The Commuter New Yorkers Forgot How The City Became Great

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New Yorkers forgot how the city became great

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posted by alias Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 on Monday 17th of July 2017 10:05:33 PM

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill deserves answers. In his heartfelt and passionate eulogy at the funeral of Bronx Police Officer Miosotis Familia, who was assassinated by a cop-hating madman, O’Neill demanded to know, “Where are the demonstrations for this single mom, who cared for her elderly mother and her own three children? There is anger and sorrow, but why is there no is outrage?” His questions are straightforward, and sadly, so are the answers. They are rooted in the age-old warning that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Most New Yorkers are blasé about a dedicated police officer’s murder because they forget how their city got to be great, and so are blind to signs of decline. Two decades after Gotham hit rock bottom, its glorious comeback is threatened by a return of the political incompetence, corruption and public apathy that nearly destroyed it. That earlier era was notorious for exploding crime and the emptying of mental hospitals that created the first wave of homelessness. Taking stock of the breakdown of civic order, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an article for The American Scholar in 1993 titled “Defining Deviancy Down” in which he warned about “normalizing” abnormal behavior. Moynihan’s title became a legend of its own because it captured the mindset of accepting the unacceptable. Fortunately for New York, Rudy Giuliani’s election as mayor that year began a turnaround, with the police using block-by-block targeted programs to get illegal guns and bad guys off the streets. Because, as O’Neill noted, “everything starts with public safety,” that concerted effort over 20 years produced a golden age that, on the surface, continues. Violent crime is at record lows. Much of the city sparkles with prosperity and is a magnet for money and dreamers from around the world. Yet the seeds of decline are sprouting and spreading. The most telling sign is that cops, the heroes who saved the city, are often treated as a necessary evil. In any confrontation, many people and most of the political class are quick to declare them guilty until proven innocent. Had Officer Familia killed the madman and survived, it’s likely she would have been denounced. But her death, as O’Neill noted, brought no public marches honoring her sacrifice. That perverse reality defines the cancer eating away the civic foundation. It is not a coincidence that, as the police are treated with contempt, the quality of life in many neighborhoods is slipping, with homelessness surging and panhandlers proliferating. Other signs of decline include the rats increasingly visible in parks, and the many streets that look as if they never met a broom. Road repairs start but never end and traffic is needlessly clogged as precious space is wasted for barely used bicycle lanes, yet City Hall doesn’t care. Then there are the subways, the lifeblood of the city, but now on life support. Daily headlines of delays, derailments and chaos testify to the fact that billions from taxes and fares go for luxury expansions while basic maintenance goes begging. These echoes of the bad old days bring recycled claims that New York is “ungovernable.” In another throwback, the tin-cup brigade demands that Albany and Washington ride to the rescue. Don’t buy any of it. With rare exceptions, New York has been and must remain the author of its own fate. It can fix itself with the right leadership. The problem is that its leaders are leading it into trouble. With few exceptions, members of the City Council and Legislature are go-alongs, get-alongs, but most blame falls on Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. The two Democrats, whose bitter feud is now just a competition for national attention, have not been willing or able to reverse the deterioration. The mayor is a lost cause, as he proved by going to Germany to protest President Trump right after Officer Familia was murdered. His callowness illustrates that for de Blasio, selfish politics always comes first. Indeed, O’Neill’s question about “why is there no outrage” might have been best directed at his boss. The mayor’s decision to put ambition before duty will never be forgiven in the Police Department. As for Cuomo, he sees Albany as a stepping stone, and his incessant claim that New York is “built to lead” is like a joke without a punchline. Lead whom, to where? Meanwhile, corruption in Albany remains untamed and tax and regulatory burdens are incentives to flee the Empire State. The commuter rails, especially the subways, reflect the state’s biggest impact on the city, and they do not speak well of Cuomo’s leadership. At its heart, Moynihan’s warning about “Defining Deviancy Down” was not just about bad leaders, but also about the danger of ordinary citizens tuning out civic problems. “Pain,” he wrote, “is an indispensable warning signal. But societies under stress, much like individuals, will turn to painkillers of various kinds that end up concealing real damage.” That describes New York now. Forgetting our history, we are sleepwalking into a crisis.

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