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It’ll take gritty, emphatic leadership to rescue NYC from its Ghost Town funk

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It'll take gritty, emphatic leadership to rescue NYC from its Ghost Town funk

The last thing New York City needs is another shutdown. But the worst mayor in America just tried to kick kids off a couple of Central Park ice rinks.

The rinks, you see, are run by the Trump Organization, and because Orange Man Bad, they had to go — and to hell with the kids. To hell with the city.

Sure, Mayor de Blasio changed his mind, and so there are kids on the ice again. Anyway, given the weight bearing down on New York right now, maybe the Wollman and Lasker rinks don’t count for much. Right? But hold on a minute. They matter a lot, because normalcy matters — and because normalcy won’t return by itself.

Gotham is one of the world’s greatest cities, but it is also an idea. It has always been a dare — you make it here, you can make it anywhere, right? — and so now the challenge is as much moral as it is structural: Can we measure up? Can we regain the swagger we all took for granted a year ago?

Crises come, and crises go, but the Big Apple over time has been blessed with leaders who understood that making the wheels turn takes smarts, but also spirit. In the 1970s, as the city struggled with the necessary retrenchments of near-bankruptcy, there was the always-ebullient Ed Koch to help the bitter medicine go down. He asked, “How’m I doin’?” but you mostly knew that he was doin’ just fine, thank you.

After 9/11, Rudy Giuliani was everywhere, stoic and defiant. His presence at every firefighter’s funeral offered eloquent testimony to empathetic, but emphatic, leadership. Then came Mike Bloomberg, to guide the city through post-9/11 recovery and the Great Recession. He brought stern competence, a touch of sly humor and abiding self-confidence.

If ever mayors were made for their moments, those guys were. They understood that what matters most about leadership is to be seen leading.

But de Blasio — clueless, pinched and blinkered by ideology — wanted to kick kids off the ice. You begin to see the degree of difficulty here.

Not that the news is all bad. Gov. Cuomo, bless his bitter soul, says movie theaters can begin to reopen; indoor dining, in a manner of speaking, is coming back again, and pretty soon there might be baseball.

Little steps for little feet, for sure, but don’t knock it, because the enormity of the challenge now facing New York dwarfs every crisis the city has weathered since the British chased George Washington off Brooklyn Heights in 1776.

“Come visit us down in the financial district, all six of us,” said a friend the other day. “Nobody lives here anymore.”

Nobody drives very much on Fifth Avenue south of 59th Street anymore, either, at least mid-morning. And those sidewalk-clogging Midtown crowds are a memory. Sure, you can almost always get a cab, if you have somewhere to go, but if you get there a little early, having passed all the vacant retail space along the way, good luck finding a coffee shop to kill a few moments.

These are anecdotes, of course. But 8-plus million people live here (or maybe it’s 8-minus now?), and their daily impressions can pretty quickly add up to morale-crushing received wisdom: Subway slashings aren’t common, but everybody knows they happen, and that demented vagrants are everywhere. Who’s willing to chance it?

Only those with no choice. Thus, so much for New York’s critical transit arteries — and eventually, as things add up, maybe for the city itself.

This newspaper has been cataloguing New York’s big-picture challenges all week, each one daunting in its own right. Do they comprise a city-killing perfect storm?  This seems inconceivable, but then again, who would have thought that New York would ever have elected a soulless husk like de Blasio?

Now comes another mayoral election year. The stakes are higher, infinitely so, but will the voters be wiser? Or will the city truly become America’s Ghost Town?

It’s up to you, New York, New York. Don’t blow it.

Twitter: @RLMac2

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  1. کپسول آراپیس

    February 24, 2021 at 12:11 am

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Opinion

NY should give restaurants and retailers a tax holiday

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NY should give restaurants and retailers a tax holiday

Good news: After the horror of the past year, New York’s budget crisis isn’t as bad as it could be. Now, Team Biden is sending even more billions our way. Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and lawmakers should use part of this money to support restaurants and retailers through the most direct way possible: a sales-tax holiday. 

A recent report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer found that Gotham likely will end this fiscal year in June with a surprise surplus, nearly $400 million. It isn’t because de Blasio has cut spending. Overtime has continued to soar, and Hizzoner never achieved the labor savings he promised. Spending is actually $500 million higher than the mayor said it would be. 

Rather, tax revenues are coming in better than expected. Personal-income and business taxes will be $900 million higher than the mayor estimated in January. 

When the pandemic set in last year, the city projected a double-digit decline in personal-income taxes, but these revenues are looking to fall by just 2.3 percent in the year that’s just ending. This one tax source, at $13.7 billion annually, made up about one-fifth of the city’s $64.4 billion in taxes, pre-COVID. 

