Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Power Broker" @ 40

Several years ago I wrote about Robert Caro's 1974 classic book "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and The Fall of New York."

Clocking in at around 1,200 pages, "The Power Broker" won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction and is generally considered the greatest book ever written about NYC. It tells the story of the long, complicated, and fascinating career of Robert Moses, the "master builder" who constructed roads, bridges, highways, parks, beaches, playgrounds, public housing, and huge structures like Lincoln Center and the United Nations. From the mid-1920s until the late 1960s, he was the most powerful man in New York City and New York State, a more consequential figure than any mayor or governor during that time -- or since. Because of Moses, the city's waterfront was cut off from the people, islands were bolted together, neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation wasn't built, and over half-a-million people were evicted from their homes. The city was, as Caro writes, "flooded with cars" due to Moses' works, and our city's physical landscape changed forever. 

Most shockingly, even though Moses wielded more power and had a greater effect on this city than anyone else in the 20th century, he was never elected to anything.

The story behind "The Power Broker" is equally fascinating: how the young reporter Robert Caro wrote a series of stories about Suffolk County and how it got him a grant to write a book about Moses -- a project that Caro thought would only last a year. How, instead, Caro spent seven years chronicling this incredible story and he and his wife almost went broke, living a total hand-to-mouth existence. How Caro interviewed Moses several times before the great man cut off communication with him. How interest for the book, prior to publication, was generated by serialization in The New Yorker. And how, today, on the 40th anniversary of its publication, "The Power Broker" stands as a classic that has never gone out of print. This article tells the story of how "The Power Broker" came into existence and is a must read like the book itself. 

P.S. This article uses the word "archipelago" i.e. a group of islands, to describe NYC. That is, obviously, an apt description, and I feel deep shame that I have never, in almost a decade of blogging about NYC, never referred to this city as an archipelago. After all, not only is that a neat and proper word to call our fair city, but it's a really cool one. So expect me to throw around the word "archipelago" a lot on this blog going forward. I'll start now: archipelago, archipelago, archipelago, archipelago, archipelago ... archipelago.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Joan Rivers RIP

Joan Rivers died last week at the age of 81. I refuse to believe it. Someone like Joan Rivers can never die.

But, if it's true, it's a tragedy that anyone would pass that young.

Joan was a brilliant, shocking comic who's career spanned more than half a century. She started on the The Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960s and ended her run on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this year. Now that's longevity. She taught people like Howard Stern everything they know. Only Lenny Bruce stood as her peer.

A simple Jewish girl from Brooklyn born in 1933, Joan's parents wanted nothing more than from their daughter to marry a nice "doctah" and be good housewife and live a quiet respectable life. Instead, she took the harder route -- becoming a stand-up comic, a woman comedian -- at a time when women weren't supposed to be funny. But Joan persevered.

She did everything. Nothing was beneath her. Stand-up. Acting. Talk show host. Red carpet interviewer. Seller of awful jewelry on TV. Game show contestant. A worker. A very hard worker. 

And she worked herself into being a legend.

Joan Rivers was also a great New Yorker. Her voice, her shtick was the epitome of the city. She was the outer-borough striver, the kid from the neighborhood, who had a dream to become big -- and did. She was what this town was all about. Believe it or not, Joan was a landmark. Yes, the New York Landmarks Conservancy named her a living landmark many years ago and she'll always be one. We'll always remember her.

After all, Joan wouldn't let us forget!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cabs Are For Kissing

There are cabs -- and there are New York City cabs. 

They are a world unto their own. These yellow automobiles have a certain romance to them, a certain ambiance, a certain je ne sais quoi that people love. It's not that people enjoy paying a fortune to be stuck in traffic -- no. Instead, it's about being a part of the New York City experience. It's about remembering uniquely New York moments. 

Think about being transported, as if by magic, from one part of the city to another. 

Think about being out late at night, then relaxing and getting home (relatively) quickly.  

Think about dashing out of the rain with a loved one, into a cab, escaping to warmth and shelter. 

Think about being in the back seat with a girl and ... never mind. 

Think about going down Park Avenue, late at night, seeing the famed boulevard ablaze in lights.
Think about coming back the airport in a cab, seeing the city for the first time in days, weeks, even months, and feeling at home. 

Think about traveling back to your apartment with your wife and newborn baby in the backseat.

Yes, these are just some of my taxi memories. My daughter's first car ride was in a NYC cab just like mine had been, 34-years earlier (sans the car seat). Cabs are a vital part of the New York life.

That's why I love this blog, Cabs Are For Kissing, created by a NYC taxi driver who's been on the job since 1977. This blog as been in existence since 2006 and it's a wonderful, uplifting continueing story of the a cab driver and this city. You must check it out.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Myths and Legends

During his 12 years in office, the general consensus about Mayor Michael Bloomberg was that, sure, he might be a heartless technocrat but ... he was competent; sure, the cost of living in NYC might be exploding but ... he was competent; sure, the police might be using aggressive, possibly illegal tactics but ... he was competent; sure, he might be trying to destroy the public school system and teachers unions and turn education all over to for-profit charter schools but ... he was competent. Yes, he might be overseeing the destruction of middle class NYC, turning us into a city of haves and have-nots but ... he was competent!

