An Open Letter to Michael Bloomberg

Brought on by this gem.

Dear Mr. Bloomberg,

You just insist on pissing people off lately, don’t you. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if you get off on the fallout, especially when you come out with zingers like this one.

“You’ll get used to it”? Seriously?!

Mr. Bloomberg, who do you think you are? Truly. Who do you think you are? Because last time I checked, the Middle Ages have expired and you aren’t the king, New York City in 2013 is not Soviet Russia of the 1960s, and this being the United States with a penumbral right to privacy supported by both the US Constitution and courtroom precedent in the United States Supreme Court – look up the definition of penumbral if you aren’t comfortable with big words – I want to know what, exactly, you think you are doing and who, exactly, you think you are by condoning drone espionage on New Yorkers. Probable cause hasn’t even entered your thinking process, has it?

First of all, don’t even think about giving the bullshit line of, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about”. That is not the damned point. The NYPD is just as notorious as the LAPD in terms of abuse of power, if not more so, and you granting the NYPD the sort of technology that provides an excellent opportunity to invade anyone’s privacy without them knowing it really, really does not sit well with me. Considering that the NYPD protects abusers and rapists within their own ranks with the infamous blue wall of silence, the absolute last thing they ought to have is more access to potential victims.

Don’t pooh-pooh the NYPD’s ongoing history of abuse of power, Bloomberg. The stop-and-frisk approach has been racially slanted from the get-go, and there are too many complaints of police brutality to just disregard as overzealous rookies drunk on the power of having a badge and a gun. And didn’t we just convict a cop who’s a wannabe cannibal? Yeah. We have a police force of thugs, closet racists, abusers, and wannabe serial killers looking for a chance to get it right. What’s the best thing to do? Why, give them espionage gear!

And you wonder why people don’t take you seriously.

I would also like to know exactly why this is a priority as opposed to the very real and very growing housing crisis in New York. No, I’m not talking about the less-than-1% vacancy. I’m talking about the price. I understand that you don’t really think about anyone who doesn’t make below $70K per year as someone who actually exists, but you tell me this, Mr. B: what exactly justifies renting out a 250sqft closet – I won’t call it a studio – on the Upper West Side for $1,600? What justifies a two-bedroom in Inwood being upwards of $1,400? I really want to know. Because the majority of the city’s population cannot afford those rents, hadn’t been able to afford those rents for some years now, and are slowly getting priced out of the city.

Mr. Bloomberg, contrary to your belief, this city doesn’t consist of young wealthy future tycoons who are making bank in $70K and up, have no other obligations, and can afford to pay these inflated rents and go out to Broadway shows, etc. This city consists of a lot of people who are making $40K a year and under, whose single paycheck goes to rent alone, who do not work at a desk job in a cubicle farm. They’re usually the ones who are delivering your catered lunches. They’re the ones pouring the morning coffee for all the nine-to-fivers. They’re the ones who are doing the data entry and bookkeeping without health insurance at a starter salary just because they need the income, regardless of how much experience they have. They’re older people who aren’t able to retire because the recession sucked up their 401Ks. They’re people who weren’t born here, who are trying to make it here, who are not familiar with employment laws, and who take a below-minimum-wage job because it pays bills. They’re the ones whom you and Wall Street and too many other people sneeringly tell to just “take some responsibility for yourself and do better”. They don’t have a lack of responsibility, Mr. Bloomberg, of that rest assured, but they do have a very real challenge trying to pay an inflated rent rate when their paycheck stretches only so far to cover rent and bills aren’t willing to wait on payment. That’s not a lack of responsibility. That’s a juggling act worthy of Cirque du Soleil to manage all the responsibilities that they have.

Instead of addressing the issue of NY’s housing, you instead decide to attempt banning soda because – according to your reasoning – New Yorkers aren’t “being responsible” with their health.

