May 8, 2003

The decline and fall of New York City

By: AF Editors

Tim CarneyWhen our generation is old, we’ll turn to our grand children and say, “I remember New York in its last golden age.” Our eyes will get a far-off look as we’ll think about the days of low crime, rejuvenated neighborhoods, Subway Series and Super Bowls.

“Was mayor Bloomberg really as terrible as you as you always make him sound?” our skeptical grandkids will ask. At this point, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will come to mind, just as he appears on Saturday’s cover of the New York Post–beaming, alongside liberal state House Speaker Shelly Silver and Republican Senate Boss Joe Bruno, with a caption aptly dubbing them “Axis of Taxes.”

This troika came before the press to declare they had saved the city by hiking taxes on anyone who dares to live in the city or buy anything there. These levies complement nicely income and sales tax increases passed by Albany earlier this year.

On Sunday, the New York Times lauded this axis for “behaving like adults.” Many of the top dogs at the Times have no problem with hiking the city’s income tax on the rich because these journalists have already done what Bloomberg is apparently trying to get other well-off New Yorkers to do: moved out of New York City and into the posh suburbs of Westchester or Long Island.

Bloomberg’s total ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, similarly, encourages proprietors to consider setting up shop somewhere where they actually have property rights.

High taxes and abridgement of basic rights are not the most serious threats to this grand city, but they are important harbingers. They certainly contribute to what will be a good index of the city’s direction over the next decade: falling property values driven by the decreasing attractiveness of living in the city. (My brother in Greenwich Village harbors a conspiracy theory [one of many he tells me about in his frequent phone calls] that Bloomberg–a billionaire–is just trying to free up more Manhattan property to buy himself, making the Big Apple his own island resort.)

The afterglow of this latest Golden Age is still visible, but history books will mark 2001 as the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of New York’s salad days. In the first six months of 2001, requests for services for the homeless or impoverished rose dramatically. After downtown was devastated that September 11, the pattern only accelerated.

When Rudy Giuliani left later that year, it was only a few months before the squeegee men–panhandlers who unsolicited wash your car windows and then demand payment–returned, according to the Post.

The real break will come, however, when the honeymoon ends for the New York cops. The racial left, including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Bloomberg’s 2001 opponent Mark Green, spent the 90s calling Giuliani a Nazi and the NYPD a “death squad.” After 9/11, they became working-class heroes (Jackson and Hillary Clinton both made sure to point out that these men were unionized government employees).

But soon, the boys in blue will become fair game again. Wait for the first time they use a little bit force against some lowlife, some mob, or just some unlucky sap, and see how Bloomberg reacts when the agitators raise their cry.

Giuliani always stood behind the cops, knowing they needed to be forceful to keep the peace in a city of seven million. When some cops did wrong, Rudy made sure the good cops were not besmirched. Sticking up for New York’s finest is most of what earned Rudy the hatred of the left (he is certainly no conservative).

Giuliani, though, had the tough skin it took to do the job. Bloomberg doesn’t have the sand to take on the Times’ editorial page and the professional race-baiters of New York. After the first police incident, the cops will realize they don’t have a friend in City Hall.

Rudy did Bloomberg a disservice, though, by leaving the cops without a contract. When you consider that the city pays its teachers more than it pays its cops, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to join the NYPD. Not surprisingly, the city is bleeding cops right now.

When cops don’t want to patrol the streets, lawyers don’t want to live or work there, bar owners don’t want to set up shop there, the city will fall back into the hands of squeegee men, panhandlers and thugs, driving out those good folk who were at first ready to put up with Bloomberg’s assault on their quality of life.

It’s almost enough to make a person consider living in New Jersey.