New York City

New York's Middle Class Has Shrunken

The penthouse at 15 Central Park West, which was purchased by the Rybolovleva family in December 2011 for the full asking price of $88 Million. Their 22 year old daughter, Ekatarina, now lives there following her stint at Harvard.

Last week's New York Times story about nealry one third of New York city’s income going to the top one percent of the city's earners is not surprising. What was once the leading manufacturing city in the United States has been transformed into a huge financial casino, with the gamblers at the top reaping all the rewards. Who cares if they nearly brought the economy to its knees, and blighted the lives of millions of Americans? And who is really concerned that they’ll do it again if they’re not prevented? How fitting that Mike Bloomberg should preside over this carnival!

"I'm Not Running Against Anybody"

Exactly, Mayor Mike. You are running uncontested. You bought City Hall. And as the buyer, you should own it. The City has fallen on hard times, and you should fall with it. That's what responsible leaders do.

But no, CEO's usually don't take the fall. They tighten their grip on power. That's what we are witnessing, my fellow New Yorkers. I used to call Bloomberg an 'elephant' because he was a Republican. Now he's just a power hungry little bitch, or as Christopher Hitchens described, a little putz.

I realize that the mayor was trying to say that he is not engaging in a personal battle. He's not running against anyone in particular at this time, as the Democratic primary is September 15th. But he made a slip, and said he wasn't running against anyone. This isn't the first time the mayor has let his true feelings slip out in public.

Meanwhile real politicians, who roll-up their sleeves and fight for change and justice, are forced to sit this election out, because they know Bloomberg will destroy them. Not just in an election, but possibly financially and professionally.

Smart New Yorkers didn't ask for a Big Daddy with Rudy Giuliani. And they didn't ask for a Mayor for Life with Bloomberg. Obviously a healthy democracy in New York City has not existed for decades and will not be returning anytime soon.

It's a good thing that New York City mayor is a dead-end job. It usually marks the end of one's political life. I think that factored into Anthony Wiener's decision not to run this year. He would rather save the mayor title for the end of his political career. Right now, Wiener is in his prime as a US Congressman.

Michael Bloomberg is living proof that I am not biased in favor of fellow Bostonians, or fellow Bostonians born at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center. The man is a cancer on this city. But of course, I undestnd that if it was not Bloomberg, it would be some other former CEO who would anchor himself at City Hall. I just think that Mike Bloomberg is possibly the worst thing to come of out Brookline, ever.

Let's Put NYC Secession Back On The Table

Today was a disgusting day of bad news in New York City.

Last night (which I will spin into 'today's news'), Governor Patterson proposed a long list of new taxes and tax increases on all sorts of goods and services. Like what? A sales tax on sports tickets. A return of the sales tax on clothing. A whopping 18% sales sax on non-diet sodas and high calorie soft drinks. A sales tax on movie theater tickets. A higher tax on car rentals. And a sales tax on downloaded entertainment, from iTunes to porn. In other words, a tax on a lot of things that are fun.

Then today, the MTA Board approved a the so-called 'Doomsday' recommendation to drastically increase fares on all forms of mass transit. Just last week, it was speculated that the MTA board would have to make a decision between steep fare increases and service cuts. But today, they chose to recommend both. Even Governor Patterson's compromise of a smaller fare hike coupled with higher business payroll taxes was ignored (for now) as the MTA board went ahead with a recommendation for a 23% fare increase. A series of fare increases could reduce ridership and increase incidents of fare evasion. I remember when a single-ride fare was $1.25 (1991-1995). Come July it will either be $2.50 or $3.00. MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin says that higher unemployment will reduce ridership, which has been at a constant record level since the late 1990s. But if the MTA is able to stick to this proposal and increase fares every two years to keep-up with 'inflation' (which right now is deflation), then they will almost surely see a loss of ridership.

In good times, the city funds the state budget very nicely. And in bad times, the state dumps de-facto tax increases and service cuts onto the city. And in really bad times, the Governor shrugs his shoulders, throws in the towel, and says things like

My overall thought is we're going to have to make the tough choices; it's either going to one source of pain or another.

Would now be a good time to suggest that New York City re-visit the idea of seceding from the state and becoming the District of Gotham?

Grace Is Gone?

I am late in receiving this terrible news. But apparently my favorite late night eatery, Grace, was seized by the NY state department of taxation around August 7th. This sucks. For ten years, it was the best place to grab a martini and burger at three in the morning (or on a quiet Sunday evening watching Sunday Night Football). It was the restaurant and bar that served the downtown restaurant and bar industry.

