On October 29 1975, Gerald Ford, then the president of the United States, gave a speech in which he said would he not support legislation that would have provided a federal bailout to New York City, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The next morning, The New York Daily News summed up his statement with a memorable front-page headline that has lodged itself in the history books: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”
It’s now 45 years later, and New York still can’t find much love from Washington politicians, not even from one who was born and used to live here. One of them, of course, is the Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, who recently floated the idea that states like New York, financially strapped by the coronavirus, should be allowed to enter into bankruptcy, a suggestion that immediately brought a fiery rebuke from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At his daily press conference he called the idea “really dumb” and then pointed out that McConnell’s own state, Kentucky, gets more money from the federal government than it pays in taxes each year. and that the reverse was true for New York. “Mitch McConnell is a taker, not a giver. New Yorkers are givers, Senator McConnell, you’re a taker,” Cuomo said. “Just give me my money back, senator.”
The other, more galling, is Donald Trump, who was raised in Queens, made his (questionable) fortune in Manhattan and who recently moved his permanent residency to the low-tax state of Florida. The president, who has publicly feuded off and on with Gov. Cuomo throughout the coronavirus crisis, recently tweeted his support of McConnell’s stance, saying: “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states?”
Republican politicians always long to snuff out the burning ember that is New York City, but they never can. If there’s anything we can learn from history, it’s that New York is a city that can be down but never out. (After all, it never did enter bankruptcy in 1975, and came roaring back to financial health over the next decade.)
But New York is again in her hour of need, as the Empire State Building continues to remind us, flashing red like some kind of metaphor for the city it occupies. On CNN two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the virus outbreak and ensuing shutdown was costing the city billions of dollars in revenue. This is what the “pause” is costing us so far, at least in terms of dollars and cents.
Then there is the cost of lives, the unimaginable human toll this pandemic is imposing on this city. As of Saturday morning, the city has attributed more than 13,000 deaths to COVID-19.
So, the Broadway shows, and the movie theaters and the museums, and the restaurants and the stores and the incredible street life are all shuttered for now. Many of the things that make New York New York are gone for now. Including the people. Many of my fellow citizens have fled to the surrounding suburbs or to Maine, Vermont, Long Island. My instagram is a sea of New Yorkers braving off-season beach houses, shopping at farm stands, and walking in the woods. Many of them thought they were going for a few weeks; those weeks have ticked on and on. And the emptiness is palpable: It feels like August, but many multiples more than that. The streets are largely car-less, the occasional ambulance ambles down Park Avenue, its sirens on an intermittent beep because there’s nothing for them to wail against. Sidewalks are largely empty except for a smattering of masked pedestrians walking dogs or delivering something. Almost everyone wears masks because we’ve been told to, which feels both safe and terrifying.