And what was the basis for this competency claim?

Well, he loved technology. Loved, loved, loved it. Under Bloomberg's watch, Google opened an office in NYC and, in conjunction with Cornell University, built a tech campus on Roosevelt Island. The media loves technology, the powers-that-be love technology, so if Bloomberg loved technology and wanted to apply it to government, that must make him great ... and therefore competent. He vetoed living wage laws and did other heartless things with the budget so he was viewed as "fiscally responsible." He instituted  "bike share" and other such fancy programs. Most of all, his background as a Fortune 500 CEO gave him the reputation of the ultimate skilled manager. Bloomberg was competent because, well, he had to be!

Mayor Mike also benefited from a very compliant City Council, lead for most of his time in office by the obsequious Christine Quinn, as well the contrast of the gubmint' in Washington, DC which, no matter who is president or which party is in control, seems incapable for governing. This made it possible for Bloomberg to boast about how he "got things done", "got results," etc. etc. etc. He regularly made the Time 100.

When Bill De Blasio was elected to replace Bloomberg as mayor, the media and "centrist" intelligentsia bemoaned the loss of this super competent technocrat executive at the city's helm, believing that he had bequeathed a wonderful, paradisiacal city that his class warrior successor would inevitably screw up. Et in arcadia ego.  

But it was all a lie. In fact, Bloomberg left behind a mess. Bloomberg was not the mythically competent mayor that his media allies and sycophants proclaimed. Bike share is going broke. The policing at Riker's Island is criminal disaster. The city's emergency response has been dysfunctional for years. Mayor Bloomberg left behind more than a 100 city contracts unsigned with the public workers unions, forcing De Blasio negotiate all of them. And these are just some of the problems the great Mike left for his successor.

The argument for heartless, mean-spirited governing ala Bloomberg style is that, well, you know, leaders have to make tough choices and can't give in to every do-gooder's Utopian wish list which will ultimately bankrupt the government. In this view, competency = cruelty. But what if, like Mayor Bloomberg, you're both cruel and incompetent? Well, then you are the ultimate failure. Because at least the do-gooders have good intentions, competency or not. The cruel don't have even that.

Meanwhile, the New York of our hearts increasingly slips away, from reality to legend. Thanks to Bloomberg's "competency", soon we won't recognize it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gotta Love Mr NYC ... Lurkers

I love getting comments from Mr NYC readers, particularly when they are funny, smart, or add information to the post that was lacking.

Sometimes, however, I get comments that are downright strange. For instance:

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Now, while I appreciate that the reader found the post helpful, I didn't include any info regarding a sex shop or organs so I don't really know what this reader was getting at.

The other comment that was curious was: "This is a great option for best escort girls unlimited enjoy.Thanks Companions in Prague & Czech porn escorts". I don't know why the reader thought my blog was conducive to this kind of business but, again, I guess I'm sort of flattered by the attention.

Of course I know that these are just spam messages but still ... how does Mr NYC attract such comments? I thought this was a classy blog.

White Flags on the Brooklyn Bridge

Impy and Bill in Italy

Mayor De Blasio is currently in Italy, vacationing with his family and revisiting his family origins in the "old country." Since NYC is an international city, when this or any mayor goes abroad, it's almost like a visit from a head of state: there's lots of press coverage, the local politicians and heavyweights meet the mayor, and there's lots of talk of the "connection" between New York and [insert country here].

It used to be, back when NYC politics was dominated by Italians, Irish, and Jews, that mayors would try to visit the three Is: Italy, Ireland, and Israel. As the Hispanic population has grown, particularly with immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, visiting those countries has become important for NYC politicians as well. Pretty soon, I'm sure, trips to China and Indian and other Asian counties will be required.

However, De Blasio's trip is nothing compared to Mayor Vincent Impelliteri's trip in 1951.

During his first full year in office, Impy (as he was popularly known) made a 32 day trip to Italy and Israel. In both countries, his arriving was red carpet, headline grabbing news. He was greeted by every dignitary, there were parades and parties, it was a big honking deal. Impy was actually born in Sicily so, after visiting Rome and getting an audience with the Pope, he visited the town where he was born and was greeted like a conquering hero.

I blogged about Impy in 2007, just a few months into this blog's existence. History has mostly forgotten him but, in this brief shining moment more than 60 years ago, Impy was not only king of New York but one of the most famous men in the world.

Postscript: it was during this trip, in 1951, that Bobby Thomsen hit "the shot heard 'round the world" out at the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn -- so Impy missed an important piece of NYC and world history back home.