[Insert Anthony Bourdain voice-over here]
It was the insider's place to drink and dine on fine American food in Tribeca. And it had the longest natural wood bar in the city, at over 40 feet. Its menu staples were nothing fancy, but it was upscale pub food done right. They included a California-style chicken and goat cheese salad, 10oz burgers done with whatever toppings you wanted, white pizza topped with bacon and sausage, pulled duck sandwich, fish tacos, duck tacos, tuna tartar, popcorn shrimp, dangerous jalapeno poppers, and daily pastas and quesadillas. Its signature drink was the Grace Kelly, a late 1990s raspberry cosmo topped with champagne. But it had a solid list of whiskeys and ales available for the 'real drinkers' as well. And every now and then, owner Fred McKibbin would score a fine bottle of champagne or dessert wine that the nearby Tribeca Grill couldn't find. If you knew Fred personally, you had a connection to the downtown restaurant scene. And if you knew Jay, who was there between 2004 and 2007, you knew the best young bartender in town. Whatever happened to Jay?

[Switch back to Dhalgren's voice-over]
It was where celebrities were spotted dining after midnight, such as Joe Finnes, Rob Thomas, John Lurie, Adrian Grenier, and I believe Hugh Laurie at one point. It is where I took my girl on our second date, and several dinners and brunches. And it is where I often drank and dined with my buddy, D-Brown, on Monday nights. It could come back, but if Fred the owner owes the state big bucks, it is unlikely.

RIP, Lehman Brothers: 1850-1984; 1994-2008

The House of Lehman has fallen. The banking, trading, and asset management units will eventually be sold. But about half of Lehman's employees will eventually be told to stop reporting to work. Here are some videos. I like them all.

The employees of 25 Bank Street speak:

On a funny note, here's Sal and Richard making light of all this:

The Lehman 1928 Christmas party show. A rare film:

New York City Loses Another Civil Liberties Suit

They can spin it all they want, but a $2M settlement is a defeat in my book. Good for the plaintiffs in this case. 52 people were peacefully protesting on a city sidewalk on April 7th 2003, when the NYPD rounded up and arrested them. Unfortunately, justice will not be given to the nearly 2,000 protesters who were arrested, thrown into detention pens, and denied their constitutional rights for over 24 hours during the Republican National Convention just over a year later. The 2003 incident could have been a warm-up for the RNC, because the tactic they used was similar to what they did during the RNC. The police cut-off West 53rd Street, surrounded the protesters, and then arrested them all:

Lawyers said that..people were arrested without police warning or without providing an opportunity for anyone to leave.

During the 2004 RNC, the NYPD had perfected this tactic so that they turned side streets into 'traps.' By cutting off access to the east and west avenues, everyone trapped on the street could be taken into custody. The police even used scooters and nets to perform these sweeping mass arrests. In at least one reported case, they directed pedestrians and bicyclists to turn onto a street where they were subsequently trapped and arrested. Many of those arrested weren't even involved in the protests, such as the famous case of bicyclist Alexander Pincus, who was directed to ride his bike into a trap after picking-up soup for his girlfriend at the now defunct Second Avenue Deli.

And last week, we got some good news regarding the 2004 RNC tactics. A federal judge has ordered the city to turn-over NYPD reports and summaries of their intelligence-gathering of protest groups prior to and during the 2004 RNC. The city will appeal, but perhaps this means that we're a year or so away from determining the depth of the NYPD's spying program. The documents detail which groups were spied on and/or infiltrated by undercover officers, and include summaries of what intelligence was obtained from each group.

I have always asked (and I assume others ask it as well) - was there any overlap between the NYPD surveillance and spying by the NSA or FBI? In other words, was the NYPD spying on groups that the FBI had already looked at (or didn't bother looking at)? Did the NYPD go beyond what the feds were doing? What made the NYPD commit to an expensive surveillance program if the feds weren't concerned with the target groups? Or if the feds were watching the groups, what made Commissioner Ray Kelly think that the NYPD could do a better job? Did the NYPD tell the feds that they were doing this? Did the NYPD spy on groups outside the US? Wouldn't that be the NSA's responsibility? We know there is historic tension and mistrust between the FBI and local law enforcement, but this would make a great case study by a criminal justice or legal scholar.

Forget About Moynihan Station. The Deal Is Just About Dead.

The 1999 SOM rendering. It was beautiful then. It's meaningless now.

