Opinion: Grievance and strength

Chad Madden/Unsplash

Considering the calendar, this should be my “Christmas Column.” But, with apologies to Hallmark — and as one who is grumpy, yet hopefully not Grinchy beyond my years — welcome to my Festivus celebration. Join me in the “airing of grievances” and “feats of strength.” Every week I get to pay homage to Frank Costanza by letting you know I’ve got a problem with this or that.

Well, I’ve got a lot of problems with how the state, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (who admittedly remains remarkably popular) treats New York City Now you’re going to hear about it, but it’s not just Cuomo — the state’s laws codified this harsh treatment of the city long before he became governor.

However, Cuomo — thanks in part to his undisguised animus toward Mayor Bill de Blasio — has made things worse in recent times, capped off by the pandemic response. There is rarely an issue where Cuomo doesn’t try to override local decisions or throws out his chest to make clear he’s the one making a call. Often it’s arbitrary, sometimes it’s petty, and seemingly done to punish the city. 

That includes shutting down the city’s overnight train service with no announced plan to bring it back — all the while his appointed MTA highlights the merits of Lyft and Uber when discussing workers who are off-hours and don’t have transit available when coming or going to a job between 1 and 5 am.

That can also mean sslow walking the city’s lockdown, halting indoor dining within the five boroughs while his own stats show it’s not a COVID infection leader, not authorizing borrowing powers that previous mayors got immediately in crises to avoid layoffs, or even the handling of lost deer. I could go on, but that would take me ‘till Festivus 2021.

So now that I’ve “aired” the grievances, we can move on to the “feats of strength” in which one must pin an opponent in a wrestling match. When that happens, Festivus is over.

So, how would feats of strength play out in this instance? Give the city legal muscle to control its own destiny. Local control would help on all of these issues. That means that the New York City transit system would shift from the MTA to the umbrella of NYC Department of Transportation. Allow the city to determine its types of taxation and set its rates. Reimagine property taxes. A governor should not override a mayor without legislative approval. The mayor of the biggest school system in the country should have the flexibility to open and close schools as circumstances change.

I know that constitutionally, cities are not autonomous; they are creations of states. However, our largest cities have become the economic and cultural engines of our country and we must not let envy or power trips stifle them. 

If the state’s power over these issues was working, I’d be fine, but it isn’t working. The state has had its chance. It is time for the state to stop taking credit for the good and blaming the city for all failures like inadequate subways. If the city is going to get blamed, it should be for things under its control. Maybe the city should be its own sovereign state. Now, that would be pretty, pretty, pretty good