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.