Over 150 New York City business owners have joined together to warn Mayor Bill de Blasio that he must take decisive action against crime and quality-of-life issues they believe are preventing the city economy from recovering.
Chief executives from companies including JetBlue, Vornado Realty Trust, and Goldman Sachs signed a letter to the Mayor outlining a bleak assessment of how New York City has handled the pandemic. The executives suggested having a vote of no confidence for Blasio’s ability to control the pandemic and recovery.
An Anxious Letter From Business Owners to de Blasio
The letter outlined “widespread anxiety over public safety, cleanliness, and other quality of life issues that are contributing to deteriorating conditions in commercial districts and neighborhoods across the five boroughs.”
The business leaders gave a stark warning that the people who left the city would be slow to return if these issues were not addressed.
The letter, which comes around six months after the outbreak caused New York City to enter lockdown, was something of a watershed moment of the complicated relationship the business community in the city has with the mayor – a progressive Democrat who has platformed on a mission to stand for the poor and working-class of New York.
Business leaders mostly refrained from attacking the mayor or his administration during the outbreak. With schools – and businesses – set to open, they can no longer hold their silence. As the transition continued, executives started to take notice of how dire their situation is and became concerned about it.
The letter acknowledges that the city had successfully contained the virus, but highlighted that many New Yorkers were still unemployed and facing homelessness and other risks. The executives offered advice and help on how to restore essential services.
Possible Political Implications
The political repercussions of the letter could be felt into the 2021 New York mayoral elections. Business leaders are yet to show support for any of the candidates currently on the ballot. Mayor de Blasio issued a conciliatory response to the letter, urging business leaders to work together with him. He also argued the city needed better borrowing capacity and more federal funding.
The letter highlighted the divide in how people have responded to the outbreak, which has killed over 20,000 New Yorkers and left hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. Some people have flocked to the suburbs and vacation homes. Some people have stayed in the city and are upset at the portrayal the city has been abandoned and lost to disorder.
There are some signs of normalcy returning to the city, including outdoor dining and socially distanced outdoor gatherings. Indoor dining and in-person education are set to return by the end of the month. One of the reasons the city has been able to open back up again is that infection rates remain low – only around 1% of people tested test positive.
“We’re grateful for the business community’s input, and we’ll continue partnering with them to rebuild a fairer, better city,” Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: We want to restore these services and save jobs, and the most direct way to do that is with long-term borrowing and a federal stimulus. We ask these leaders to join in this fight because the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
Mayor de Blasio has made cuts to city services to bridge a $9 billion gap in the budget. The business leaders didn’t offer any solutions on how to balance the budget.
Will Businesses Recover?
The letter – which had been in the works for around a month – came two days after Mayor de Blasio announced he would move homeless people from a hotel in the upscale neighborhood. It also came the same day that Kathryn Garcia, sanitation commissioner for the city, called the budget cuts to the sanitation “unconscionable” and resigned.
Corporate leaders and real-estate executives have expressed frustration at the rising levels of dirt and public disorder in the streets, in particular in Midtown Manhattan, where the streets are empty with no office workers or tourists.
City and state guidelines allow for half-capacity at offices, but most buildings are running at under 10% capacity. Companies haven’t asked office workers to come back to the office, and few of them have come back of their own free will.
One person close to the discussion suggests that City Hall has been slow to respond because de Blasio has been focused on reopening schools, allowing other elements of recovery to lag behind.
The current economic crisis caused by the pandemic has been compared to the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, and other times the city has faced difficult periods. Given the extraordinary circumstances involving the coronavirus outbreak, it is hard to tell if how fast businesses in the Big Apple will recover. However, it is safe to say that not all of them will.