Almost a year after Gotham’s devastating blockade, Blasio’s mayor announced the appointment of former head of school building Lorraine Grillo as “recovery czar” to, in his words, “overburden” an economic recovery.
But a closer look at the mayor’s sad recovery plan belies his commitment to New York City’s future as a locus of growth and opportunity – which should be again, if the bleak ghost town effect is to disappear.
In his press conference announcing Grillo’s new role, Hizzoner proclaimed the “incredible” news that the city would extend its contract with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to manage Kennedy airport. The contract, due to expire in 2050, now runs until 2060. This “big plan”, says de Blasio, means that “much of JFK’s money will go to companies belonging to minorities and women. Many of the hires will be from neighboring neighborhoods in Southeast Queens. ”
In fact, people in Jamaica will continue to work at the airport, as usual, and the renovation of terminals, runways and parking lots will certainly involve hiring local labor as well. But so what? It’s not like de Blasio is going to take over the biggest airport in the Northeast when he can’t even imagine a way to take over the management of two ice rinks in Donald Trump’s Central Park. The mayor’s role in determining what happens on the Port Authority’s property is miniscule.
It is a sign of how little serious Blasio is about the economic recovery that he celebrates the planned return of the city’s 330,000 municipal employees to their offices. City workers were considered “harmless” during the pandemic, although many of them had little or nothing to do. Did you go to a library recently? It is good that they finally get back to work, but only in de Blasio’s fantasies do government officials represent economic vitality.
The key to de Blasio’s economic development strategy is to leverage Gotham’s newly acquired experience with contagious diseases to make it “the world capital of public health”. At the center of this vision is a plan to rename First Avenue, with its many hospitals and laboratories, “Avenida LifeSci”. This nickname may not have the romance or enthusiasm of “Museum Mile” or even “Avenue of the Americas” – but you have to give the mayor credit for trying.
The problem is that the United States already has two cities that are “public health capitals”, that is, Atlanta and Bethesda, the homes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, respectively. Public health – like tracking seasonal flu outbreaks – is important, but not very profitable, which is why the federal government manages it.
To assume that because the Big Apple was defeated by COVID, we must now enter the pandemic business is a bad joke. It’s like telling Flint, Michigan, to start a new company to compete with Pür water filters.
De Blasio also wants to hire 10,000 temporary workers for a “City Cleanup Corps” to beautify the city, removing the graffiti that has invaded the streets of New York and even subway cars. Of course, it was only last July when de Blasio suspended the popular and successful Graffiti-Free NYC program, after which the scourge of graffiti really exploded. The NYPD has also substantially reduced arrests for vandalism. So there is another formula for the economic revival: encouraging dirt and then hiring the unemployed to clean it up.
The mayor also plans to make the Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity, a city-funded boondoggle that his wife nominally runs, a permanent municipal government post. The task force will help “identify areas of structural racism in New York City” and “eradicate this systemic rot”.
None of this will revive a dead Midtown. Instead, de Blasio, as always, wants to “tax the rich and redistribute the wealth”.
Taxing billionaires to increase social services has been a long-standing strategy for the city’s political class for a long time, but it only works as long as the goose doesn’t mind waiting to be plucked. But raising taxes is not a growth plan and will only accelerate the increasingly rapid outflow of wealthy New Yorkers to sunnier climates.
Mayor’s memo: Reviving New York City’s stagnant economy will require more than slowly bringing city officials back to their desks.
Seth Barron is administrative editor for The American Mind and author of the next book “The Last Days of New York. “