One nice thing about pretty much living in the Press offices is reading through the last 17 years worth of papers, all of which are bound in beautiful green volumes. It can be a pretty rough feeling, though, while whiling away to produce the Pravda-quality gem you’re presently perusing, to read the work of certain predecessors who, at least if you take them at their written word, spent most of their time high, having sex and being mildly Dostoevskian, while feeling utterly depraved and publicly relishing the whole thing.
I’ve always been inclined, based on the paper one such editor produced, to believe this is exactly how he spent his time, save for a small stretch of the production day reserved for editing and furiously composing last-minute hung-over screeds. This editor would doubtless have reported on the recent transit strike in terms of the sex it forced him to have with a particularly repellent transvestite—likely on the same office futon on which I too often find myself sleeping.
All of which, of course, leads to Mayor Bloomberg, the man who in less than a year went from one of the least popular mayors in the city’s history to the largest victory ever recorded by a Republican, all without anyone finding this, or very much else about him or his administration, particularly newsworthy. There’s a reason our hack predecessor here kept harping on Rudy Giuliani’s sins long after he left office—Bloomberg has managed to suck all the air our of the room, reducing almost the entire New York City press corps to a motley crew of Jeff Koyens, quibbling over meaningless nonsense and done deals, the slightly higher-minded equivalent of ranting about trannies, ex-mayors and the pope.
Bloomberg, after all, is the guy who in effect won reelection on the inspiring slogan: “We can do worse.” (Which, given the alternative of a borough president whose 30 years in politics were marked by an 0-for-competitive elections track record and a commensurate absence of actual accomplishments, was likely true.)
The lame duck with a billion dollars of philanthropic bite to back him up has already use his private largesse to pacify the city’s good-government groups, and the many intellectuals dependent on that foundation cheddar, not to mention the cash shunted to crazed cultist and New York City Independence Party leader Lenora Fulani’s youth theater operation.
And the Times, sadly still the paper whose endorsement matters most, no matter how idiotic their news and editorial coverage becomes, would be in thrall to Mayor Mike even if his ride on the rails with Doctoroff and Ratner didn’t redound to their eminent advantage. He’s “our kind of people,” after all.
He’s also exhibited a profound disinterest in the give-and-take elements of electoral politics, even while appropriating its theater to play the kinder, gentler Rudy role as needed. Remember: this is the guy who rammed through a smoking ban he never mentioned while running for office (and who’s working as you read this to have Albany ram through yet another cigarette tax hike) and privately boasted of his vision of New York as a luxury product.
When City Journal’s Sol Stern asked the mayor what recourse his critics might have now that he’s been reelected, Mike replied: “They can boo me at parades.”
For all of Bloomberg’s showmanship about a kinder, gentler city government, after the dog and pony show of consultation, he’s shown the sort of disdain for the democratic process that only a plutocrat can really pull off with style. To be fair, his contempt for electoral accountability is well earned; he’s spent nearly $200 million of his own fortune in two elections proving that the electorate can be bought.
The problem is that none of Bloomberg’s failures—his unwilingess or inability to reign in developers or plan out development in any coherent fashion, his failure to reform the public schools or the city’s workforce, or to reclaim the city’s airports, ports and railroads—are the kind that provoke symbolic fireworks. There’s no 41 shots or other bloody flag around on which to rally opposition, and no credible Democratic (or democratic, for that matter) opposition to our RINO mayor.
And that’s not to mention philanthropic efforts that have bought an awful lot of silence and good will. Don’t get me wrong— who doesn’t want to see, say, the Schomburg Center do well? (We’ll leave the straight bribes, like the money to Fred Newman’s all-stars, for another occasion). But foundation money helps feed a lot of the city’s intellectuals and such, and so buys an awful lot of silent good will and bending of principles.
So now we’re stuck with a technocrat-in-chief whose luxury city more and more seems like a high-end strip mall, and a record of accomplishment that begins and ends with not screwing up the deal he struck with Rudy to keep crime down. It’s the death of the diner, the triumph of the box store, the rise of the KGB bar, the strange shyness of strangers and the demolition of entire neighborhoods to make room for new developments that price the city endlessly upward. Sterility. No wonder Koyen was driven to tripod-love, and vapid denunciations of out-of-power ex-mayors.
More seriously, the luxury model has resulted in a ghettoization of those who don’t fit the theme. What’s for them in midtown, or in Manhattan more generally, outside of the few neighborhoods and strips that have been preserved as acceptable mingling areas? Even something as wonderful as the last remnants of the bookseller’s row that lined 18th St. not so long ago is clearly on the outs, bookended by the Gap on 6th Ave. and Old Navy on 7th.
Outside of those special places where the vomitous and the pretentious and the just plain unobjectionable still mix (Union Square, for instance, which despite concerted effort remains a lively and fascinating place), the give-and-take that should define New York is being methodically replaced by a common banality. The smokers huddle in doorstops, glared at by the righteous; the fish-mongers lug their wares to Hunt’s Point; the haberdashers move after nearly a century to accommodate the Times’ imminent new domain; Brooklyn Industries’ China-made wares proliferate, and mid-’90s arrivals, like Koyen, complain bitterly about how things have changed since then.
To the west, the trannies pace, and the new arrivals look upon them with confusion, disdain and just a touch of pride—Look how real it still is here! Where’s our Jeff Koyen, now that we need him to show just how banal such realness can be?
Who shall save us now?