You totally get a coronavirus pass if you didn’t notice that Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his $89 billion budget last week.
Sure, $89 billion probably sounds like a lot of money, but it’s $3.5 billion less than the city’s current budget. In an age where budgets typically only ever go up, this is already a big deal.
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While hundreds of New Yorkers are dying every day, it’s understandable that the mayor isn’t looking hard at serious budget cuts. But he’s going to have to put things into focus real soon.
Given that New York City is the global COVID-19 epicenter, the mayor is hoping for a helping hand. But because the pandemic has also blown a massive hole in the state’s finances, it seems extremely unlikely that Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers will be able to ride to the city’s rescue. This means then that our saviors reside in Washington D.C., where two of the three most powerful people there are named Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. Gulp. It may be time to enter the wayback machine and get some perspective.
On John Lindsay’s first day in City Hall in 1966, transit workers went on strike, setting the tone for an extremely tumultuous administration that was almost constantly under crisis.
Asked by a reporter what he thought of New York even as it was shut down by strikers, Lindsay responded, “I still think it’s a fun city.”
As the city teetered on the precipice of collapse, “Fun City” became an ironic moniker during the mayor’s eight years, which were then followed by New York’s near-bankruptcy under Abe Beame. Crime, arsonists, and a blackout in 1977 transformed some neighborhoods into post-apocalyptic vistas. Fun indeed.
Since then, the city has come back in fits and starts. And over the last 10 years, there have been a lot more starts than fits, with crime collapsing and the economy rebounding. New York City in early 2020 was in a very different place than it was 50 years ago. Sadly, coronavirus threatens all of that – even long after its scythe is set down.
The mayor last week largely avoided talk of major fiscal gloom and doom, settling on closing city pools and a summer youth program largely as symbolic gestures. But real cuts are likely on the horizon, meaning everything from firehouses to libraries to the city workforce could be on the chopping block.
It will be tough enough for us to rally collectively to get through the next month as the death toll keeps on ringing. But New Yorkers are going to have to prepare themselves for a very different kind of toll on the city, when maybe our garbage isn’t picked up as much or a 311 call isn’t quickly answered.
It may not be fun, but we will get through this. The city has seen much worse.