Opinion

NYC is on the brink — here’s what a new mayor can do to save it

Our Wednesday front page, “Bell tolls for NYC,” marks not necessarily the doom of the city, but a warning: The town we all love faces an inflection point, a chance to rebound to new highs post-pandemic, or sink into something even worse than its horrific 1970s descent.

If Gotham’s schools and restaurants remain shut, and streets and subways remain dirty and crime-ridden even as the cost of living stands high above those of other cities, the taxes the Legislature and Gov. Cuomo just imposed will be the cherry atop a sundae of awfulness. Why would anyone stay here?

Already, in 2020, 1.1 percent of the population left New York City, according to a study by CBRE Group.

Mayor de Blasio has proven himself to be an unserious leader for far-too serious times. As he goes on walkabout rather than work, brainstorming his latest “transformative” progressive proposal rather than dealing with an increase in disorder, it’s clear the best we can hope for is his continued laziness — that he doesn’t make things worse.

It falls instead to this year’s mayoral race, one of the most consequential in generations, to right the ship.

We need a leader who will make the right decisions.

The town now has lots of empty storefronts — and people eager to start new restaurants, new shops. Will city government stand in their way, or help? Will it keep its taxes and regulations low, and not dispatch Health Department inspectors and other agencies out in money-grubbing shakedown schemes? Will it protect it as a place where big businesses choose to invest, to create jobs and its employees continue to spend in restaurants and shops?

Will it prioritize ending disorder — getting shootings and other crime back under control, taking back the subways and streets from out-of-control homeless? Can it not only get schools back open, but ensure that every family has access to a decent public school?

For decades, New York City was in a “virtuous cycle”: Crime drops begat more crime drops; neighborhood after neighborhood became not just safe, but vibrant. Even the rising cost of real estate was a symptom of the city’s attractiveness.

A homeless man sits next to the Wall Street subway station.
A homeless man sits next to the Wall Street subway station.
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The city has faced troubles before — the near-bankruptcy, 9/11 — and The Post sees this as another chance to show New York City’s resilience. But we need right leadership, and the right direction. Here’s what the next mayor must do:

‘RE-FUND’ THE POLICE TO COMBAT CRIME

The problem: Crime and disorder in New York City are growing worse. After hitting a record-low in 2017, the city’s homicide tally has gone up — for the first time since at least 1990 — for three years straight; from 292 in 2017, to 295 in 2018, to 319 in 2019, to 468 in 2020. Last year, homicides spiked 46.7 percent and shootings 97 percent — the largest recorded year-over-year increases in at least 60 years. Data through March 28 point to 2021 being even bloodier, with murders and shootings up 13.5 percent and 49.4 percent year-to-date. The resurgent violence has hit blacks and Hispanics — who made up 96 percent of last year’s shooting victims — particularly hard. And the streets and subways have seen a palpable deterioration in public order.

Crime has been on the rise in NYC since the end of 2017.
Crime has been on the rise in NYC since the end of 2017.
James Messerschmidt

What to do about it: The city must reinforce the ranks of the NYPD, which — thanks to two academy class cancellations last year (one due to the city’s decision to “defund” the department) as well as a spike in retirements — has dwindled in size. The department should get the funding to hire more civilians to handle desk work now keeping cops off the street. The next mayor needs to recommit to a community policing model that expressly addresses public disorder and other quality-of-life issues. Bring back the gun-control unit disbanded by Commissioner Dermot Shea.

The city should also drop the plan to close Rikers, as it needs a jail system with a capacity much larger than 3,500 (as recently as February, the average daily jail population was well over 5,000); just build better detention facilities on the island. The next mayor must also revamp the approach to serious mental illness, prioritizing more (and better) supervision — particularly given the recent rash of subway pushings. Look to invest in more CCTV cameras and an expanded DNA database, as both have documented deterrent effects. And state lawmakers need to reconsider the laws governing pretrial release.

IT ISN’T COMPASSIONATE TO LET HOMELESS SLEEP ON STREET

The problem: City homelessness has hit a level unseen since the Great Depression. The homeless single-adult population is 110 percent higher than it was a decade ago. Gotham has 80,000 homeless people, 20,000 of them children. An estimated 4,000 or more sleep each night on the street, on the subway or in other public places. And during the pandemic, stressed homeless “acting out” have left more neighborhoods feeling unsafe — while contributing to crime, including the spate of subway shovings.

A homeless person sleeps in front of a Victoria's Secret store on the Upper West Side.
A homeless person sleeps in front of a Victoria’s Secret store on the Upper West Side.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

What to do: Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to use tough love has plainly attracted more homeless, even as city spending on the issue has skyrocketed to more than $2 billion a year on the problem. It’s time to quit pretending that “more and better housing” is the answer. Stop ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of street homeless have mental illness, drug abuse or other serious personal problems, and often are in no state of mind to make the right decision. “We’ll take you somewhere to sleep, but you can’t stay here” is a better strategy than just allowing camping in Penn Station or the medians on the Upper West Side.

Pull all funding from ThriveNYC and direct it to the seriously mentally ill, while looking to add (rather than cut) hospital psychiatric beds. Stop tolerating disorderly public behavior.

BRING BACK STANDARDS FOR ALL SCHOOLS

The problem: Families are losing faith in the system, with enrollment dropping 43,000 this past year and middle-class parents across the city frightened that it’s becoming impossible to enroll kids in safe, quality public schools and even destroy schools that now work. Lower-income families are also desperate for access to quality education, too often denied by the system of “zoned” public schools.