Very nice, Mr. Bloomberg. I salute your absolute lack of priorities. I also salute you, in your quest for public health, requiring GMO foods to be labeled– oh, wait, you’ve not done that. Oh, wait, you’ve also done absolutely nothing about corn subsidies or HFCS subsidies. Yeah, so what was this about the soda ban being for purposes of public health?

You’re also not addressing the very real homelessness problem in New York. My guess is that the sequester has also impacted funding on the homeless programs, which you have more than the means to contribute to out of your own pocket, being the scion of the Bloomberg brand. But silly me, how can I possibly think that you would want to invest in the infrastructure of your project? After all, you’re treating the city, which needs to be run as an administration, as a business project, and you completely disregard, like so many businessmen who get comfortable in their money often do, the crucial infrastructure of your project. The project is only as viable as the employees, and even if the cheapest, rustiest screw gives way and pops out of the joist, the entire building collapses. You disregard that little fact. The money you’re pouring into the useless battle against soda of all things could be used to alleviate the homelessness problem, because guess what: those same homeless people, once cleaned up, housed, and medicated, can then go to work. There’s little shortage of employment in the city, if you actually consider that employment does not equal a nine-to-five at a desk.

But you don’t consider that. Instead, you think that it’s fine to authorize a gross invasion of privacy and think that we can “get used to it”.

Mr. Bloomberg, it took you the Dec. 2010 blizzard to actually realize that it’s important to prep the city for inclement weather, and in learning that lesson, you had the balls to tell people who were snowed in and could not leave their houses to “go see a Broadway show and stop complaining”. That was so very easy for you to say, Mr. Bloomberg. Your building’s street was plowed immediately after the last snowflake settled. Your sidewalk was salted. Those of us who live in South Brooklyn couldn’t walk outside for days. Now why, exactly, was South Brooklyn buried while Park Slope was dug out right away? Is it because SoBro residents are not rich? Or because they are, largely, not WASPs? Let’s fess up here. What’s so repellent about us in the outer boroughs that you couldn’t even bother to clean our streets in a timely fashion, and yet at the same time, you’d happily authorize drone espionage?

Don’t tell me to “go see a Broadway show”, because for one, I am no fan of Broadway, and two, I see more than enough shows in a year, Mr. Bloomberg. I am a concert photographer. I see shows aplenty. I also see when there is a real problem in my city, and that problem is a mayor who thinks that he can be a CEO running a project in an admin environment. I grew up in New York. I lived here for twenty years. I’ll likely die in this city, even though everything practical in me is screaming to get out and hightail it to Phoenix. But while I’m a New Yorker, the one thing I will not tolerate is some smarmy suit telling me that I’ll “get used to” a blatant violation of my privacy because a police force that is long overdue for a psychological reassessment and a recurrence of the Wickersham Commission happens to have drone tech. I will not tolerate the same smarmy suit slicing up the education budget and instead pouring money into a Sisyphean battle to ban sodas above a certain size. Do not patronize me and my ilk, Mr. Bloomberg. We may not be rich, but there are far more of us than there are of you and yours. Just because you don’t see New York as worthwhile if it’s further up than 92nd Street in Manhattan and below Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It exists, and its population greatly outnumbers the New York in your scope.

Mr. Bloomberg, we are not your employees, and this city is not a business. Contrary to your attitude, you do not have full and complete control of the population of this city, and we will not stand for, nor will we “get used to”, a damned thing we don’t want to see, and you will do very well to remember it.

Your illegal third term did not go unnoticed. Nor did your continued mismanagement of the MTA. I, for one, would like to know what percentage of the MTA’s profit goes into your pockets, because so far, the fares are increasing, the service is steadily declining, and projects that have been started years ago are no closer to being completed. There has already been one transit strike, and if you hadn’t noticed, this city is as reliant on its public transit as a person relies on air to breathe. This is the one system that you cannot afford to run into the ground – no pun intended – and yet you’re doing so anyway.

