The Bloomberg era is another step closer to history. Primary voters made their choices on Tuesday, and, while the results weren’t clear as this is being written, there’s little doubt that the general election will become a referendum on the successes—and failures—of the incumbent’s 12 years in office.
The Democratic Party front-runner heading into Primary Day, Bill de Blasio, eagerly portrayed himself as the anti-Michael Bloomberg, a tactic that seemed to have awakened the party’s core constituencies. The Republican Party front-runner, Joe Lhota, represented continuity not only of the Bloomberg years, but of the two decades of reform, experimentation and progress under Rudy Giuliani and Mr. Bloomberg.
The success of those themes—or the lack thereof—may tell us a great deal about the coming general election campaign. But beyond a public debate over Mr. Bloomberg’s legacy loom any number of critical issues that will shape the legacy of the next administration in City Hall, regardless of party or ideology.
Chief among those issues is public safety. Without it, nothing but decline will follow. If the last 20 years have taught us anything, it should be that smart, effective—and, yes, tough—policing can make a difference and can save the lives of literally thousands of people in the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. The next mayor simply cannot declare victory in the war on crime in order to move on to other priorities.
Mr. Bloomberg’s successor must remain as relentless as the last two mayors were in making life unbearable for thugs with guns. That task has become a good deal harder with the creation of a new inspector general for the Police Department and with a court decision declaring parts of stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional. Those two regressive measures may require the next mayor to increase head count, which has gone from more than 40,000 a decade ago to less than 35,000 now, to keep up the pressure on the bad guys.
If New York continues to be a global leader in fighting crime, talented and ambitious people will continue to make their homes here—if, that is, they can afford to do so. And that presents another critical issue facing New York in this milestone election year: a dearth of middle-class housing.
During the primary campaign, several Democrats staged a sleep-in in a city housing project to draw attention to their criticism of the City Housing Authority. Conditions in some projects no doubt are intolerable, but the city housing crisis won’t be resolved by reforming the Housing Authority. It will take new thinking and a rejection of well-intentioned but destructive rent regulations that have discouraged construction and created a housing black market throughout the city.
For a sense of where New York may be heading, consider the case of Stockholm. The Swedish capital desperately needs new housing, especially for young people eager to live in an attractive, safe, vibrant city. But government regulators, NIMBY obstructionists and special interests have combined to stall or discourage the construction of affordable housing units. As The Wall Street Journal recently noted, a major project designed to create 12,000 units is far behind schedule. Only 600 have been built over the course of a dozen years, and the project very likely won’t be finished until 2030.
Stockholm’s high construction costs—the highest in the European Union—have led developers to focus on high-end housing units that provide a better return. Middle-class housing, the paper noted, has been ignored. The result is a severe housing shortage and a shadowy black market that exploits middle-income earners, especially the young.
It shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be, at least not in New York.
The mayoral candidates will need to stop talking about the past 20 years and focus more on the next eight. How will the New York of 2020 accommodate middle-income earners? What would they do to spur the growth of something other than luxury housing? Where are potential areas of growth for middle-class housing, and how do we get developments jump-started?
Maybe Stockholm can wait until 2030 to solve its housing crisis, but New York certainly cannot. The next mayor will have a good deal to say about the economic diversity of New York in the 21st century.
He or she needs to unleash the private sector from the shackles of over-regulation and treat developers not as cash cows but as partners in creating a more-equitable New York City. Let’s hear that debate this fall, because it involves the future, not the past.