Some of our readers may wonder why we repeatedly worry about giving the mayor any additional powers. It’s because we believe that our current system of government tends to select city-wide leaders who support the interests of Manhattan’s finance and real estate industries — to the detriment of other boroughs and other industries. As important as finance and real estate are for the city’s financial solvency (right now, they’re still crucial), they don’t tend to create middle-income jobs, which can leave us in a vulnerable place in an economic downturn, as in 2008-2009. Simply put, we’ve placed too many of our eggs in one or two baskets.
From our perspective, New York City’s future economic stability — and even its resistance to major natural or man-made disaster — could depend on how quickly we diversify our local economy and distribute it more evenly across the five boroughs. This even could solve many transportation problems, and take congestion pricing off the table forever. And we think the problem is structural, not personal. Mike Bloomberg, for all his billionaire’s insensitivity to community needs and his belief that 311 can solve all problems, is very smart and seems generally well-intended. But we have no guarantee that his successors will be up to his standard.
Our concern is not primarily about the person who sits in the mayor’s office, but with the huge power of the office itself. To try to manage a city of 8+ million from one desk tempts a mayor to create an over-centralized, one-size-fits-all bureaucracy. Unfortunately, this works against neighborhood distinctiveness, a crucial component of our city’s magic. NYC’s land use policy, educational policy, and economic development strategy need to encourage this distinctiveness. This is why we favor a reasonable amount of governmental decentralization. But that’s hard to achieve when the mayor’s office holds almost all of the power, and Manhattan’s big business leaders want to make it even easier for him to use it. It will be a major challenge to convince them that this strategy may not be in their own long-term interest.
We also believe that most New Yorkers are smart and concerned enough to help shape sensible government policy if given the slightest chance. Our decades of experience with community boards has convinced us that public participation in local decision-making fosters a sense of community and turns neighbors into allies. Civic participation is part of our social glue, providing a reason for native New Yorkers to stay here and for new New Yorkers to come here. That’s why we support meaningful parental involvement in local public schools and a strong role for community boards, as imperfect as they may be.
This, in a nutshell, is why we are writing CityPragmatist. We try to apply these core principles whenever we react to a news event or a policy announcement. We hope you’ll agree with us about the need for a five-borough strategy, and how that can become more likely if we have a stronger City Council and stronger borough presidents. If you don’t agree, write to us and tell us why.