It has held up remarkably well, considering that, as of December, 560,000 New Yorkers, or 14 percent of the pre-COVID workforce, were still unemployed. For the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in July, the city faces a $1.4 billion deficit, one that will be easily closed by the largesse Washington is showering on states and cities, including $5.6 billion to Gotham. 

Similar dynamics are playing out with the state budget, which is even more dependent on income taxes than is the city budget. 

Why the disconnect? Income taxes are already highly progressive. In 2018, the top 1 percent of New Yorkers — 38,714 households — paid 42.5 percent of city taxes. This group hardly makes up the city’s restaurant, entertainment and retail workers, who have suffered the brunt of lockdowns.

As of December, “only” 6 percent of finance workers had lost their jobs, which isn’t nothing. But half of leisure and hospitality employees, including restaurant workers, were still out of work. 

For all of the local governing class’ talk about massive tax hikes on the rich to redistribute some of this money, there is a pragmatic way to redistribute some of that money now, without driving (more of) the rich away: Cuomo and de Blasio should use some of the expected federal relief funds coming New York’s way for a sales tax holiday for restaurants and retailers, via state legislation (the state controls the city’s sales tax). 

Consider: In a normal year, restaurants in the five boroughs would do about $27 billion in ­annual business, according to a ­report by the state comptroller. The tax take of that is about $2.4 billion, roughly split between state and city. But this is nothing like a normal year: Much of that business is gone, anyway, no matter what the tax rate is. 

The city and state simply wouldn’t “lose” very much money, then, by declaring a summerlong restaurant sales-tax holiday on meals under, say, $200, starting in May, when it’s warm enough for people to eat outside again. 

Effectively giving people a near-10 percent discount on their meals is a good way to get them eating out again. 

And it won’t take away from ­future business. Eating a meal you wouldn’t have eaten otherwise in May doesn’t mean you will forego eating out in December, if the mood strikes you. 

In fact, a sales-tax break now may bring in more revenue to the state and city, in the long term, by keeping some restauranteurs afloat. Other localities are free to ask Albany to do the same for them, as well.

Plus, a tax holiday would get more restaurant workers back to work, meaning they would once again pay income tax. 

The state and city should also consider a smaller sales-tax break for struggling retailers, as well. 

Gotham and the Empire State still have long-term budget problems, sure. The city’s biggest long-term problem is that its property-tax revenues are still falling, creating deficits in future years. 

But property taxes are falling ­because the value of the property is falling — and that’s partly because of so many vacant restaurant and retail spots. A closed restaurant or store brings in no sales taxes — and less property and income taxes over time. 

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal. 

Twitter: @NicoleGelinas

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Opinion

Elites see my black baby as nothing more than a carbon-emitter

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Elites see my black baby as nothing more than a carbon-emitter

An hour after my daughter was born, I found myself racing back and forth between my wife’s hospital room and my newborn’s crib in a neonatal intensive-care unit. Both faced dire health challenges. It was the worst experience of my life, but in the end, mother and baby recovered. 

The ordeal taught me something: Nothing on this earth is more fulfilling than being a husband and father.

Driving home from the hospital, I received a call: I’d been ­accepted to Yale Law School. After overcoming one obstacle, I would soon face another as a young dad and a law student. 

A year later, I’ve had the privilege of telling my classmates about the joys of marriage and parenthood — but not everyone has been receptive. One student told me it might be “unethical” to have children in today’s America. 

That view is distressingly common among our elites. Many ­climate activists, including AOC, fret that children increase our carbon emissions over their lifetime, hastening an ecological crisis. Apparently, human life loses intrinsic value in a ­crisis.

Well, there is another crisis plaguing our country: At 1.7 births per woman, the US fertility rate is at its lowest level in modern American history. Recent research shows that we haven’t experienced replacement-rate fertility since 2008. In other words, 13 years have passed since we last produced enough children to even maintain current population levels.

It turns out that our downward population trajectory comes with consequences. As elderly people live longer, there are fewer working-age citizens to pay into Social Security and Medicare programs — adding more stress to an already-strained system.

As a former US Army officer, I’m also concerned about long-lasting national-defense ramifications. A decline in young Americans means our military could find it difficult to maintain readiness as an all-volunteer force. In South Korea, another country experiencing population decline, the military is expected to shed 100,000 troops in the next four years. We could easily find ourselves on the same path if trends continue.

Fewer babies breed major cultural worries, too, like rising loneliness and less societal happiness. Our sense of isolation and alienation long predated the lockdowns. Compounding the unhappiness, there is a significant gap between how many children people say they would like to have versus how many children our society births. 

So, what’s the holdup? 

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to raise children in today’s America. It boils down to two things: cost and culture.

Day care is astronomically ­expensive for young parents like me. Many working-age men are unable to find employment. Housing costs continue to skyrocket. Student debt cripples nearly my entire generation — delaying family formation for some and leaving others with little impetus to marry and start a family at all.

