Reports of NYC’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Far from becoming a crime-ridden hellscape, NYC’s actual numbers of murders and robberies are on a pace that is not only down from 10 years ago, which was eight years into Mike Bloomberg’s term as Mayor, but they’re almost half as much as they were at the end of the Giuliani administration, when people thought NYC crime had been "cleaned up".
Our current coronavirus case counts make us one of the safest cities to be in the entire country. While our elected leaders have taken a big victory lap on how far we’ve come, the real heroes are NYC’s own residents, who have been, for the most part, excellent at being responsible. Any narrative that puts our leadership at the center of our recovery largely erases their ineptitude in the early days of the pandemic.
I’m not writing this to look back, but to look forward—to acknowledge that while New York City isn’t the disaster area the NY Post would have you believe it to be, it has some really serious problems that it needs to dig out of—much of it economic, but under the covers, systemic.
This problem set is an opportunity for Mayor Bill de Blasio, normally New York City’s easiest man to find in a crowd, to show up as a leader.
Unfortunately, he has become the Big Apple’s biggest missing person—literally. People who work in government that deal with the Mayor’s office have said off the record that they seem “disinterested” in new initiatives.
The Mayor has about sixteen months left in his tenure. While it’s not enough time to fix all of NYC’s problems at it recovers from the pandemic and resulting recession, we need to make sure that the work gets a head start.
Months ago, de Blasio outsourced this opportunity to something called the “Fair Recovery Task Force”. They were supposed to produce a plan by June 1st and we’re still waiting.
Given the smart folks who are on it, I’m sure they’ll come up with some good ideas, absolutely none of which will be implemented as the Mayor rides out his lame duck last year and the NYC Council gives way to 2021 election season.
That’s what happens when you ask someone else to create a plan. The act of asking makes it seem like you’re doing something—but ultimately you’re not taking responsibility for it yourself.
I want to know what Bill de Blasio’s plan is. He’s still the Mayor. I want to know what he’s willing to put his name on himself and take responsibility for setting in motion.
New York City, like most major cities, had a lot of problems before the pandemic hit. Like most of the country, it has become a tale of two communities.
If you were employed within NYC’s growing tech ecosystem, or its continuing to thrive financial sector, you were doing pretty darn well. Outside of that, if you were trying to run a restaurant that wasn’t Shake Shack or trying to raise a family on a budget as teacher, things were hard and getting harder.
Housing costs, while not quite at San Francisco levels, are out of control.
My dad was a NYC firefighter from 1963-1983. In 1969, after six years on the job and making the salary equivalent of about $60,000, with my mom taking care of my brothers, he bought a house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The cost of that house, also in today’s dollars, was about $150,000. Can you even imagine that today? He bought a house two blocks from a subway station in a good neighborhood for just over two times his lone NYC civil servant salary.
That would be impossible today. Homes on that block are now going for over $700,000.
We continue to have a serious homelessness problem—one that was worsening even before the pandemic. Despite years of economic growth in the city, the homeless population was larger at the start of this year than when the Mayor took office. I say despite, but those familiar with the problem would probably say “because of”.
As market demand drives the cost of real estate up, housing for low income NYers takes a back seat.
Small businesses are hurting, too. Commercial rents are suffocating the city’s best gathering places and they’re being replaced with bank branches and Dunkin Donuts locations—or nothing at all. Landlords seem content to sit on empty storefronts for entire cycles.
What the city needs now is a kind of Constitutional Convention scale effort—perhaps not in person, and definitely not just a room full of wealthy landowning white guys—but the kind of effort where any idea is on the table. We need bold, competing visions that get openly debated, and real effort to hammer out compromises.
I’ve always liked the idea that a bunch of people got locked in a room to hash out a plan for a new nation and basically told not to come out until they had something—an actual plan.
Bill de Blasio could take personal responsibility for facilitating that process. He could highlight the four or five biggest issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic, and convene an inclusive process for ideas on how to address them directly. He should encourage bold new legislative actions and shed light on where the city’s hands are unnecessarily tied, so we know what to advocate for in Albany.
He should make it his mission to move the conversation of everyday New Yorker’s from defending the city to outsiders on Twitter, to collaborating with their neighbors on ways to move the city forward, together.
In June, de Blasio created a situation where the city tried to address racial equity with competing press releases and speeches. What was ever going to get solved with Pat Lynch grandstanding on one side and de Blasio fumbling around in the press on the other?
Neither showed any kind of real dedication to problem solving and their approach just divided up the city into those who were for cops or against cops. In the end, both the cops and the protesters came away from the process completely dissatisfied with the Mayor’s leadership—which is a really amazing feat if you think about it.
de Blasio was a price taker in those negotiations, not a price maker. There was no “de Blasio Plan” for fixing the systemic racial issues in our system of criminal justice and policing. There was just the plan that could get done given an administration unwilling to put in the effort and make hard choices.
Along the same lines, I don’t want to wait for six people in a room to tell me what the recovery plan is only to go back to business as usual. I don’t want to wait another election season to hear other people’s good ideas either.
I want the one person we elected—on a now failed platform to make NYC a more equitable place—to bring all 8.4 million of us together to get on board for a plan we can call our own.
How about we start adding the first zip codes in the whole country where a minimum wage job can afford a safe place to live?
Let’s get a lot more serious about investing in social welfare and equitable outcomes across racial and economic lines so that we don’t need to flood the street with more police officers to deal with the aftermath of underresourcing our most at-risk communities.
Make NYC a welcoming and affordable place to start a business—not just a venture backed tech company, but a new restaurant or grocery store.
Create a local healthcare system a place that addresses a serious lack of equitable outcomes for all New Yorkers.
Let’s reinvigorate NYC’s street life, making the city a safe place for more neighbors on stoops watching kids play in the street, improving the quality of our park spaces, fostering fun nighttime gathering spots, and less big box retailers, bank branches and other soulless additions to our neighborhoods.
We could be a model for other cities going forward, if only the big man would put all that taxpayer supported gym time to work, put his oar in the water, and paddling as hard as the everyday New Yorker will have to.