The heart of NYU Wagner's programs is our faculty. An amalgam of full-time, clinical/research/visiting, and adjunct professors, they are outstanding teachers, expert researchers and committed practitioners.
The struggling economy offers the most basic explanation for why voters heavily rewarded Republican candidates at the polls in the 2010 midterm elections, two years after a very different set of results.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are likely to push through a series of targeted spending cuts over the next two years, but with little or no effect on the national deficit or overall government performance. And the Obama administration will be constrained as it navigates the partisan divide as well as stepped-up congressional subpoena activity.
These were the main points of agreement that emerged during a lively, hour-long discussion [audio] about the 2010 midterm elections on Nov. 8 at NYU Wagner. The forum featured National Review deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson, veteran Democratic strategist Robert Shrum, and Paul Light, a noted critic of the federal service.
Rogan Kersh, associate dean and professor at Wagner, moderated the discussion and question and answer session. The analyses of the historic election and its potential ramifications in policy and politics brought out dozens of students.
"Actually we've had three extraordinary national elections in a row - 2006, 2008, and 2010," began Bob Shrum, who teaches at Wagner. "In each case, they were a rebellion against the status quo, and they were a rebellion against two very different status quo's."
The panelists sought to make sense of it.
The 2010 midterms, said Williamson, do not represent a national mandate for Republicans, as conservatives "haven't done anything to earn back the trust they frittered away over the course of eight years during the Bush Administration."
What is more, the editor said, "there's always a danger that they're going to do something dumb, and I think that they're right on the cusp of doing it" -- such as maintaining federal spending levels at thigh levels while cutting taxes. The combination would only make a dangerously troubled economy even shakier, he said
Still, a bad economy would hardly be bad news for Republicans come the 2012 presidential election.
"Barack Obama would love it if unemployment were at 7 percent in 2012, but I think we're looking ahead to 11 percent unemployment, or even higher," said Williamson. "We are in for some rougher times than even those we've experienced economically, and there's no easy way out of it."
No easy way indeed, Shrum agreed.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure from Tea Party Republicans to deliver on this promise of a 'smaller government' and to achieve some of these cuts," Shrum said. "They'll succeed in some places, but overall we're not going to get to this dream, in part because there's not much reality behind the dream." For when Republicans begin selecting programs to cut - be they aid for education, or aircraft safety - a public backlash is likely to arise.
"We're headed for a train wreck on all sorts of things because the newly elected Republicans simultaneously want to extend the tax cuts and cut the deficit," Shrum warned. "It's what Ronald Reagan said he was going to do in the early 1990's. If Reagan, who I think was a masterful president, couldn't pull that off, then I don't think we are going to see it done very well here."
Light, a professor at Wagner, cautioned against another new flurry of "micro-oversight" of the federal government. He called instead for aggressive oversight of troubled agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, and, moreover, an overarching plan to create a productive, accountable and effective national government, a true overhaul that could save taxpayers $1 trillion over 10 years.
"It takes a lot to do that, and it would take a Democratic Party that actually steps up to the plate. President Obama has had virtually no interest in big-ticket federal reform; Republicans continue to argue for pay freezes, hiring freeze and pay cuts, which is small potatoes," said Light.
One audience member asked whether New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg could become president in 2012. Shrum replied that an Independent Bloomberg candidacy could be viable, but only in a three-way race in which the main Republican nominee had a polarizing effect -- and if the economy was still suffering.
"His claim to fame is being a billionaire and telling you how much salt to put on your French fries. I don't suppose that's going to be something that's going to catapult him to the White House," he said.
Former Mayor Edward I. Koch visited NYU Wagner on October 14, 2010, for an informative and engaging hour of discussion [audio] about his eventful years at City Hall -- years that generated a remarkable turnaround in the condition and character of New York City, visible to this day. Joining Koch was Jonathan Soffer, NYU Polytechnic Institute associate professor of history and author of the critically acclaimed new biography "Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City." [View video.]
