If you had one question to ask presidential candidates in the upcoming debates, what would it be?
I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years, having coached candidates in debates for every conceivable public office shy of the presidency. Here’s what I’ve come up with — it’s what I genuinely want to know:
“Dear Candidate X: You’ve just passed a police speed trap at night and see cars approaching from the other direction. Do you flip them your lights in warning or let them get nailed for speeding?”
The answer would pretty much tell me all I need to know about that candidate, much more than any question about Medicare or infrastructure or tax policy would. It would tell me whether he or she is with us, the people, or with them, the authorities.
Yes, I know they’ll be swearing to enforce the law and all that as an elected leader, but I need to know whether there’s any humanity left in them. I need to know if they remember what it's like to be John Q citizen.
Call me crazy.
A few weeks ago, a friend and lifelong New Yorker announced that he’s calling it quits. After 54 years in the five boroughs, he’s picking up his marbles and skedaddling it out of New York.
What finally did it — sky-high taxes? Traffic congestion? The subways?
No. It was Mayor Bill de Blasio ordering his NYPD driver to have a woman on the FDR Drive pulled over and ticketed after the mayor, in a passing motorcade, saw her using a cellphone while driving.
“Whenever I see anything out the window that requires police action,” the mayor explained, "I’ll say it out loud to the detail in my car, and they communicate with whatever vehicle is trailing us to go and deal with it or to reach out to the precinct or whatever it may be.
“Pull her over,” he said to his driver in this instance, “take whatever enforcement action you would take in that situation. Give her some on-the-spot education.”
For my friend, a highly successful human resources executive who pays a boatload in taxes, it was all the education he needed ... and the final straw. Congestion pricing talk and the Amazon HQ2 pullout put him at the edge; Sergeant de Blasio pushed him over.
Years ago, a state Assembly candidate with whom I was working in the Hudson Valley went on a small-business tour. A local farmer said the damndest thing to him, something I’ll never forget. “Whenever I get a piece of mail from New York State,” the man said, “I know it’s bad news. I know I’ve gotten in trouble somehow.”
I wanted to shout, “Exactly!” It was one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard. Who doesn’t flinch when he sees the state’s or city’s logo on an envelope addressed to him? Who doesn’t mutter under her breath, “What now?”
New York again ranked first in the nation in population loss last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and I’ve got to think it’s more than just high taxes and deep potholes chasing people away. I think it’s everything — I think people are leaving because they feel like they just can’t get a break here — that their government agencies have become adversarial, if not downright hostile, toward them. It’s how virtually everyone I talk to feels.
To what exotic locale is my HR friend moving — Florida, Hawaii, North or South Carolina?
Nope. He’s headed to Jersey. New Jersey for chrissake!
That’s how bad it’s gotten.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.