Opinion

Yes, Washington Square Park can again be the jewel it once was

I was born and raised in Manhattan. I’m raising my two children here, and I attended NYU before graduating from Parsons. I know the downtown area well. I also know Manhattan is a Democratic bastion. But as a longtime “downtowner,” I can say with certainty: There’s nothing that could turn anyone into a Republican more quickly than taking a jaunt through Washington Square Park.

Go ahead, do it — I dare you.

Washington Square Park scores a deadly trifecta: It’s dangerous, dirty and a full-blown drug den. Once upon a time, it was a bucolic refuge and jewel — with a water fountain, three different playgrounds and verdant areas to picnic and congregate. It boasted an eclectic mix of downtown personalities, NYU and Parsons students, a piano player, performance artists and poets. It was a perfect, electric representation of the spirited, dynamic, innovative downtown community.

Today, though, you see caregivers milling about avoiding the grassy knolls for fear of stepping on needles, discarded condoms and emptied plastic bags with coke residue. Parents shield their children’s eyes from strung-out junkies and the mentally unhinged stumbling around naked.

Washington Square drug den
Part of a syringe seen under a bench in Washington Square Park on May 30, 2021.
Dan Herrick for NY Post

The smell of weed and urine is pervasive and overpowering, as are fights among factions of menacing men up to no good. This is a dramatic degradation of a precious community resource, a hostile takeover, and there’s nothing compelling, cool or compassionate about it, for those in need of help or those simply wanting to enjoy the park.

Worst of all, people who give a damn are vilified because they live in the expensive condos lining the park; those in charge seem hell-bent on punishing people who’ve earned a decent way of life. Focused on “social justice,” they look to make wealthy ZIP codes “less white and less rich.” Their weapons: defunding police, legalizing weed and making traditionally safe and family-friendly neighborhoods wholly uninhabitable.

What’s particularly galling is that New York University, one of the city’s largest landowners, with 14.3 million square feet of space and 111 buildings, has abdicated its moral obligation to keep its students safe. How can a university charging $53,308 a year get away with what’s lurking in its backyard: random assaults, free-flowing crack and heroin, out-of-control shootings, public fornication, discarded syringes?

What has happened to Washington Square Park isn’t unique; it’s a trend seen throughout the entire city. And it’s a travesty the left owns, born from terrible policy. Both NYU and the city owe it to the community to clean up this horror show, not least because there are multiple playgrounds within the park.

The bad news is that city officials — and many of those looking to replace them this year — don’t seem interested in fixing the problems. The City Council, for example, is supposed to be the check on the mayor; members OK the allocation of resources and monitor government agencies, like the NYPD. Alas, many of the current and wannabe council members are too busy “reimagining police” to care about ensuring safety in our parks and elsewhere. Some make even Mayor Bill de Blasio & Co. seem conservative.

Yet make no mistake: Plenty can be done to improve Washington Square Park and other public places — particularly if someone lights a fire under the NYPD’s Narcotics Division and allows officers to follow through, unhampered, with proactive buy-and-bust campaigns and other efforts to sweep out dealers and addicts.

Washington Square Park drug den
One City Council candidate aims to restore Washington Square Park as a place for all New Yorkers to enjoy — not those turning it into a drug den.
Getty Images

I believe this is not being done aggressively enough now because loud voices — on social media, in liberal publications — have created a perception that most citizens don’t want dealers and addicts arrested. Nothing can be further from the truth: Just ask the people living next to the park!

It’s vital for officials to support police and stand up to the radicals calling for reform. We also need to get rid of the city’s recently passed chokehold law, which only makes cops less eager to get involved, particularly in low-level crimes — and thus emboldens criminals. Cops who do get involved have to jump through hoops to cuff someone resisting arrest.

Proactive policing worked in the ’90s and throughout the Bloomberg administration; it can work now, too — but only if our elected officials let officers do their jobs and stop undermining the only thing that can protect us: good, aggressive policing.

Jackie Toboroff is a Republican candidate for City Council in District 1.


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