Thursday, December 24, 2009

Neighborhood Economics and Editorial Myopia

We are always amused by the editorial outrage when-once in a blue moon in this city-a large real estate project goes down to defeat. What is inescapable, is the fact that the city's editorialists couldn't give a tinker's damn about NYC's small neighborhood businesses. These retailers are reeling from the impact of the Great Recession-and store vacancies and foreclosures are at record high levels.

But they are also reeling from the impact of the Bloomberg economic and fiscal policies-policies that Steve Malanga has underscored in such exquisite details in the City Journal. When the editorial savants, with a faux sagacity, point out the high unemployment rates in the Bronx, they always fail to correlate these high rates to the city's chief executive who should own them-and would if the city's press had belled this bad cat as it should have.

Instead of scrutiny, however, we had a year of obsequious fawning-beginning with the cheer leading for overthrowing term limits; and ending with the NY Post's shameful shilling for school test numbers that could nave been concocted by Bernie Madoff. And nowhere was it said, or has it even been hinted during this classless outrage over the Armory, that the city's economic dire straits can be attributed to the big government, tax, regulate, and spend policies, of New York City's mayor.

And, in addition, in all of the high dudgeon over the temerity of the city council to act as an independent legislature, there has been no recognition that the Armory development-leaving aside the living wage issue-would have had a devastating impact on the neighboring commercial shopping strip on Fordham Road. Instead we get misdirection and calumny.

In yesterday's NY Post: "The City Council, overriding a mayoral veto, has finished off the proposed development at the Kingsbridge Armory in The Bronx -- effectively killing 2,200 new jobs in a borough with a 13 percent unemploymentrate. Bronx beep Ruben Diaz Jr. was ecstatic: "The notion that any job is better than no job no longer applies," he said. This proves that he is very good at killing jobs. But can he create them?

Wrong question. The city is hemorrhaging business-and local jobs-at the shuttered neighborhood stores all over the five boroughs. What is Mike Bloomberg going to do to stem this unprecedented loss of economic activity? A wrong answer, it would appear-the use of tax subsidies to build malls that will put these local shops further at risk.

Since 2002, Mike Bloomberg has given away the municipal store, increasing local taxes and creating an unsustainable debt while pursuing Olympic pipe dreams and mega-developments that exacerbate the conditions for sustaining vibrant economic activity. And then there's his new found commitment to the environment-expressed so eloquently in his pursuit of a congestion tax policy, one that would further hurt small distributors and the local stores that depend on them.

And here is the Daily News today on the Armory: "As the City Council voted Monday to kill the Kingsbridge Armory development, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. acknowledged that thousands of his constituents would have applied for jobs there.Yet he stuck to his position that it was better for the Bronx, which suffers the state's highest poverty and unemployment, to have no new jobs unless they met his wage standards. The Council bought into this destructive lunacy by a vote of 48 to 1."

"Destructive lunacy?" Not Diaz and the council, but a mayor running in 2001 on a no tax pledge who, no sooner does he take office, raises the city's real estate taxes through the roof-crippling the local stores who are forced to pay the rental pass through. Is it any wonder that NYC is at the bottom when it comes to rating business climates throughout the country?

So, when it comes to editorial standards, we are confronted by the fact that the two tabloids are bereft of them-unless double standards are counted. Instead of examining the long road to the Bronx's high levels of unemployment-a path that begins down at the doorstep to city hall-they are content to place blame on Ruben Diaz and the city council. As the News tells us: "Now the questions for Diaz, as well as for his 48 job-killing Council colleagues, are: Where are you going to find employment opportunities at the level of pay you desire? And how will you put the armory to productive use? They don't have a clue."

Cluelessness is, however, apparently as contagious as the swine flu-and maybe the issue of a living wage is more a symbolic expression of the outrage felt by many New Yorkers against the Bloomberg class-based economic follies that aggrandize a few at the expense of neighborhoods and the small businesses that support them.

We know one thing. The question of what to do with the Armory is not necessarily the right question at all. The real question is whether the mayor's plan made any sense in the first place-given the tax subsidies and the impacts that the mall would have had on the local economic activity. Was this a good use of tax dollars? Not in our view, or that of the store owners in the line of fire of this tax subsidized behemoth.

The city is in bad economic shape after eight years of, yes, cluelessness. If the NY Post's Rupert Murdock and the NY Daily News' Mort Zuckerman want to exhibit a modicum of journalistic responsibility they should begin by starting off the New Year with a vow to hold their fellow billionaire classmate to as high a standard as they have reserved exclusively for some of the city's minor political miscreants.

The sad fact, though, is that they are incapable of this kind of brutal honesty for one of their own. The sins of the various "knuckleheads" that the News points out periodically, pale in comparison to the tone deaf and misguided actions of the mayor-and the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory should be seen in this light. Not so much for what it says about actual public policy, but more for what it says about the fed up mood of a public that is tired of policies that give the goldmine to the few while shafting the many.