In NY, security a boost, economy damper on Bush legacy
By Thomas Maier
January 11, 2009
To his supporters, the most visible legacy in New York of George W. Bush's presidency isn't easily detected by the naked eye but made all the difference in protecting the public in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Manhattan.
Bush's local legacy, they say, can be found in the hidden surveillance cameras at tunnels, radiation detectors at shipping docks, beefed-up inspections at airports and increased funding for local law enforcement.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) says Bush's commitment prevented another catastrophe from striking New York, Long Island and the rest of the nation. "He always asked me about the [victims'] families; September 11th was a personal wound to him," he said, recalling how Bush rallied the nation by visiting the World Trade Center site shortly after the attack, perhaps the most dramatic moment of his presidency. "It was a cause."
But to many detractors on Long Island and in the region, Bush's key legacy is one of mismanagement of the economy. In Nassau and Suffolk, where Republicans ruled for decades, many blame Bush for depressed housing prices, lower stocks and depleted retirement investments. By last November's election, Bush became a leading cause for turning many suburban swing voters into Democrats, at least for now.
"In many ways, the economic collapse on Wall Street and the political downfall of the Republican Party really does define the Bush legacy," said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic national committeeman from Great Neck.
Bush's impact on the Island region, according to public office holders and political experts, can be seen in four key areas.
Spurred by Bush's tax cuts in his first term, homeowners on Long Island found some extra money in their pockets, and they were encouraged to spend at local malls as part of the post-9/11 recovery. High-flying Wall Street firms gave out big bonuses to traders who bought Hamptons summer homes, and the Federal Reserve pushed borrowing costs to record lows.
But last fall's stock market plunge exposed cracks in the administration's regulation of Wall Street and management of fiscal policy, say critics like Zimmerman, leading many Long Islanders to see a drop of more than 20 percent in their investments.
Still, Pearl M. Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, says Bush isn't solely to blame for the economic woes here. "We've been living beyond our means for years and we're paying the price for it now," she said.
War on terrorism
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have claimed more than 30 military members from Long Island and injured many more. The long conflicts and their high costs cut into Bush's once strong public support here and hurt the chances of many local GOP candidates running for office in 2008, said state and Nassau County Republican leader Joseph Mondello. "The war lingered on for a long time and it ate at his popularity," he said.
Perhaps the biggest infrastructure project for Long Islanders was the $7.2-billion East Side Access rail project, which Bush threw his full support behind in 2006. The project to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal - expected be finished in the next decade - is aimed at reducing commuting time to and from Manhattan.
Bush's unpopularity last year was certainly no help to the New York Republican Party, which once produced such vote-getters as Govs. George Pataki and Nelson Rockefeller and Sens. Jacob Javits and Al D'Amato.
King is now the only Republican congressman south of Poughkeepsie, and Mondello says he's trying hard to attract suburban voters and rebuild his party. Unlike in the salad days of Ronald Reagan, he says New York Republicans found Bush's message difficult to sell to Long Island voters. Bush's "ability to communicate his position left something to be desired," said Mondello, as diplomatically as possible.
Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.