Back in 1999, the Clinton administration set-aside funding for the construction of a New Penn Station, to be designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill. The new station would be named after the senator who spearheaded the effort - the late Patrick Moynihan. It was a grand and noble idea - to give New Yorkers a proper West Side train station to make-up for the loss of the original Penn Station in 1960. I don't want to re-tell the whole story, but since then, we have seen the following:

2000-2002: Penn Station receives some renovations. New waiting areas, and a new NJ Transit concourse are built. Also a new speckled floor and escalator tunnels for the Amtrak concourse are installed. (Woo!)

2002: The project to transform the Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station is re-started. The State of New York acquires the Farley Post Office from the Federal Government. A press conference is held (one of Moynihan's final public appearances) to announce that work would soon begin. It didn't.

2005: SOM looses the project, and it is reveled that HOK (the famous stadium builder) has done a re-design. The refreshed project is less technologically advanced than the SOM design, but by then, the estimated cost of opening the new station had surpassed the original $900 Million.

2006: The plan goes back to SOM. A third design is unveiled. We learn that commercial real estate giant Vornado wants to get involved, and include one or two office towers with the station. It didn't work with the basement Penn Station / MSG / One Penn Plaza back in 1964, so why not build another faiulre? The Dolan family (Cablevision) then gets involved (always a bad sign, right?). The Dolans want to leverage the plan to fit-in with their grand scheme to build a new Madison Square Garden on 11th Avenue, just west of the Farley Post Office. Vornado would build its new towers where One Penn Plaza and MSG now stand. Estimated price tag skyrockets.

2006: The project is dealt a huge blow. Amtrak announces that it won't be moving into its new home, because under the proposed arrangements, it would have to pay rent, which it wouldn't be able to afford (for obvious reasons). So now we're thinking about building a world-class train station just for New Jersey commuters? Travellers to and from southern New England will remain with the rats in the MSG basement? This is looking bad.

2007: The project, assumed dead, is briefly resurrected. The proposed towers get higher. How about 1,200 feet? That's about 100 feet taller than the Empire State Building two avenue blocks east. But how would this project, now estimated at $2 Billion, be funded?

Would now be a good time to mention that the $900 Million pledged by the Clinton Administration in 1999 was taken-back by the Republican Congress after The Day That Changed Everything? Yeah. It went to contractors in Iraq or got absorbed by tax cuts.

2008: The project is in its last throes. Time to call it, doctor?

I say, call it. It's a shame. But this is what happens when a project designed to improve the lives of New Yorkers becomes a giant urban planning project no one needs (except the developers and land owners), and then collapses under its own inflated budget and lack of justification for the tacked-on commercial space.

Also, keep in mind the project was intentionally delayed by NY House Speaker Sheldon Silver just to prevent Governor Petaki from ever seeing construction begin or to take any credit for the project while in-office. That just strengthens my argument for New York City to secede from the State and become the District of Gotham. But that's another post for another time.

New York, Hell's Kitchen, Tuesday, 15:00 Hours... you know where your dead neighbor's body is?

Photo by Flickr user Susan NYC used under a Creative Commons license

So two seniors took their neighbor's body to the Pay-O-Matic check cashing shop on 9th Avenue yesterday afternoon, and tried to cash his latest Social Security check. Apparently, he passed away on Monday of natural causes. One of the men was the deceased's roommate. So these two men not only neglected to have his body removed or inform any surviving kin, but they attempted to use the body in an act of fraud. Only in New York, right?

I could see this working if his two buddies wheeled him in a wheelchair. But they were wheeling him in an office chair, and in broad daylight (on unseasonably warm day, in fact). And as my girl said, maybe I'd understand this plot if the two friends were teenagers, who were being foolish, thinking they could fool the clerks. But they are both 65 years old, just one year younger than the deceased. As far as we know, they have clean records. And yesterday afternoon, on 51th and 9th, just blocks from my office, there they were, desperately trying to cash a $355 Social Security check. Quite sad, really. This is our city. Full of desperate people who do foolish things. Now before I sound like Megan McArdle and judge these guys as lazy, or not really poor, or just boozers, I have to say that it is certainly possible that they needed $355. Anything is possible.

The Pay-O-Matic logo. It's fitting, right?

And I couldn't resist:

Bubble-less Manhattan

Photo by Flickr user Automatt used under a Creative Commons license

While there is a housing surplus in almost every other county in the USA, the house prices in New York County continue to rise, driven by high demand, premium locations, wealthy foreign buyers, and wealthy locals. New York City is enjoying a golden age right now, while the rest of the American housing market slides. Even a weakened dollar helps the New York housing market to some extent.

Me, my girl, that idiot Megan McArdle, and about two million other Bobos are blessed!