Understanding Political Priorities In Manhattan

Actually, there is no understanding political priorities in Manhattan.  I was kidding with that title. 

Our local newspaper The Villager this week has a long report on an interview with Gail Brewer, the recent winner of the Democratic primary for the nomination for the office of Borough President of Manhattan.   The office of Borough President has almost no responsibilities, but it is the only office whose geographical boundaries are (almost) co-terminous with Manhattan Island, so the thoughts of this candidate can give us some insights into the mindset of the Manhattan voter.  Ms. Brewer's prior job has been as member of the City Council from the Upper West Side, a neighborhood that was seedy when I moved to New York in the 70s, but today is quite wealthy.

In the article, Ms. Brewer lays out her three top priorities for Manhattan.  This against a backdrop of the highest state and local taxes in the country, sluggish economic growth, public school spending almost double the national average per student for inferior results, and a serious crisis of excessive and accelerating spending for pension and health benefits of retired workers who no longer provide any services to the taxpayers.  So what are Ms. Brewer's three top priorities?

First up is -- affordable housing!  And or course that housing must be located here in the most expensive place in the country, Manhattan. 

 In a city saturated with luxury housing development, Brewer’s top priority is to ensure affordable housing is obtainable in Manhattan.

Yes, it is the very thing that I nominated as "the worst possible public policy" just a month ago.  Can she really justify the implicit subsidy of $40,000 to $80,000 per family per year as a good use of public funds, when much less expensive places are available right across one of the rivers?  You can be 100% sure that she has never tried to make that calculation.  The whole idea is to hide the subsidies so deep off balance sheet that nobody can figure them out.      

Priority number two?  Brewer "wants to focus on preserving mom-and-pop stores."   

“The loss of mom-and-pop stores in Manhattan, I hear about it everywhere I go,” she said. A study found that there were 72 bank branches in her Council district, only confirming the obvious — that there were far too many.

It seems that banks have been on a tear opening branches around Manhattan.  But has Brewer forgotten that throughout the 70s and 80s, and as recently as about a decade ago, it was considered a crisis by trendy left-wing thinkers that there were not enough bank branches in New York, particularly in poor areas?   Consider this from Louis Jacobson in the Prospect in 2001:

Thanks in part to deregulation, bank branches have closed in low- income communities since the early 1980s, and check-cashing outlets have often taken their place. . . .  The flight of the banks not only means that the poor must now pay more for financial services; it also means their communities are losing the institutions that promote personal savings.

Well, fortunately for us Ms. Brewer appears to know the perfect number of bank branches for each neighborhood, although she has not yet chosen to reveal that information.  Perhaps after she wins the office. 

So on to priority number 3.  Drum roll!!!!!!!  Yes, it's "local food."  You can't make this stuff up.  Does she know that no food is produced in this county -- or for that matter in any of the six counties immediately across the water from us?  Or that our part of the world has a six month non-growing season when there is no produce available from hundreds of miles around unless you happen to have stored some squashes or potatoes in your root cellar?   Whenever I hear talk of "local food" on this paved-over island, I'm reminded of this conversation I had recently with a woman on the subject of her recent-college-graduate daughter:

ME:  Has she found a job yet? 

HER:  She is working at a food store that specializes in locally sourced food. 

ME:  Interesting.  What does she do there? 

HER:  She works at the coffee bar. 

ME:  Does she realize that no coffee is grown within a thousand miles of here? 

HER:  It's brewed locally. 

It seems that Brewer actually claims an accomplishment on the "local food" front, which is a bill passed by the City Council requiring that "food in city contracts must be purchased from within New York State, unless the item is too difficult to find here."  So I guess that Buffalo (400 miles away) is more "local" than New Jersey (2 miles away) or Connecticut (30 miles away). 

Meanwhile Brewer actually has a Republican rival, David Casavis  (The Villager says that Brewer is expected to "win easily.")  Casavis' entire campaign consists of calling for the abolition of the office of Borough President.  Clever, but you'd think he could at least have a good time making some fun of Ms. Brewer.