More than 150 people, including many former senior officials of the Koch administration, listened as the distinguished public leader described several watershed moments involving his dealings with fiscal policy, striking unions, the private sector, HIV/AIDS, and the homeless.
Has the city been left too dependent on its finance, real estate and insurance industries, asked moderator Rob Polner, public affairs director at Wagner? No, Koch replied emphatically. He noted, as did Soffer, that while he actively encouraged private development in real estate, and makes no apologies for it, he also took advantage of growth in the city's tax base to provide social services.
"Private sector money doesn't build housing for poor people - it doesn't pay," Koch said. "That's the job of government and, regrettably, city government, because the federal government got out of the business of doing it."
One of the most prominent examples of Koch's enduring imprint on urban America was his administration's construction of 252,000 affordable housing units in the arson- and poverty-devastated South Bronx. The monumental, successful project was financed solely through the sale of previously shunned New York City general-obligation bonds.
In part because of such programs, Soffer said he views Mayor Koch not as a conservative -- as some have sought to characterize him -- but as a liberal leader, as "he basically believes in using government for public purposes." Piped up Koch: "I am a liberal -- with sanity!"
"Now when you say, 'Oh, you don't want to depend on development' -- well, that's what New York City's all about!" Koch declared. "In Pittsburgh it was steel. In some other town, it's coal -- whatever it is they have that's available. With us [New York], it's because everyone wants to live here."
Koch said a career devoted to public service is beyond compare -- something that he and hundreds of his former appointees have found true. Most have gone on to senior-level positions, representing all sectors.
"Public service," Koch said, "is the noblest of professions if it's done honorably, if it's done right...It's an aphrodisiac, in a way. Once you've done it, there's nothing comparable."
The former mayor was welcomed by Wagner dean Ellen Schall, and Dianne Rekow, Polytechnic Institute provost and NYU senior vice provost for science and technology.
First published in 1980, Street-Level Bureaucracy by Michael Lipsky is a critically acclaimed study of public service workers - be they teachers, nurses, police officers, or child protective caseworkers-and the ways that they wield discretion and influence over the day-to-day operation of government programs. Lipsky's path-breaking book explores the tensions among these front-line workers, their clients and their managers, and how those tensions shape the possibility of systemic reform.
On Thursday, September 16, NYU Wagner Dean Ellen Schall joined Lipsky, distinguished senior fellow with Demos, New York City Deputy Mayor for Human Services Linda Gibbs, and John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, to reflect on the award-winning book - reprinted on its 30th anniversary - and to discuss current problems and creative solutions in reforming social services.
The need for effective health care, social services education, and law enforcement is as urgent as ever, three decades since the book's original publication by the Russell Sage Foundation.
Deputy Mayor Gibbs recalled her reform-oriented work at the Administration for Children's Services and the Department of Homeless Services of New York City, emphasizing the value of engaging with street-level staff, while Dean Schall, the Martin Cherkasky Professor of Health Policy & Management, discussed her years early in her career as a Legal Aid attorney, and her experiences with reform as the commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice for New York City. Along with Michael Lipsky, they explored the everyday tensions between rules and discretion that exist for front-line workers and managers.
All agreed that the desire to make a difference draws younger people, mid-career professionals and increasingly even retirees to careers and positions in public service, and that this motivation remains at least as powerful as it was 30 years ago.
"I would say what young people want is impact," Dean Schall said during the question-and-answer segment, which included involvement by several Wagner faculty and students in the audience. "There isn't a sector where you can have greater impact than the public sector."
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Natasha Iskander just published a new book called Creative State: Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in Morocco and Mexico.
At the turn of the 21st century, governments around the world began searching for ways to capitalize on emigration for economic growth, and they looked to nations that already had policies in place. Morocco and Mexico featured prominently as sources of “best practices” in this area.
In Creative State, Professor Iskander chronicles how these innovative policies emerged and evolved over 40 years and reveals how neither the governments nor their migrant constituencies ever predicted the ways the initiatives would fundamentally redefine nationhood, development and citizenship.
Learn more about this fascinating topic and RSVP for the book launch celebration.