Written By: Honorable Mr. Chaim M. Deutsch Councilmen District 48 Brooklyn
NEW YORK_____We are beginning to see a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. But there are hard times ahead for our nation, state and beloved New York City. The choices we make now will determine how quickly we recover. Vague and contradictory policies — the kind we’re all too accustomed to from this mayoralty — won’t help.
Mayor Bill de Blasio reacted too late to the health side of the crisis, delaying lockdowns when a week or two earlier could have reduced deaths by as much as 80 percent, according to former city Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Frieden. As late as March 13, the mayor was encouraging people to “go on about their lives,” and on March 16, he went to his precious gym.
To repair the damage and build a better future going forward, we need better leadership than that — especially on the fiscal front. State and city history is instructive.
In 1975, as the Empire State faced down the barrel of bankruptcy, newly elected Gov. Hugh Carey said, “The days of wine and roses are over.” And he followed through, halting the spiral of excessive borrowing, spending and entitlement he had inherited from his predecessor.
It wasn’t always easy. In the 1970s, the quality of life here in New York suffered, partly as a result of state-level cuts. No public official wants to preside over painful cuts, but unless we make some, the current downturn could spiral into a much larger fiscal catastrophe.
Because the revenue for profligate spending just isn’t there: At 13 percent, unemployment is already higher now than it was in the 1970s (10 percent). The only time unemployment was higher was at the height of the Great Depression, at 23 percent.
Just as in the 1970s, we need leadership that can look past a progressive agenda to make the tough decisions, slashing unnecessary expenditures and maintaining the most vital services that keep our city running.
Otherwise, we will see a return of dark days here. Police officers, teachers, sanitation staff, health workers and other essential personnel could lose their jobs. Our subway system could fall into even deeper disrepair than it suffers today, owing to reductions in cleaning and the number of trains.
In the City Council, I sit on the Budget Negotiation Team. We spend much of our time reviewing the city’s budget and determining where we can cut funding and where we need to funnel more. I’m speaking to myself as much as to my colleagues and the mayor when I say this: We must be doubly aggressive in our efforts as we make these choices.
Over the last six years, our budget ballooned by the billions every year, as leaders took advantage of the economic expansion to fund pet projects and progressive wish lists.
New Yorkers couldn’t have been fully prepared for the sudden and huge economic hit from this shutdown. In this unprecedented time of suffering, I am reluctant to point fingers or to lay blame. However, the city’s recovery hinges on the ability of our mayor to take the advice of experts and study the history of past economic recoveries.
Again, I don’t want to re litigate the past. It pains me to remind him that his decision to overrule the city’s top doctors at the start of this crisis contributed to the substantial pain that COVID-19 has inflicted on our city. That same attitude, applied to the economic recovery, will likely reap similarly tragic results.
Each of us must be prepared to make sacrifices and good choices for the future of our city. It will take us all working together to save the New York City that we love. There are those elected officials who will choose to make broad pronouncements about the need for more services in the wake of this COVID crisis, and I understand that attitude; it’s certainly good for getting votes.
It is not, however, good for the city and its people, you and I. A collapse of our public fiscal system will end up hurting those who need it the most. A broke city can’t effectively help the homeless, tackle mental health, build better schools, fight crime, keep our streets clean, treat illness and create a better quality of life for its residents.
Our city and our economy need a little tough love right now, so that we can flourish and succeed later. We need a leader who can make hard choices now and lead us back to being the city of opportunity that we love.