Rotten politics in the Big Apple

When Tip O'Neill uttered his famous line about all politics being local, he wasn't saying that's always a good thing. It certainly was not in New York last week, as evidenced by the parochial political uproar over - strangely enough - an evolving network disaster-recovery plan.

When the late Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill uttered his famous line about all politics being local, he wasn't saying that's always a good thing.

It certainly was not in New York last week, as evidenced by the parochial political uproar over - strangely enough - an evolving network disaster-recovery plan.

As my colleague Ellen Messmer reported Oct. 21, a quartet of regulatory agencies led by the Federal Reserve has drafted a blueprint designed to assure that any future catastrophic terrorist assault does not put the nation's financial capital out of business for as long as the last one did. Wall Street trading was halted for a week after Sept. 11, and, according to the movers behind this initiative, back-up plans and facilities proved woefully inadequate throughout the financial district.

Among the corrective measures being proposed is that central and back-up facilities for the most important financial institutions be separated by at least 200 miles. The thinking is that only such separation will provide the necessary assurance that an attack will not disable both locations.

After the New York press caught wind of this suggestion last week, howls of anguish erupted from New York Gov. George Pataki, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's Chamber of Commerce.

The reason is the prospect of lost jobs and a diminished tax base. Pataki, Bloomberg and the Chamber cheerleaders are apparently convinced that this regulatory mandate, should it come to pass, will decimate the already-depleted employment rolls within New York's financial district. They even ginned up an estimate of the economic carnage: 25% of 155,000 jobs. (Rule of thumb when dealing with politicians: Divide such "estimates" by at least five . . . 10 to be safe.)

"It's a horrible, horrible concept," Pataki told New York's Daily News.

How horribly horrible? Well, the governor says, the requirement will not only drive these jobs out of New York City but clear out of the country. . . . It's not clear why.

"We all want to make sure we have back-up facilities," Bloomberg harrumphed. "But splitting a company into two parts and moving one 300 miles away is, No. 1, giving in to the terrorists, and No. 2, it just doesn't work."

Giving in to the terrorists? I suppose you could make the same argument about extra security screenings at the airport . . . if you want to be the butt of late-night jokes by Leno and Letterman.

Let's be clear here. I wouldn't pretend to tell anyone whether the optimum separation between primary and back-up banking facilities should be 200 miles or 200 yards.

But I do know this much: That calculation has absolutely nothing to do with New York City's tax base or unemployment rate.

On the one hand, it's truly remarkable that these political and business leaders would place a purely parochial issue on a par with a truly national (if not global) imperative: protecting the network infrastructure that supports this country's financial system.

On the other hand, of course, this is what politicians do for a living.

The good news is that in theory, at least, the Federal Reserve and its regulatory partners in this endeavor - which includes the New York State Banking Department - are supposed to toil above political fray.

Let's hope so. For it would truly be a sad commentary on our leaders and our priorities if the regulators bow to the pressure being applied by these myopic special interests.

Got something to say about this New York state of mind? The address is buzz@nww.com.

Learn more about this topic

Fed to banks: Improve backup

Network World, 10/21/02.

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