“Put me down in the category of optimistic on the economy,” Mayor Bloomberg said at a sumptuous breakfast at Isabella’s Tuesday morning celebrating the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District (BID)’s 10th anniversary. “But I don’t think we’re going to see a spur. I think you’re just going to see slow growth—but I do think we’re over the worst.”
Before darting off to speak at a fifth-grade graduation in the Bronx, Mr. Bloomberg pitched a strangely dissonant case for a third term in an elegant restaurant packed with about 70 Upper West Side real estate brokers, landlords and business owners. White-clad waiters served omelets, fruits, and sweet potato fries.
Mr. Bloomberg pointed to a lower crime rate (“The national wisdom is that the economy goes down, crime goes up. It turns out the bad guys don’t read the Wall Street Journal,” Mr. Bloomberg quipped, apparently ignoring the Madoffs and Dreiers of the world); a higher graduation rate (a whopping 56 percent which was announced Monday, trailing the state average of 71 percent); and a higher life expectancy (or, in Mr. Bloomberg’s terminology, 1 1/3 more “man-years”).
He did acknowledge that the city’s problems are not over: “There’s still plenty of real estate empty and stores ready to sell, but there is some evidence that people are starting to rent.”
But he pointed to an art gallery opening next to a café on Madison Avenue where he had breakfast this morning as a sign that the economy is getting back in shape.
Mr. Bloomberg also did his share of statistic-dropping, even if said stats seem to belie the reality New Yorkers see on the street every day: Mr. Bloomberg claims that there are only 2,500 homeless people in all of New York City—a ratio of roughly 1 in 4,000—compared to 1 in 96 in Los Angeles.
Agency 21 managing partner Brett Friedman said that he found the statistic, if true, to be “staggering.” But Mr. Friedman added that since Mr. Bloomberg is campaigning for re-election, he had to spin the economy “as a rosier story.”
“[The economy is] basically just kind of holding steady at the moment with no signs of major improvements in the foreseeable future,” Mr. Friedman said. “So, [he gave] a little bit of propaganda because he’s an elected official, but he gave a sense that he has things under line.”
Indeed, most of the attendees interviewed by The Observer held a markedly more negative view of the economy. “The first quarter was successful, but the second quarter, it dived—March, April, through June,” spa manager Ana Crespo said of the beauty industry.
And this was in New York’s success story. While the vacancy rate along the Columbus Avenue BID (between 67th and 82nd Street) was bordering on 50 percent 10 years ago, when the BID was formed, the occupancy rate has now jumped to 98 percent. The reason, said BID executive director Barbara Adler, was a combination of beautifying the area and advertising it as a desirable location—for example, in a jingle that was played both at the beginning and end of Tuesday’s breakfast.
The New York Times’ architectural historian Christopher Gray gave the other keynote speech, highlighting the historic beauty of the area—though he admitted there is one building that stands out (in a bad way). “I regret to report that in the southwest corner of 73rd Street, there’s a perfectly nice old building, but it’s slathered in—cover your ears—it’s slathered in purple paint.”
Mr. Gray said that he’d like to report “the offense to the aesthetics of the Upper West Side” to the deputy inspector, but then realized that the building belongs to someone already in the room: a certain George Bean.