Any erstwhile liberal New Yorkers thinking of supporting Mike Bloomberg’s bid for a third term should read the New York Times carefully. The city hasn’t been spared the ravages of the recession. As of December, unemployment stood at 7.4 percent, and experts predict almost 300,000 more jobs will be gone by the summer of 2010. Homeless rates are at record highs; the city’s overstretched shelters now take in an average of 36,000 people each night. The city’s already beleagured middle-class is in full flight. According to a recent study by the Center for an Urban Future, over 150,000 middle income residents left New York City in 2006, driven away by the highest rent, food, child care and utilities bills in the country. Meanwhile, Manhattan has been thoroughly rezoned–thanks to Rudy Giuliani’s quality of life campaign and plush subsidies for developers–as the almost exclusive playground of the rich.
If Mayor Mike gets reelected, it will stay this way–or get worse. As the NYT reported on February 17, Bloomberg is refusing to accept extra food stamp money from Obama’s stimulus package:
"The provision overturns a 1996 rule limiting able-bodied adults who have no dependents to three months of food stamps in a three-year period. But the Bloomberg administration said on Tuesday that nothing had changed and that it was not obligated to extend benefits to anyone not enrolled in the Work Experience Program, a workfare program that provides temporary jobs, usually in city agencies."
In this climate, Bloomberg’s decision is an act of cruel sadism, withholding food (food!) from thousands of hungry mouths to make an ideological point about work (at fake jobs that don’t exist). It’s also straight from the playbook of the most reactionary Republican governors like Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and Bobby Jindal, who are threatening to return stimulus money to prove just how much better free markets are than government (South Carolina, check back with me in a year to see how well that plan’s going, okay?).
But here’s the really unbelievable part: the next day Mayor Mike announced a $45 million program that would use taxpayer money to retrain "investment bankers, traders and others who have lost jobs on Wall Street." And what will these poor bankers who can no longer afford their Frette sheets and Barney’s baubles be trained to do? Sweep streets? File paperwork? Scoop poop? Teach nursery school (remember those high child care costs!)? No way! That’s make work for the poor.
Instead, Bloomberg intends to set them up with "seed capital and office space" so that they can ‘promote innovation’ and ‘capture growth.’ According to Seth Pinksy, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the plan could target those laid-off from jobs in "capital markets" (i.e. the collateralized debt obligations and mortgage securities that got us into this mess). "We have a substantial number of very talented people coming out of Wall Street," he whined. "Where do these people go?"
I have a slighly different reaction to their plight than Pinksy, which is chiefly: F**K if I care. But there you have a succinct encapsulation of Mike Bloomberg’s priorities. Poor, hungry New Yorkers will be stripped of food stamps that the federal government says is both necessary and good stimulus, while the bollocks-for-brains bankers who got us into this mess will get office space and taxpayer moolah to restart the cycle of speculation.
I love NYC. (If I knew how to make a little heart sign in the last sentence, I would.) It’s been my home for most of my life, and I’m convinced it needs a new mayor for a new moment. Not someone who represents the FIRE industries (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate), throws around lavish bonuses to his supporters and buys off the city’s political elite with his foundation’s cash. Right now, NYC needs a mayor for all of us–for the boroughs, for the poor, for the working class and the strivers and laborers and artists, musicians and writers who have made the Big Apple the best place on earth.
UPDATE: Here’s NY state senator Liz Krueger on the folly of refusing to participate in the federal food stamp extension. NB: every $1 in food stamps translates into $1.70 in immediate economic activity.