataki and McCall, in fact, are liberals, and there does not appear to be much substantive difference between them. Meanwhile Pataki is heavily favored to win re-election, although McCall may pick up a sympathy vote. Credit the New York Post for that. It did more investigative reporting, and once again disgraced itself.
Recently the Post stationed a reporter and photographer outside a city agency, and monitored employees' smoke breaks. Then it ran a story with names and pictures, ratting on workers who took more than their two allotted 15-minute breaks. The Post, supposedly a conservative paper, acted like an organ of the nanny state.
Then, just after that, it decided it had the goods on McCall. It found out that McCall, the New York State comptroller, had used official stationery to recommend some family members and friends for jobs. Many politicians use their stationery to do similar things, of course, and so, for that matter, do many people in the media.
Meanwhile, although the Post offered no evidence that McCall had retaliated in any way if the jobs were not forthcoming, it kept hammering away with front-page stories. None amounted to much, but the Times, Daily News and Newsday had to take notice. Presumably they knew the charges were silly, but sanctimony won out, and they all ran critical editorials. Whatever McCall's malfeasances, he almost certainly deserved better than that.
But maybe none of this really matters now. It is finally autumn in New York, and that means things can get started all over again.