What to do: Boost standards and opportunity across the board. Restore middle-school screened admissions so that programs for high-achievers and performing-arts talents can survive. You’ll never make city schools more racially integrated when the official policy is to scapegoat striving white and Asian families. Do everything possible to foster the growth of charter schools, alternative public schools that let kids escape their “zoned” fate. The tens of thousands of children on charter school waiting lists deserve a shot at a rigorous education.

Add more Gifted & Talented programs in every school district in all boroughs — make them commonplace again. All students who show the ability to excel beyond the regular grade-level curriculum must get the chance to do so. African-American representation in top NYC high schools was higher before gifted and talented programs were destroyed in pursuit of ­“fairness.”

Enrollment in NYC schools has dropped by 43,000 in the last year alone.
Enrollment in NYC schools has dropped by 43,000 in the last year alone.
Jeenah Moon/Reuters

Restore the Bloomberg approach of completely reorganizing schools that persistently fail to improve student outcomes.

We need a mayor who will stand up to the teachers union and say that the answer to unequal outcomes is not to get rid of tests and grades. It is to raise the standards of all schools, and give the talented a chance to shine.

HELP THE BLOODFLOW OF THE CITY, THE SUBWAY

The problem: The MTA is still missing two-thirds to three-quarters of its riders, who fear not just the virus but also soaring disorder. Until ridership is back to normal, vibrant city life — both business and leisure — is impossible.

Two NYPD officers patrolling the station and subways Morgan Ave L Subway Station
Two NYPD officers patrolling the station and subways Morgan Ave L Subway Station
James Messerschmidt

What to do: Make sure trains are safe from violent criminals.

Thanks to federal relief totaling $14.5 billion, the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority has money. But who is going to get on the trains if they don’t have to, when they see story after story about pushings, stabbings and ­beatings?

The next mayor can give riders confidence to come back, by stepping up policing. Direct the NYPD to police small subway crimes before they lead to big subway crimes. For example, the suspect in a daytime beating and robbery in a Penn Station subway station this week, Ronald Bailey, is a chronic subway criminal with dozens of arrests, including for selling MetroCard “swipes.”

Police — both undercover and uniform — must make it clear that repeat transit criminals will face arrest before they harm someone. Even if Albany won’t cooperate (its “bail reform” immediately releases petty thieves) police can make life so inconvenient for chronic low-level criminals in processing catch-and-release arrests that the predators won’t find the subway system’s riders to be easy prey.

HOW TO ENCOURAGE JOB GROWTH AND BUSINESS

The problem: New York needs its businesses — small and big — to recommit to Gotham so that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers can get back to work. The unemployment rate in NYC is 13.2 percent, more than double the national level. More than 628,000 New Yorkers remain out of work, while the throngs working remotely contribute far less to the local economy. Already, companies like JPMorgan Chase are reducing their office space.

A store for rent sign hangs in the window of an empty storefront on Broadway
A store for rent sign hangs in the window of an empty storefront on Broadway
Mary Altaffer/AP

What to do: The next mayor should walk Midtown’s streets every week, going as incognito as possible. That’s the only way to tell: from scaffolds dripping strange liquids to lunatics screaming and spitting, is this a place where workers and tourists want to be? If not, big employers will leave.

Small businesses can benefit from faster permitting and policing crimes like shoplifting, but they also need the city to retain big businesses, who are the biggest customers of small businesses.

Though both Albany and Washington are for ever-higher taxes, the mayor could challenge this progressive arrogance, in using federal relief funds to give restaurants and retailers as well as their landlords financial credits — we don’t even have to call them “tax credits” — as a reward for reopening and hiring back workers.

DON’T MAKE THE COST OF LIVING EVEN WORSE

The problem: Taxes are exorbitant; the cost of living, often prohibitive. Albany made it bad. President Biden plans to wallop New Yorkers even worse.

Graffiti and urban blight has taken a toll on the West Village.
Graffiti and urban blight has taken a toll on the West Village.
Gregory P. Mango

What to do: First, stop digging the hole deeper — i.e., resist all attempts by crazy progressives on the City Council to hike local taxes and fees higher still. Then, look to lower and reform levies, fees and fines over which the city has control and demand Albany provide relief on others.

Property taxes have long been ripe for reform, both to promote equity and encourage development. The sales tax in the city, almost 9 percent, is among the nation’s highest. The commercial rent tax, unincorporated business tax and levies on gas and electricity add still more to the burden — not just for the wealthy and big companies, but for their workers and customers, too.

These levies help fuel Gotham’s sky-high cost of living, which, in Manhattan, is more than twice the average of 269 US urban areas ranked by The Council for Community and Economic Research (it’s more than three times costs in, for example, Amarillo, Texas). Numbeo, which boasts “the world’s largest cost-of-living database,” lists Gotham as the most expensive city in America, and near the top on rent, grocery and restaurant bills.

The entrance to PS 249 the Caton School building.
The entrance to PS 249 the Caton School building.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Yet what are New Yorkers getting for their cash? Soaring crime. The homeless and mentally ill ruling public spaces. Failed schools. Dirty streets. If the next mayor doesn’t do something to at least stem rising costs and taxes, it won’t be just the wealthy and businesses heading for the exits, but young professionals and middle-class New Yorkers, as well.


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