Mr. Bloomberg, your administrative skills are deplorable. Point blank, you don’t have a damned clue what you’re doing with this city. There will always be a class stratification in every big city, there will always be the haves and the have-nots, but in a city where the have-nots greatly outnumber the haves, and have some of the widest income gaps, I would imagine that you’d want to avoid making them angry. Like as not, they can vote, and no one on either side of the income gap is okay with their privacy being invaded without due cause.

If you knew what you were doing, then a 1BR in South Brooklyn would never have been allowed to reach over $900 in price per month.

You’re no mayor of mine, Mr. Bloomberg. I did not vote for you. I definitely did not agree with your third term. And no Broadway show that you can suggest erases the fact that right now, teachers and social workers burn out and have PTSD by route of their jobs, the subway service has been steadily declining, and people are being priced out of even the boonies – and that it’s all happening on your watch. Your tacit tolerance tells me that you’re A-OK with it.

Unless you want a return of the 1890s Gilded Age-era tenements – which, come to think of it, might be your end goal after all – buck up, put on your big-boy pants, and do your damned job. If you’re not okay with the way things are for the lower denominator of your constituents, start actually doing something about it.

Otherwise, get the hell out and give the job to someone who will.

No love whatsoever,

K.G.

Oh, MTA….

Apparently, we’re looking at rate hikes again.

From what I gather, this means that the service does not change, which honestly blows. The last MTA fare hike was accompanied by a cutback in service that made rush hour in NYC more of the special brand of hell than it already was. To say I’m cheesed off at this is an understatement. I already find it difficult to warrant paying $104 for a monthly MetroCard. $112 isn’t that much of an increase, but considering that it wasn’t that long ago that it was $89, I’m annoyed.

Seriously. That organization in NYC is not hurting for cash. I would love to be the person who audits their books. Seriously, I’d love to do that. Even as a freelancer, even for meager to no pay. Please, someone, send me the bookkeeping files for the Metropolitan Transit Authority so I can actually see where the money is going.

On one hand, I already know where it’s going: service restorations post-Sandy. It will take a ton of time and money to rebuild the Broad Channel rail bridge in Queens, and if we now have to hurricane-proof NYC subway, then guess what: that’s not free. I will never begrudge a union employee their money either; if not for unions, we’d still have perfectly legalized child labor. On the other hand, we get a rate hike every year, service has gone from passably reliable to crap, and the MTA’s new advertise-on-MetroCard campaign is projected to net them a nice and tidy sum in just the first fiscal quarter of 2013. Where is this money going?

Don’t mind me, I’m thinking like the accountant that I am.

Still, from a purely New Yorker perspective here, the service on the subway system is worse than when it still cost a buck-fifty to get on the subway. Now the fares are at two-fifty-to-be and the part that we’re waiting for is to see how the scheduling will be impacted. Sandy repairs aside – you gotta give the Sandhogs and the TWA employees their due; they got us up and running – every time that the price goes up, the schedule suffers, and considering that few people from the MTA board of directors even bother to attend the town hall meetings that are held to give the citizens their right to protest the hike, I can’t help but wonder what the other part of this equation is going to be.

Consider also this, ladies and gents: one of the scrapped proposed rate hikes for the MTA had the monthly unlimited MetroCard going to $240. It’s already enough of a dent in the wallet, and considering that a solid 95% of New Yorkers are on the subway on a fairly regular basis, you can definitely call it an essential service. And for some people, that could also be the amount of a weekly paycheck. So consider this: if the $240/monthly unlimited card were to be in effect, this would cripple a chunk of the city’s population. Contrary to stereotype and popular culture, there’s a massive chunk of New York residents who make under 40K and struggle to survive with even the so-called “cheap” cost-of-living areas of the city.

