The Fate of New York, Part I


A few issues ago, I had a piece in National Review called “Freedom from Fear, for Now: A personal reflection on living in New York.” I would like to expand on that piece in this column, for the next few days.

I will begin the same way I began the magazine piece — with a strange fact, hard to believe: In 15 years of living in New York, I have never looked over my shoulder. At least, I don’t recall doing so. I have never crossed the street out of apprehension. I have never feared crime at all.

And I’m not cloistered, either: I’m out in the streets for at least two hours a day. And I’m out late most nights, or many nights, owing chiefly to my work as a music critic.

“Well,” you might say, “you wander in the nicer parts of New York — of Manhattan, specifically.” That’s true. But not very long ago, some of those parts were not so nice. You wouldn’t have wanted to wander in them, and you definitely wouldn’t have wanted to linger in them.

Why am I aware of not looking over my shoulder? How do I hear a dog not barking? Because, from time to time, I visit other cities — and then I hear the dog bark, loudly.

This summer, I was in San Francisco, and I took what was apparently a wrong turn. My wrong turn involved Jones Street, I think — not very far from U.N. Plaza. I came upon a scene of drugs and menace. Something out of a “gritty urban drama” on TV (or something out of the old New York).

I felt my stomach tighten, my heart beat faster. I put away my cellphone. I quickened my pace. I got the glares, the mutterings, the snarls . . .

Similar things have happened in Philadelphia in recent years. Say you arrive in the evening at 30th Street Station and walk to the Kimmel Center. You may find yourself looking over your shoulder, crossing the street. You are certainly not oblivious to potential trouble.

Some months ago, I was in St. Louis. And one of the creepy things about the experience was the absence, or paucity, of people on the streets (some of those streets). When you did see someone, you were apt to think, “What’s he doing here?” Maybe he was thinking the same thing about you . . .

I well remember Chicago when I was a teenager. I took a few wrong turns. I got out of Dodge as fast as I could. And of Detroit, we shouldn’t even speak. I lived about 45 minutes away from the big city (or dwindling city). And going there wasn’t much of an option. Chicago was our big city, four hours away.

Okay, back to my point: In New York, I don’t look over my shoulder — ever. I don’t think about crime, ever. And when I’m in another city, I think, “Oh, yeah. I remember this. This is the way it was in New York, too, once upon a time.”

Which brings me to the mayoral election we’re going to have on November 5. For 20 years, we have had only two mayors: Rudy and Bloomy, or, more formally, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Giuliani is a Republican, and Bloomberg has always run on the Republican ticket. He styles himself an independent now. But the fact remains: Since January 1, 1994, there has not been a Democrat in the mayor’s office. This is amazing, in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.

If you had said, on the first day of 1994, “Hey, for the next 20 years — until 2014 — there won’t be a Democratic mayor,” you would have been told, “You’re on crack,” which was in abundant supply.


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