Bill de Blasio stepped into the lion’s den the other day when he spoke to the Association for a Better New York, a group of business leaders unlikely to respond to his tale of two cities. The candidate stuck to his core message: the rich need to pay more, and unions need to revive their once-vaunted power.
To hear the Democratic mayoral candidate tell it, we are living in a city of Dickensian inequality, with government content to stand idly by while the business community puts the squeeze on the poor and middle class. It’s an interesting story, and, like any good work of fiction, it features some memorable villains—in this case, New Yorkers who earn more than $500,000 per year.
There are many flaws in the narrative, not least of which is the author’s central claim that successive mayoral administrations have turned the city into a giant free-trade zone. To Mr. de Blasio, business has been calling the shots for years—and now it’s time for some sort of populist payback.
Again, as a work of fiction, the story line is compelling. Mr. de Blasio’s television commercials touting the two cities narrative are dramatic and eminently watchable. But here’s the problem: New York remains overly regulated and overly taxed, and Mr. de Blasio’s core beliefs blind him to this simple truth.
Try telling a small-business owner that the city has stood aside and allowed him or her to operate with minimal government interference. The New York Post reported recently that the Department of Consumer Affairs, pressed to close a budget gap two years ago, hired additional inspectors to hand out more petty summonses to beleaguered business owners. The result: a doubling of violations, from 10,900 to 24,100 in two years.
That may have been great for the agency’s bottom line, but, for small business owners, the core of so many middle-class neighborhoods, it has been yet another example of intrusive, overbearing government.
But Mr. de Blasio doesn’t see it that way. He thinks government hasn’t been aggressive enough, whether the issue is tax policy or regulation. That’s his core belief, and it isn’t going to change.
Or so he says. If he prevails in November, he may find that governing is very different from posturing.
That, at least, would be our great expectation.