It’s very easy to say, “Leave New York”. Trust me, it is. But in reality, this is one of the best cities to find a job right now. It’s the small-biz capital of the world, and that capital is right now hiring left and right. Service personnel are an essential backbone to any medium-to-big business: offices need cleaning, lunch needs cooking and serving, documents need delivering. Just because people work menial/unskilled jobs doesn’t mean that those jobs in and of themselves don’t serve a purpose too. It’s just that those jobs pay a hell of a lot less than the jobs of the people who utilize these services, and the people who are in the service industry are the first line of people hit by changes in the city’s infrastructure, such as the transit rate hikes. Where an office employee might have the MetroCard provided by the office, someone who works at a restaurant waiting tables or as a messenger delivering documents may have to forgo eating for a week in order to get to work. And they’re not invisible, contrary to whatever line of thinking that Wall Street wigs carry.

I’m glad that, for now, the MTA monthly is staying semi-affordable, but I shudder to think where it may go in a few years.

K.G.

After the Storm – updates and observations

Just collecting and updating everyone on what’s cooking in NYC after Hurricane Sandy. I’m sure there’s plenty of New Yorkers reading this, so I’ll do a little updating, and a little waxing contemplative, as I oft tend to do.

1. Subway is in progress to full-bore restoration. The R line is not running between Manhattan and Brooklyn until further notice. In other words, the tunnel between Whitehall and Court Streets is still underwater, or damaged badly enough to require extensive shutdown in order to fix. J and Z trains aren’t going between Manhattan and Brooklyn either. 1 train is not running between Rector Street and South Ferry, which effectively tells me that the Whitehall Street stationon the red line is still getting desalinized.

2. The Rockaways are not okay. While this goes without saying, all considering, there has been a concentrated relief effort there and in parts of Long Island. The subway situation there is, to say the least, foul, but the MTA has actually loaded cars onto flatbed trucks and got them running as a temporary shuttle. That’s the spirit, MTA. But my brother, who has been by the area because my grandmother’s nursing home is there, took the liberty of telling my mom that the real reason it’s inaccessible right now out of B’klyn is that the rail bridge at Broad Channel took a hell of a beating. For all I know (info update pending), it could’ve gotten torn off altogether.

3. Long Beach branch of the LIRR is reopened. Which is good if you want to go and help rebuild/clean up. Because Long Beach effectively got covered with water. Several people I know lost everything they had.

4. The gas situation is better in Brooklyn. Yes, we had a shortage, but as of right now, most of the local gas stations are operational again. Not sure about the prices, since I don’t own a vehicle, but right now, there are no gas lines. That is a relief to a mess of people. And seriously, if you need gas, are reading this, and have the capacity to come to Brooklyn, you can get gas here.

All the good news aside, I am still fairly haunted by what I’ve seen since the storm had passed. I don’t let things get to me, and usually I’m good in an emergency. But what undid me was seeing the pictures of Long Beach, covered in sand, flooded, and the boardwalk turned to little more than drenched firewood.

I’ve taken more than one photo on the boardwalk, awash in sunset fire. Hell, even in the dead of winter, I’d hop the train just to watch the sun on the water. While I knew that the storm would cause damage, seeing that much of it was, to say the least, unnerving. I know it’ll get rebuilt; it’s a beachside town that had seen a few storms, but never has it been this bad for them. Not even with Hurricane Hanna in 2010 (I was there for that storm…a drencher, but nothing like this) has it gotten to where there was sand in the streets from boardwalk to rail bridge. And that span, just to note, is little more than 15 blocks in length. You can literally walk across the city of Long Beach that quickly.

It’ll be okay. I know it will be; Long Beach people are strong, steady, and know the value of hard work. But it’ll take me a good while before I’m able to see the boardwalk as I had seen it pre-Sandy, and not the way it is right now.

Comparison’s sake: a photo from 2009 or so, well before my Professional Camera days, and…the “after” version.

 

Perspective.

K.G.

2009; Long Beach boardwalk in the summer.

 

 

The same segment of boardwalk…after Sandy got through with it.