Then-mayor Mike Bloomberg famously described New York City in 2003 as a “luxury product,” and therefore priced accordingly. The price hasn’t changed, except to go up slightly — taxes, rents, everything. But few would argue that the product New York offers remains first-rate. The theaters are closed. The nightlife is severely restricted. The restaurants have been forced to move outside, inches away from the exhaust pipes of passing trucks. Oh, and New York City has experienced one of the worst and deadliest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in the entire world, followed by mass rioting and looting and an accompanying routine-crime spree that remains ongoing. The streets are filthy and covered with makeshift encampments and used hypodermic needles. It’s time for a major markdown of this beaten-up item. If mid-2020 New York City were on a supermarket shelf, it would not merely have been discounted, it would have been thrown in the Dumpster, like moldy bread.
This week Governor Andrew Cuomo begged New York City residents to return to the city in the most shameless act of wheedling by a New Yorker since Mars famously importuned Nola, in Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, “Please baby, please baby, please baby, baby, baby please.” Used to live in NYC but have lately found the suburbs, or points south, more congenial? Andrew Cuomo will cook you dinner if you come back.
“I literally talk to people all day long who are now in their Hamptons house who also lived here, or in their Hudson Valley house, or in their Connecticut weekend house and I say, ‘You got to come back!’” Cuomo said Monday. “‘We’ll go to dinner! I’ll buy you a drink! Come over, I’ll cook!’”
“I’ll buy you a drink” is the cringiest of those promises since Cuomo has been closing dozens of bars for not complying with his arbitrary virus-related diktats, which include requiring tipplers to order food in accordance with some known-only-to-him provision of the coronavirus that confers immunity via purchase of a Caesar salad. But he’s probably right about one thing: All of the people who are eager to move back to New York City could indeed probably fit in his dining room right now. It has finally occurred to Andrew Cuomo that the months-long electronic tongue-bath he received from media outlets such as CNN, which in the midst of the carnage pushed forward his own brother to serve as his interlocutor/publicist/comedy sidekick, has not fooled New Yorkers of means. Scads of the wealthiest have fled, and they are in no rush to return.
This creates a little revenue problem for Mr. Cuomo, who is aware that a New York City and/or State without rich people would have to rethink the way it does basically everything. Without its bankers, lawyers, entertainers, television talking heads, business executives, and the rest of its plutocracy, the Luxury Product of cities is going to have to turn itself into Dollar General. So far Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been dealing with the fiscal earthquake underway just as they dealt with the health crisis: by pretending it isn’t there. (“The fear, the panic, is if anything, worse than the virus,” Cuomo said on March 19. Nope, turned out the virus was worse than the fear of the virus. De Blasio told New Yorkers to “get out on the town” on March 2, adding in a news conference that “the facts are reassuring.”)
Both Cuomo and de Blasio are hoping for federal bailouts that they assume will follow a sweeping November victory by the Democrats, but if the Republicans do as much as retain control of the Senate, not much bailing out of New York is going to happen, and even if Democrats win everything in sight, Washington is unlikely to simply shrug and cover all of New York’s losses.
Both New York and New Jersey have higher COVID-19 death rates than any single country; New Jersey has the worst death toll of any political entity on earth, with New York coming second, and in both cases deaths could be overlaid on the paths of mass-transit systems. So New Yorkers are understandably nervous about returning to the subways and commuter trains, and most people are not willing or able to get to work by bike or foot. There isn’t enough room on the city’s grid for everyone to get around in cars, and de Blasio hates cars anyway, and has been tearing up streets to limit and frustrate motor-vehicle drivers in the interests of the handful of eccentrics who enjoy bicycling to the office.
Like a toddler who can’t resist seeing what will happen if he sticks his finger into a light socket, de Blasio followed up Cuomo’s comments by saying New York can do without all of those nasty rich people. “I was troubled to hear this concept that because wealthy people have a set of concerns about the city that we should accommodate them — that we should build our policy and approaches around them,” de Blasio said Thursday, when asked about Cuomo’s begging. “That’s not how it works around here anymore,” he proclaimed. “This city is for people who live here, work here, fight to make this place better. . . . There’s a lot of New Yorkers who are wealthy, who are true believers in New York City, and will stand and fight with us — and there’s some who may be fair-weather friends,” he added. “But we must build our policies around working people.” De Blasio is facing a $15 billion budget gap yet proposes to spend $18 billion more this year than was spent in the last year that Bloomberg was mayor, wasting New Yorkers’ money on things like a mental-health boondoggle he threw together to give his wife something to do. Naturally he is again vowing to soak the rich, as he has long threatened to do, though he’s been largely blocked by the governor to this point.
At least Andrew Cuomo, pathetic as he is, grasps something Bill de Blasio does not: You can’t execute a shakedown on people who aren’t there. Florida is open for business, and for New Yorkers this summer has been like the moment when the dinosaurs learn to open the door in Jurassic Park. The city’s highest-paid workers have realized they can get all their work done remotely, and the knob that opens the door to Florida is staring them in the face.