In a State

As the blizzard in Buffalo raged over Christmas, the unfolding tragedy was all but ignored a couple hours east where I spent the holiday. In New York’s Southern Tier, people were focused on the frozen windows of their cars as they traveled short distances with gifts. It was deadly quiet. All the front-yard blowups had gone airless, frozen to the ground.

Nearly 40 people died in the worst storm to hit the Erie County region since 1977, the mayor and county executive blaming each other days after. Regardless of how extreme weather stages these kinds of ambushes, this was something that shouldn’t have happened in today’s “Empire State,” especially considering that New York’s Governor, Kathy Hochul, hails from Buffalo.

Moreover, Upstate New Yorkers ought to care about one another during an emergency, right? Same for Downstate New Yorkers, like the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, who had high-tailed it off to the U.S. Virgin Islands as Winter Storm Elliott bore down on his city. When called to task for being AWOL, he said he was away for the express purpose of mourning his mother, who died over a year and a half ago. “After 365 days of commitment to this city, I decided to take two days to reflect on mommy,” the 62-year-old mayor told reporters.

It wasn’t clear whether he had used any of the four days of his mystery trip to Greece and Qatar three weeks earlier to also “reflect on mommy.” All he talked about then was coughing up the travel money himself: “When I do my dime, I can do my time and I don’t want to hear anyone whine.”

Meanwhile, Long Islanders were treated to continuing installments of revelations about the actual life of serial liar George Santos, the Republican who won the November race for New York’s 3rd Congressional District and is due to be sworn in on January 3. Could this chronic grifter have grifted his way into an elected seat in another state? Sure. But he flipped a Democratic seat in one of the Bluest states (redistricting notwithstanding), and that stings to high heaven.

Even without these simultaneous spectacles, New York has for months (if not years) been showing its lackluster colors. We have somehow managed to retain the image of Blue Ribbon progressive bona-fides when we have a longstanding leadership void at both the city and state level—and notoriously within the Democratic party—as well as chronic voter apathy.

Bad leaders and low voter turnout create a circular dysfunction. Getting rid of Andrew Cuomo (whose bloated administrative staff I worked within) was like finally having the melon-size tumor removed from your brain, only to discover that the gobs of space left you no idea what kind of leader you’d want to vote for.

Perhaps the saddest observation made in the wake of the Santos deceptions came from Steve Israel, a Democrat who held the congressional seat in question from 2001 to 2017: “My town-hall meetings were always sparsely attended. Typically, fewer than a dozen constituents would show up, despite my staff’s best efforts to get the word out.”

In reviewing Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, Joe Klein wrote that “Trump’s success is a reflection of our national failure to take ourselves seriously.” Roughly 33% of registered New York City voters cast ballots this November, compared to 41% in 2018, and an abysmal 23% in 2014. Those 67% of city residents who couldn’t make the effort to vote certainly do not take themselves seriously. Do they think they’re just trying out life here so they can do it better in another state?

New Yorkers passively accept that no one wants to be mayor of New York City and that the role of governor is to make the progressive policy coming out of the city palatable Upstate. The same odd desire for dividing up the country between Red states and Blue (born of frustration on the left and a desire for self-immolation on the right) could be said about the Metro Area and Upstate. Yank out New York City and Westchester and you’re left with a very poor embryonic Red state—no Wall Street tax money, not enough workers, no one to fill your many SUNY colleges and prisons.

We are a ridiculous state really—the most heavily taxed in the country and yet our infrastructure and services at every level are crumbling. I’m all for the top 1% of residents in my city paying more than 40% of our income taxes, but where are the services for homeless people and those with mental illness, for affordable housing generally and for NYCHA, for the MTA?

All Andrew Cuomo did was jerk the strings on Albany legislators and the MTA to give himself power in a powerless role. Kathy Hochul governs like a committee chair asking everyone to report out. Eric Adams keeps up with the crime vote bloc while ignoring the two things that may bring the city to its knees: empty commercial real estate that’s never going to be rented again and a lousy public transit system that teeters near collapse.

We have been coasting on myth for generations, running on pure luck that the world’s richest people want to own property and spend money in New York City. But the loss of tax revenue from office rent is critical. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the first to take into account the pandemic’s impact, tax from commercial real estate declined by 11%, and the value of real estate sales is expected to drop 15.9% from fiscal year 2022 to fiscal year 2023.

There are no better days around the bend if we just sit still: it’s find a plan for change or bust. As economists warn that the shortage of workers across America will be permanent, we could see a parallel shortage of qualified leaders that is also permanent. Maybe the challenge will no longer be lifting New York to the functionality of the rest of America, but the rest of America falling to the functionality of New York. §