In the middle of March, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio was among those not entirely sold on social distancing as a prophylactic measure against the coronavirus epidemic. “If you love your neighborhood bar, go there now,” he famously said. A few days later, he was threatening to padlock the city’s synagogues — permanently — if social-distancing protocols went unheeded.
We sympathize with those New Yorkers driven to drink or inspired to prayer by Mayor de Blasio’s incompetence, vanity, and stupidity, which have been highlighted by but are by no means limited to his response to COVID-19. For the time being, they must suffer in their households rather than in congregation.
In all likelihood, the coronavirus has been spreading in New York since February. The city’s jam-packed subway system, carrying five million riders a day, should have counseled particular vigilance. But even with the examples of California’s and Washington’s cities before him, the mayor was slow to move. He dragged his staff along to a crowded YMCA for a workout even as he was ordering gyms closed around the city. The city schools remained open until March 15, and it was left to New York governor Andrew Cuomo to negotiate their closure while teachers were threatening a wildcat strike. De Blasio delayed against the advice of his own aides and health experts. A 36-year-old principal subsequently died of COVID-19. The city’s refusal to disclose infections in the schools “kept families in the dark and left more lives at risk,” as one city councilman put it.
De Blasio was warned in early March that the city needed to take more aggressive action against the epidemic, but he wrote off advice from health commissioner Oxiris Barbot and others, worried that a lockdown would hurt the city’s economy. Extended deliberations controlled by political concerns rather than medical ones wasted precious time. “He has long distrusted the top brass of the health department,” Politico reports, “feeling they do not understand politics and public relations.” That may be the case, but their job is not public relations — it is public health.
Ignoring the advice and recommendations of the relevant experts in order to tend to his political concerns, Mayor de Blasio effectively became a member of that class of villain most hated by his progressive allies: a denier. His refusal to concede the facts and his desire to subordinate good policy to political expediency were compounded by his general executive incompetence, for instance in leaving city agencies without necessary guidance for implementing work-from-home policies. He insisted that the city’s hospitals were well prepared for the crisis; the actual situation in the city’s public hospitals was shortly thereafter described as “apocalyptic” by one physician.
De Blasio did manage to name his wife as head of a coronavirus-recovery panel. He always has time for that sort of thing. Mrs. de Blasio is fresh off of watching $1 billion walk out the door while overseeing a fruitless mental-health initiative. She has time on her hands and is rumored to be considering a run for elected office herself.
De Blasio moved with much less dispatch than did colleagues in California and Ohio, among other places. And then, after dawdling for so long, de Blasio flipped. We always are happy to see a politician amend his views to accommodate new facts, but Slowpoke de Blasio’s subsequent overcompensation, and the sanctimony and viciousness he brings to the effort, is something else.
De Blasio launched a broadside against “the Jewish community” after a large crowd turned out for a rabbi’s funeral in Williamsburg as though the event corporately implicated the more than 1 million Jews living in New York City, drawing criticism from the city’s ADL and other local Jewish leaders.
De Blasio has instructed police to follow a “zero tolerance” rule on gatherings and has threatened to enforce his policy with arrests. Perhaps he has not entirely thought through the social-distancing implications of mass arrests.
The coronavirus epidemic was a test for Mayor de Blasio, and he has been found wanting — which should be no surprise to anybody who has witnessed the dramatic decline in the quality of city life under his watch. The tricky question of balancing the consequences of an enforced economic stoppage against the risks of an unknown and poorly understood viral epidemic in a free society with democratic norms has gotten the better of better men and better mayors than Bill de Blasio.
His incompetence has endangered the lives of his constituents and made the coronavirus situation worse than it had to be. But it is his tinpot-tyrant posturing and his ridiculous preening that really set him apart from your run-of-the-mill municipal bungler.
Unhappily, there is no treatment for what ails Bill de Blasio, and no cure in sight for New York.