02-19-2017  8:04 pm      •     

Perhaps the person we're the most in tune with since moving to New York is someone we've yet to meet - Thumper. Of course, that's not her real name but we don't even know that. You see, she's our upstairs neighbor and she has a mighty stride. When Thumper walks across the bedroom, directly above ours, the furniture rattles. When Thumper gets up in the morning she walks very quickly, back and forth, across the bedroom floor many times, rattling the furniture as she goes. In the evening and on weekends, she slows down a bit but still the thump-thump-thump.

I've tried to spot her (She walks way too fast to be a man) on the elevator in the morning. A couple of times a woman has been on the elevator when it has stopped on the seventh floor before stopping for me on 6 but, disappointingly, none could compare to Thumper's stride when leaving the elevator. So the mystery remains.

Generally, we've adjusted well to apartment living. We've met enough of our neighbors to have reason to stop and chat now and then. One of our doormen, Peter, who is the informal building counselor/mayor, has taken us under his wing so we hear lots of stories about the building like the time Bill Clinton dropped in to use the bathroom. It's not unusual for a resident to have lived in the building for decades and Peter has worked here for 30 years so there's lots to talk about.

One thing that's missing, however, is the backyard. What's a guy supposed to do without a backyard? Well, it turns out, NYC has lots of backyards. They just have to be shared. Last Friday Pat and I met for margaritas after work at the 79th St. marina overlooking our gorgeous Hudson River backyard. Recent Oregon friends, Bruce and Suzanne, accompanied us to one of NYC's most fabulous, and least known, backyards - Governors Island.  Sitting just a stone's throw from downtown Manhattan, this abandoned military installation is fantastic. Open on weekends via a free ferry from both Manhattan and Brooklyn, it features lots of free events, bikes for rent, fabulous old-timey architecture and even a palm tree fringed beach, (see picture) but most New Yorkers are simply unaware of the place.

(Speaking of unaware New Yorkers, I was the unaware one last time I wrote. The New York Botanical Garden is in the Bronx, not Queens. Duh!)

Work is way better these days. I'm back in the swing of things. My projects are all going well. The deputy mayor recently introduced me to someone as his "data guru." My position has allowed me to inch my way back into the larger government performance world so I get occasional invitations to lecture students, speak at conferences and write papers. Despite my up close and personal misgivings about how the city is managed, New York City government has a very strong reputation for good management and innovation and I'm the beneficiary.

I am constantly amazed by the size of the issues we deal with here. I learned the other day, that, since the beginning of this administration in 2002, the inspectors on the sidewalk and street cleanliness team that I manage have conducted 4.2 million block segment assessments! My analytics group has to sort through over one million records to determine if the City is writing more violations for businesses now than at the beginning of the administration. We're working with the Law Department to see if we can figure out how to avoid some of the lawsuits that cost the city $500 million a year. Fun stuff but scary, big numbers.

Work was even totally enchanting one day when a staff member and I went to a senior center to observe how the management counts meals served; one of the measures we report. As we entered the center in Chinatown, we were greeted by a band of seniors banging on drums. For the next hour we were treated to group after group, including a group of operatic seniors, showing off the activities of the center. Turns out the way they count meals served is that they serve the maximum allowable every day (300). Oh.

Without a doubt, the most bizarre experience I've had since my last missive is seeing the guy who panhandles with very large snakes he lets loose on the ground. Honestly, the snakes were kind of spread in front of him in Washington Square but not under any kind of restraint. I must have had a particularly interesting smell as one of the smaller snakes came straight towards me tongue out. As smelling often leads to tasting, I beat a hasty retreat.

With of Manhattan's amazing physical and cultural attributes, it's easy to forget that most people here live pretty normal lives. I was struck last week when Pat mentioned that she was getting together with a friend after the woman dropped her granddaughter off at school. OK, so I still can't get over the fact that we have friends with grandchildren, but still she was doing the most mundane thing - before going off to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a world famous cultural icon. Normal, I guess, tinged with way cool.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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