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The Mayor and the ‘Tale of Two Cities’

It’s Thursday — the eve of Christmas Eve, if you want to think of it that way. We’ll look at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legacy as his time in office …

The Mayor and the ‘Tale of Two Cities’
23.12.2021 16:18

It’s Thursday — the eve of Christmas Eve, if you want to think of it that way. We’ll look at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legacy as his time in office winds down. We’ll also find out what went through a physics professor’s mind when he opened a package and saw cash inside — lots of cash.

But first, about next week. Michael Gold and Mihir Zaveri are on deck to be here while I take a few days off and 2021 yields to 2022.

The Mayor And The ‘Tale Of Two Cities’

Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The end of the year is in sight. There will be assessments of the second year of the coronavirus pandemic and the first year of President Biden’s term — and, in New York, of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s eight years in City Hall.

The mayor’s legacy is complicated, experts say. In brief: Police stops are down. Officers on patrol now have body cameras, as do detectives, sergeants and lieutenants who work on the streets. But 70 percent of public schools remain segregated. The number of single adults living in shelters has jumped 65 percent. And buses are crawling along at eight miles per hour, the same as when he took office.

His signature accomplishment was universal prekindergarten, a popular program that could serve as a national model. De Blasio has also cited the poverty rate, which had declined to roughly 18 percent in 2019 — before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the city’s economy — from 20.5 percent in 2013.

De Blasio’s campaign for mayor that year was built around “a tale of two cities” — the inequality that increasingly divided New York along the fault lines of fabulous wealth and grinding poverty. My colleagues Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Jeffery C. Mays write that not only did the poverty rate drop on his watch, but the city also built affordable housing.

Still, the pandemic, which continues to vex officials at every level, was nothing short of catastrophic for poor New Yorkers. And the mayor himself has said his greatest shortcoming was how he handled the homelessness crisis.

Allies like Bertha Lewis — the president of the Black Institute and a key figure in helping de Blasio win support among progressives in 2013 — wanted him to use the all-out strategy that made prekindergarten a reality to address other issues. They say now that he often seemed unwilling to risk the political capital needed to do so. He waited until late in his second term to phase out the gifted and talented program for elementary schools and to open supervised drug injection sites.

De Blasio was an immediate contrast to his predecessor, the billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, as he promised to end policies that he said favored the wealthy. But his attempt to secure a tax on millionaires or their second homes fizzled in Albany. And wealthy people continued to prosper. Forbes calculated that seven New Yorkers became billionaires last year, bringing the total to 99, second in the world to Beijing.

A discount MetroCard proposal seemed to mesh with de Blasio’s goals. He liked it so much when David Jones — president of the Community Service Society of New York, an antipoverty organization — brought it up that the mayor appointed Jones to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that runs the subway.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Time in Office

As Mayor Bill de Blasio prepares to leave office, we look back at his performance on some key issues.

  • Inequality: When Mr. de Blasio first ran for mayor in 2013, he vowed to reduce inequities across the city. These numbers show that the results have been mixed.
  • Homelessness: Facing a homeless crisis, de Blasio promised to revamp the city’s shelter system. The city relied on an infamous building owner to achieve that goal.
  • Safe Streets: As traffic deaths surged this year to their highest level in nearly a decade, the mayor came under fire for not moving aggressively enough on the issue.

“Almost immediately after that, he began moon-walking away from it,” Jones said.

De Blasio contended — unsuccessfully — that the state government should underwrite the program, because the transit authority is a state agency. But the governor at the time was de Blasio’s archenemy, Andrew M. Cuomo.

Jones said that at about the same time, the mayor arranged city funding for a heavily subsidized ferry system that is used mostly by affluent, white New Yorkers.

“If you’re able to provide a subsidized ferry system for middle and upper class people, very few of whom are people of color, what’s so difficult about providing almost the same amount of money to the very poor?” Jones asked.


It’s partly cloudy with temps in the upper 30s. There’s a good chance of snow late at night while temps settle in the mid-30s.

alternate-side parking

In effect until tomorrow (Christmas Eve).

