Opinion: Local, regional and national governance has failed us

FILE PHOTO: A man crosses a nearly deserted Fulton Street in the financial district of lower Manhattan in New York
A man crosses a nearly deserted Fulton Street in the financial district in lower Manhattan during the pandemic.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

The very worst part of the pandemic in New York state appears to be past, and parts of upstate are beginning to slowly reopen. New York has recorded more than 20,000 deaths from coronavirus, the most of any sub-national region on the planet. We appear to have had nearly as many deaths as Italy or Spain, the previous epicenters which each have substantially more than double our population.

Over 80,000 Americans have died and that number will keep marching skyward. With 4.2 percent of the world’s population, we have reported 28.2 percent of global deaths. It is not clear how bad it will get across the country, but it is already clear that different places — due to luck and policy — will have substantially different mortality outcomes.

We don’t know exactly which countries will get through the coronavirus pandemic all right, but we do know that some nations will emerge from lockdown okay and that we are not one of them. South Korea and New Zealand, for example, have each reduced the number of community spread cases to zero for several weeks running now.

Fundamentally, New York had it worst in the whole world (so far) because, whether there are a half-dozen or four dozen global hub cities, ours has the worst combination of local, regional, and national governance. Moscow, for example, appears to have handled coronavirus badly and covered up their death numbers, but still has had thousands of fewer deaths than we have with a larger city population. More than 5 percent of all New York nursing home residents have already died just in the last three months.

This is a governance failure.

We have relied mostly on the federal government for protection from new diseases; the federal government failed New York almost completely. We were probably 95 percent on our own. On a state level, hospitals have been closing for years, and for even longer our nursing home industry has generally been a lightly-regulated, politically-connected, for-profit cash cow.

Finally, Mayor Bill de Blasio only started to shut the city down after more people were already infected here than on any city on the planet. He has also been slower than any remotely-comparable mayor to create open space for the trapped where there used to be cars, and to recognize that the bicycle is the urban vehicle of this pandemic and the future.

New York has joined with six other northeastern states to establish a multi-state council that strikes me as our best level of governance for the future. Due to the vagaries of the electoral college, the vast majority of that region has never had a real say in who is President of the United States in our entire lifetimes. Just New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania together have a larger population and economy than California.

Is that region still too large to govern? I’ll discuss more next week.

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.