De Blasio’s presidential run leaves ‘Mayor Cuomo’ dominating the city
Mayor Bill de Blasio has ghosted New York, off running for a lesser office than being mayor of the biggest city in the country. But New York doesn’t need to wait until January 2022 to have a mayor again. For the next 2 ¹/₂ years, we’ll be governed by Mayor Cuomo, who has been stealthily increasing his local power as the mayor has been plaintively seeking New Hampshire votes.
This isn’t a terrific state of affairs, but it’s what we’ve got, and it’s better than nothing — and so New Yorkers had better start thinking of Cuomo as their only elected executive, and hold him accountable.
Make no mistake: De Blasio isn’t leaving us just for the summer and fall before he comes loping back, ready to assume responsibility again. This is it: As his schedule for Thursday informed the press, the mayor “will depart New York City.” This time, for Iowa — but he’s gone forever. A failed presidential-candidate de Blasio is going to be worse for New York’s future than the mayor we have right now: even more out of touch, disengaged and angry that his career has stalled out.
The contrast Thursday couldn’t have been clearer: As Hizzoner squeezed himself into a plane to explain to Iowa farmers why he doesn’t like animals such as horses to work for a living, Cuomo was in Midtown talking about transit. He correctly identified New York’s greatest existential threat: “You can’t get any more cars in . . . you need a mass-transit system if we’re gonna continue to grow.”
Cuomo’s transportation policy, in the details, has its drawbacks: For one thing, that press conference was about yet another mostly cosmetic change to Penn Station. We still have no idea what the state-run MTA’s future labor contracts with subway and railroad unions will look like — and more bad contracts, similar to the ones the governor has signed in the past, mean less money for infrastructure.
Yet guess what? Compared to de Blasio — and on the merits — Cuomo is leaving behind a legacy that will leave the state positioned for future growth. He is rebuilding both LaGuardia and JFK airports, with little taxpayer money. He is building a train to LaGuardia — not the perfect one, but better than what was, practically speaking, was on offer.
He built a new Tappan Zee Bridge, when his three predecessors had dithered over it for more than a decade. One can pick apart each of these for their problems (including, long-term, how to pay for the train and the bridge), but they are critical projects.
The subways? They need a lot of work — but for better or for worse, Cuomo is owning the problem. Three years from now, if the MTA hasn’t made significant progress on modernizing subway signals and fare-payment technology, New Yorkers will know who to blame — and the governor knows it.
Compare this to the infrastructure de Blasio controls: the streets. Traffic has never been slower in the city. This week, a 16-year-old child was crushed on his bike in Borough Park on his way home from school, the 10th cyclist killed this year, on streets that the mayor has declared victory over for marketing purposes and then abandoned.
But, guess what? With the advent of congestion pricing, the mayor no longer controls the streets. The governor — through his de facto control of the MTA — does. It is the state, not the city, that now sets traffic policy in Manhattan, and, because much outer-borough traffic is coming into Manhattan, by extension, the state will control congestion in much of the city.
The congestion-pricing law, after all, enables the state to build out “central business district tolling infrastructure” — but doesn’t say such infrastructure has to be in the district. Under an aggressive reading, the governor could take over where the mayor has been failing: building out the infrastructure in large swaths of the city, including more bus and bike lanes and speed cameras needed to calm and divert car traffic before it gets to Manhattan to be “priced.”
With a disappeared mayor, future state budgets offer room for more state takeovers. (Congestion pricing passed in this year’s budget.) Cuomo has shown himself to be a master at using the state budget for unrelated matters. With de Blasio gone, he’ll be tempted to do more of it, for better or worse, on everything from land taxes to even higher wages for the construction industry.
This is hardly the desired state of affairs — it’s nice to have a mayor. But for now, we have one elected executive, however flawed, who cares about the city’s future, whether he acts rightly or wrongly in its service.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Twitter: @NicoleGelinas
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