Bill de Blasio, still yakking daily, accidentally got at something important Friday morning when he went from a dire warning about how precarious things are in New York City to a passive assurance that our problems will solve themselves, like they always do.
Asked why landlords would extend relief to tenants, when that didn’t even happen after 9/11, the mayor declared that “this is not business as usual — I would hope landlords would realize both morally and practically (that) if they throw a tenant out they’re not going to have anyone to replace them any time soon.”
That was about 20 minutes before he launched into his favorite new spiel about how the city always bounces back stronger from each crisis, so that if New Yorkers are leaving now, “many, many people will sense opportunity. Maybe the opportunity for them is they can buy a home or a condo or a co-op a little cheaper. Maybe the opportunity is they can invest in creating a business a little more easily.”
Maybe. But like the fine print says, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
The mayor’s mixed messages left me shaken, not stirred, but they captured how hard it is to look ahead at this dizzying moment as the city that never sleeps struggles to revive itself and great new challenges loom.
Over my adult lifetime, the political conversation in New York has been about how to build on or rein in an ever-more affluent and low-crime city. Now, the economy is going over a cliff with tax revenue just behind it, shootings are up, and the conversation is proceeding as though nothing’s changed.
Few politicians are talking seriously about the huge budget cuts that are coming over this year, and the brutal choices ahead. Or about the likelihood that the ride down from the top of the roller coaster we’re on now turns out to be, like the ride up, a buying opportunity for speculators with ready access to capital to purchase even more of our real estate and further increase the share of the city that can only afford to rent here — if they can afford to rent here.
A Queens rowhouse dropping from $1.3 million to a million may be a huge hit for the family that lives there, but it’s still not affordable to many New Yorkers who don’t have family money, never mind a newly discounted $3 million Brooklyn condo or a $13 million Manhattan townhouse. At a moment when many tenants have stopped paying rent and many small landlords are looking to get out, it’s not hard to foresee an even less affordable and more sterile and corporate city.
New Yorkers in last month’s primaries voted in many impressive young radicals, many though not all of them backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, in a big blue wave that’s been somewhat overlooked because it took weeks to get mail-in ballots counted.
Most of the long-standing Democratic regulars pushed out by insurgents who refused to take real estate money had long since stopped being demographically representative of or responsive to the needs of their districts, and held power largely because of longstanding ties to New York’s mainline Democratic Party, which has largely devolved into a seniority and member paycheck protection program.
The stale old guard hasn’t done much more than pay lip service to what remains of the city’s middle class. The new guard, focused on taxing the rich to provide more services for the poor, often doesn’t even pay lip service.
What New York needs, urgently, is for New Yorkers to get seriously engaged with the life of our city. Younger leftists have done that, to their credit, but as they know — it’s part of what’s activated many of them — it’s not fundamentally healthy when a few engaged groups hold outsized power while many others remain checked out of our civic life and politics.
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