News that Mayor Bloomberg has been at the United Nations, meeting with Secretary-General Ban, is cause for an alert for New Yorkers on the vigil to prevent subsidies and other deals to enable the world body to encroach further on our city. There is no overt indication that Mr. Bloomberg spoke with Mr. Ban about the idea of building more space near the United Nations ó and on a public park, no less ó that would be used either by the United Nations or by another tenant whose move would enable the United Nations to move where the other tenant used to be. But the newspaperman's instinct is that the options for mischief are so great that anytime a politician as senior and as effective as Mr. Bloomberg fetches up in Turtle Bay, well, it's just time to be careful.
The mayor has not been entirely in default on the United Nations. Lawyers for the city were arguing at the Supreme Court the other day for the right to levy taxes on India and Mongolia, which used various "diplomatic" properties for purposes the city reckons are outside of areas that call for tax immunity. In the wake of the oil-for-food scandal, it's a small, but important, engagement in the never-ending struggle to bring the world body under the rule of law. But we've long had the sense that the real estate community with properties around the United Nations would like to free up some of the space the United Nations is currently occupying in the vicinity of its venue on the East River, and the little park just south of the United Nations beckons.
The notion that a departure of the United Nations from New York is automatically bad for the city results from a classic case of static analysis. The real estate transaction by which the Zeckendorfs and Rockefellers conveyed the key acreage along the East River to the United Nations makes it clear that from the get-go the subsidies were in the direction of the United Nations from the taxpayers of the city, even if some of them were made by wealthy philanthropists. All the talk about all the jobs the United Nations brings to the city presupposes that nothing could be done with the land by private developers for commercial purposes that would bring their own jobs.
One of the histories we found online ó at encyclopedia.com ó quotes the senior Zeckendorf as writing later: "Not since Columbia University turned over its Midtown properties for the construction of Rockefeller Center had such a great land parcel as ours become available in New York." It's hard to imagine the United Nations contributing to our economy anything like Rockefeller Center. And it strikes us that it would be a lot more useful for the mayor and our other public figures to spend less time wheedling the United Nations to stay in the city and figuring out schemes by which the taxpayers might subsidize or guarantee its debt and more time figuring out what the markets would do with the site if it were put up for a proper auction.