New York City will rise again, says Jerry Seinfeld

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets game at Citi Field. Jul 5, 2019, New York City, NY. (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)

New York patriotism is a strange duck: Often it comes with a cheerful contrarianism that amounts to reveling in disorder and inconvenience. Jerry Seinfeld notes that when he first moved to New York City in the Seventies, the streets were covered with dog poop and right after he signed the lease he discovered his car had been towed. Naturally, his reaction to these events was, “This is the greatest place I’ve ever been in my life.” Huh? Others may humblebrag. New Yorkers chaosbrag.

Seinfeld has an op-ed in today’s Times notable for a huge editorial omission: It never identifies the “you” to whom it is addressed. That person is obviously James Altucher, the hedge-fundie and owner of the Upper West Side comedy club Stand Up NY. Altucher published a couple of weeks ago a much-discussed broadside in which he announced, “NYC Is Dead Forever. Here’s Why.” Altucher notes that because of widespread broadband availability, people can communicate in groups online, so we might as well spread around the country. Altucher moved to Florida.

Seinfeld, who has a place on Central Park West and another in the Hamptons, says New York City will bounce back because it has something lacking in Florida: energy. Seinfeld also takes a few pokes at Florida’s general doziness (“your enervated, pastel-filled new life in Florida”) and says, of online meetings, “Guess what: Everyone hates to do this. Everyone. Hates.”

My friend Steve Cuozzo has a less jokey and more numbers-based piece making the same points in the New York Post today, noting that although crime has spiked this year, the number of murders (for instance) will still fall well below what it was in Mike Bloomberg’s era, which was an improvement on the Rudy Giuliani era, and let’s not even discuss the Koch–Dinkins era. Cuozzo is (unlike Altucher) a close watcher of New York real-estate statistics and observes that prices have dropped surprisingly little, and nowhere near the 30 to 50 percent figure Altucher cites without evidence. Moreover, many new buildings are still going up and companies such as Facebook and AIG have just agreed to huge new leases. Amazon bought the old Lord and Taylor department store building on Fifth Avenue and is redesigning the interior to accommodate 2,000 employees.

I’m on both sides of the argument. Yes, New York City will bounce back somewhat; yes, suburbs can be boring; yes, people like to gather in groups. Yes, I’d like to see my office mates again. But if you want a dose of Big Apple energy (of which I got a taste this weekend, during which a street that has remained rough and unpaved for several weeks repaid me by ripping a hole in one of my tires), you can get that in occasional manageable doses by visiting from out of town.

The problem I foresee is a vicious fiscal circle caused by chronic municipal overspending. Mayor Bill de Blasio has added 33,000 jobs to the payroll in the last six years and is reluctant to cut a single one of them, not even letting go of any of the 14 people who serve his wife at a cost of $2 million. (He also gave her a $1.25 mental-health boondoggle to mention.) De Blasio’s plan is to continue dragging his feet on reforming the budget by using a variety of gimmicks and hoping that he can tax and borrow his way out of the hole while awaiting a bailout from Washington. So far the easiest thing to do is simply to reduce rubbish pickup. The result at street level is overflowing garbage cans, rats running wild, and parks being turned into dumps. Factor in the many vacant storefronts, and the city is the ugliest it has been in at least 30 years. It no longer lives up to Mike Bloomberg’s “luxury good” claim.

Who is going to pay to get New York City back on its feet? I very much doubt it’s the city’s unions. I foresee more taxes on the rich, followed by rich people moving out, followed by more taxes on the upper middle class, followed by the upper middle class moving out, and so on. Jerry Seinfeld is right that the city offers “energy.” But how much is that energy worth? Seinfeld is a suburbanite who occasionally comes in for a visit. Many other New Yorkers are likely to follow his lead.

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