New York Covid Briefing

Weighing political risks as case counts set a record

The recent surge in coronavirus cases has officials weighing the political risks of managing a health crisis when restrictions could set back the economic recovery. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, like President Biden, are resisting another round of shutdowns. So is de Blasio’s successor, Eric Adams.

On Wednesday, Hochul announced another record-breaking number of coronavirus cases but stopped short of saying New Yorkers should cancel their holiday plans.

Of the more than 28,000 cases, 17,221 were from New York City, where the public hospital system announced restrictions on visitors. Dr. Mitchell Katz, the system’s chief executive, said visitors had been linked to an outbreak at one of the city’s 11 public hospitals.

Cases are spiking at the city’s jails, where only 38 percent of those being held have been vaccinated. Vincent Schiraldi, the correction commissioner, told the city’s district attorneys that the seven-day positivity rate had climbed past 17 percent on Monday, from 4.8 percent the previous week. Citywide, the rate was 11.2 percent on Monday.

The latest Metro news

  • Robert Menendez Jr., the 36-year-old son of New Jersey’s senior United States senator, plans to run for Congress.

  • Just as Broadway was trying to rebound, the Broadway League said its theaters saw a 26 percent drop in gross revenue last week.

He opened a box and found $186,000 in cash

Vinod Menon, the chairman of the physics department at City College of New York.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Here’s what went through my mind when I read Corey Kilgannon’s article about the cardboard box of cash sent to the City College of New York’s Physics Department: What went through the mind of the physics professor who opened the box and saw bundles of $50 and $100 bills that added up to $180,000?

“It’s something I’d never seen,” the professor, Vinod Menon, told me. “I’ve only seen that kind of money in a movie.”

The next thing that went through his mind was this: “I wanted to see how much was in there.” Of course he did.

And after that? Menon, alone in the physics department office, called for backup — specifically, Susan Perkins, the college’s dean of science. He told her, “I have something in my hand and I need someone to be here when I look at it.”

Before long, officials from the campus public safety office were alerted. Menon said they interviewed him and took the money for safekeeping.

As Corey wrote, the package sat in the physics office for months — during the pandemic, Menon spent his time on the campus at his lab, in a different building — and efforts to identify the sender went nowhere. A letter with the money said it was a donation intended to help needy physics and math students at City College.

I asked if he was apprehensive as he opened the package. I wanted to say something like, “It could have been ticking.”

He said no such thought crossed his mind. “We get packages all the time,” he said. “They are things related to the lab: a bunch of lenses, mirrors, a stand to hold the mirrors, things like that. Chemicals have a big sign on the box. But this didn’t have that.”

What we’re reading

  • Darby Penney, who crusaded for patients marginalized in psychiatric care, died at 68.

  • A 278-foot sailing vessel on a world tour to highlight the importance of climate change docked at ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports.

Metropolitan diary


Dear Diary:

Eight winters ago, I flew cross-country overnight to visit my sister during her freshman year of college. When I arrived, I was wearing a Southern Californian’s idea of East Coast winter wear: a black long-sleeve sweater and olive corduroy pants.

The next morning, the sun’s rays beating down on my sister’s dorm room windows woke us, two tired sardines. She dressed me in layers of puffy outerwear as though she were getting a toddler ready for ski school.

My wedding was approaching, and I hadn’t started to look for a dress yet. My sister found a posting for vintage clothes on a message board, and after a short, shivery trek with snowflakes on our shoulders and stuck to our eyelashes, we turned onto West 17th Street.

The second-story address was dark, but there was a pink chiffon party dress hanging from the balcony.

I said we should flee. My sister, with all of a few months in New York under her belt, marched me into the building’s drafty, unlit foyer and up the stairs.

Light glimmered from under a door like a mirage. But the shop was real, and the first dress I tried on felt just right. We trundled out with yards of lacy, yellowing fabric in a large trash bag.

— Sarah de Crescenzo

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Jonah Candelario and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].



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