February 19, 1988
Cultural Politics

Staten Island's representative to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Anthony Tung, is a dedicated official who has served well in his eight years on the commission. The St. George architect has also been an outspoken critic of some of the plans of the Koch administration, most notably a plan to put a restaurant in Manhattan's Bryant Park.

For that reason, the mayor decided to replace Mr. Tung. His first nominee to take Mr. Tung's position, Frances X. Paulo, asked for her name to be withdrawn after pro-Tung forces raised a nasty flap over her involvement in a controversial memorial to her father, Surrogate Frank Paulo, next to Borough Hall.

Now, the mayor has made another nomination, Lee Weintraub, an Arden Heights architect, and opposition has gathered to fight this one with the same bitterness.

"Short of another Frank Lloyd Wright, I'm not interested in any candidate but Tony Tung," said Councilwoman Susan Molinari, displaying something less than open-mindedness on the matter. Ms. Molinari said "The mayor obviously has an agenda and Tony is too independent for them. Well, I think we could use more of that independence."

That celebration of independence is commendable, but disingenuous. In fact, Mr. Tung's strong feelings on certain matters have led him to buck City Hall often, occasionally to the embarrassment of the administration. That makes him useful to political opponents of the mayor. Mr. Tung is not Frank Lloyd Wright either, but those in city government who resent Mr. Koch's power and style would portray this political fight into a cultural crusade. As for Mr. Tung's many "civilian" supporters, we understand their loyalty as we share their appreciation of Mr. Tung's talents.

It seems to us that the responsibilities of the commission are too important to be muddled by a lingering battle over a recalcitrant member. Those who want to fight the mayor can use avenues legally available to them, including voting against his appointments.

But the fact remains that the post is, by law, a mayoral appointment, and the mayor is entitled to fill it with someone of his choosing, and to replace appointments as he sees fit. He is also not obliged to live with appointments who consistently and conspicuously oppose him.

We would hope that power would be exercised responsibly, and in fact it has been: Mr. Tung was a Koch appointee in the first place, and he has served eight good years. And no, a member of a mayorally appointed commission shouldn't be a rubber stamp; nor should he be an obstructionist.

With all due respect to Mr. Tung's considerable abilities, no one public official should get the impression that he's indispensable. A mayor must face the voters every four years to have his performance reassessed. Mr. Tung has served eight years, but now faces the one man to whom he is accountable, the mayor, and the mayor wants to replace him. That's fair and proper.