Then there’s the growing anti-family sentiment, especially among elites. Babies are seen as obstacles in the fight against climate change and the quest for personal “fulfillment.” Life in the womb is no longer considered a gift but an inconvenience to be discarded at will.

Even before my daughter was born, our doctor assumed that my wife and I — a young black couple — wouldn’t want to keep our child. The doctor kept insisting that there were “other options” if we chose not to follow through with the pregnancy. 

Since blacks account for over 36 percent of abortions (despite only comprising 14 percent of the childbearing population), I suppose a young married black couple just didn’t look like parents to a pro-abortion physician.

Like many issues, the population crisis has no easy solution. There are, however, public-policy options that can help. Congress could pass pro-family legislation such as enhanced child tax credits that lessen the financial strain on those who serve society by raising kids. 

It’s not all top-down, though: Everyday Americans could help by promoting marriage and family life as the foundation of a flourishing society. Cheer on the newlywed couple; babysit for the exhausted parents; volunteer at a nearby ­orphanage. 

Children are both financially and emotionally expensive. Sure, my daughter will cost me a number of headaches and heartaches (and yes, increased carbon emissions) over the course of her life. But given the incomparable joy that she brings into our home, our neighborhood and our country every day, she has already paid her bill in full. 

Jeremy C. Hunt is a US Army veteran and a student at Yale Law School. 

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Opinion

Texas shows the way on COVID rationality

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Texas shows the way on COVID rationality

Last week, a US state decided to throw off the shackles of prolonged pandemic restrictions that have done very little good and much harm. That state will reopen libraries, museums, houses of worship and most businesses at full capacity.

No uproar ensued. The state in question was, of course, deep-blue Connecticut. A day earlier, however, when the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced their states were reopening, they got a very different reception. When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also noted he will be lifting the statewide mask mandate, the liberal establishment reacted as if had vowed to personally inject the novel coronavirus into the bodies of Lone Star residents.

President Biden slammed the move as “Neanderthal thinking.” NBC’s Lester Holt declared the country at “an unsettling crossroad tonight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention boss ­Rochelle Walensky warned against a “premature lifting of these prevention measures.” Federal coronavirus guru Anthony Fauci called the news “inexplicable” and said “now is not the time to pull back.”

Actually, the time to pull back was months ago, but better late than never. A year into the pandemic, we easily forget that the lockdowns and other draconian restrictions were imposed as a temporary measure to “flatten the curves” and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. We did that successfully. Months ago. 

No one signed up for living in lockdown indefinitely.

Red Mississippi, Florida and Texas are getting slammed in the prestige press, even as hard-line blue states like New York and California have done a far worse job mitigating COVID-19. 

As for mask mandates, if these are going to become a semi-permanent feature of life in our societies, then we need to have a ­rational, open discussion about that. My two cents: No. Hell no. 

Meanwhile, their high-handed imposition has decimated common sense, empowered busybodies and promoted irrational ­behaviors like widespread outdoor masking.

How useless is outdoor masking? In late November, right before New York’s winter spike, Gov. Cuo­mo bragged that mask compliance in the state was 98 percent. Seven out of 10 states with the highest number of COVID deaths per capita have mask mandates; New York and New Jersey “win” that awful contest. Why continue something that hasn’t worked?

When my middle son was a baby, he was a poor sleeper. Other parents of bad sleepers would try to give me advice. But why would I want advice from such parents? If their advice worked, they would see results. I wanted advice from parents who had gotten their kids to sleep. Advice, even if it sounds reasonable, is only helpful if it produces a desired outcome. 

The same principle applies here. States with far higher death rates per capita than Texas tried ­a ­restrictive technique for fighting COVID-19. Their people have suffered immeasurably because of their failed, for-show-only policies — and they have failed to contain the virus.

Even Cuomo, who clearly ­enjoyed his stint of unchecked power, has realized this nonsense has to eventually end. In January, he registered that yes, we do need to reopen at some point. “We will have nothing left to open,” he warned, sounding like he was lecturing the guy in charge who wasn’t him. “We must reopen the economy, but we must do it smartly and safely,” he added. 

Appending the word “safely” to calls for reopening doesn’t actually make the opening safer. It’s akin to people who would post pictures of themselves in large groups throughout the pandemic but hashtag the pictures #SocialDistancing!

What works, rather, are vaccinations, coupled with bolstered health facilities and treatments and a rational ­approach to risk. We have the first two things: Vaccines are working remarkably well to prevent serious illness, and our health systems are ready. 

It’s the third — rationality — that is most needed. People won’t get back to their normal lives at the flick of a switch. They have to be eased into it, and that easing should have begun long ago. It’s long past the time to face reality, reopen our states and get on with our lives. Reopened states like Texas should be lauded, not ridiculed.

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