What I'd Do as NYC Mayor
New Yorkers go to the polls June 22 to choose their next mayor. They're primaries, but whoever wins the Democratic nomination will almost certainly move into Gracie Mansion.
Media coverage has focused on the fading fortunes of former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the dearth of progressives in a wide field and the new, confusing ranked-choice voting scheme. (I have a lot of doubts about ranked-choice voting, which I will enumerate in this space at another time.)
A New Yorker by choice most of my life and, unlike Yang, a guy who moved back to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic while others were running for the exurbs, I've been thinking a lot about what the next mayor should prioritize and what I would do if I were in charge of the city. Most of my readers don't live in New York. But most do live in urban areas. Many who live in rural regions work and shop in cities. So, New York's problems are your problems, too.
Even more than in other cities, New York's mayor is not a king. He has, for example, no jurisdiction or control over the five boroughs' sprawling mass-transit system, which falls under the aegis of the governor. Public schools were only transferred to mayoral control 20 years ago; they were still locked down by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to the pandemic. To get elected, you'll need allies in one of the city's three loci of power: the police, real estate or Wall Street. If you win, it's a bully pulpit job.
To lead NYC you have to have charisma, the gift of gab and a strong work ethic -- unlike Bill de Blasio. And new solutions for old problems.
Here's what I'd do:
Homelessness, a perennial problem and perhaps the most glaring failure of capitalism, has exploded over the last year. New York has a homeless population of 80,000 -- 1% of the population. It's shameful. Even if you don't care about human misery, homelessness affects everyone else. Mentally ill homeless people contribute to street crime and drive down property values. Let's get our brothers and sisters off the streets.
While our fellow citizens are sleeping on filthy, freezing cold or blazing hot sidewalks, tens of thousands of apartments and single-family homes sit empty for no good reason. There are between 2,000 and 4,000 "zombie homes," mostly single-family houses abandoned by their owners. Landlords are warehousing 27,000 apartment units, holding out for rents that are even higher than the city's stratospheric current rates. These properties should be seized under eminent domain -- don't worry, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such transfers are constitutional -- and transferred to the control of a new city agency dedicated to housing, treating, rehabilitating and training homeless people with the eventual goal of returning as many of them as possible to the workplace. Among the side benefits would be the fact that you need a mailing address in order to apply for government benefits and jobs, which would defray the cost of my rehab programs.
With a paltry 17% occupancy rate for New York commercial office space, it's a safe bet that millions of square feet of empty office space will be vacant well after everyone has forgotten about COVID-19. Space that remains empty more than 12 months after the end of coronavirus safety rules should be seized and converted when possible -- residential space has to have running water and windows -- to housing for the homeless and the poor. Interior former commercial spaces should be allotted to artists and musicians by lottery.
Half of New York apartments are subject to rent stabilization. Rent stabilization should be replaced by rent control, so that increases can never exceed the federal inflation rate, and should apply to all rental units.