Broadway may be closed, but political theater is alive and well in New York — and Washington.
The Trump administration Monday deemed New York City an anarchist state and will move to revoke up to $7 billion in federal funding. That’s the script, anyway.
The reality: That money is not discretionary, but rather is distributed according to federal law. The de Blasio and Cuomo administrations said they would immediately challenge in court any attempt to withhold those funds.
That would push any outcome past the election, giving voters a chance to dismiss the case themselves by ushering in a new president. Or endorse it by granting Donald Trump a second term.
The news from Washington was not welcomed by James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, who pointed out that the New York metropolitan area accounts for nearly 10 percent of GDP.
“New York’s economic recovery will speed our nation’s economic recovery,” he said in a statement. “What is needed is not political gamesmanship and labels but a full-throttled federal aid package that will retain and create jobs, pay rent and put in place a path for New York and the nation to fully recover economically.”
Beating up on New York City has long been a favorite ploy of politicians seeking votes from Americans inclined to resent the city and other alleged bastions of liberalism. (Seattle and Portland, Oregon, were also deemed anarchist Monday by the Department of Justice.)
Dumping on New York paused after 9/11, but that was 19 years ago. And now, there’s an election to win. At least, that’s how Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan view the Trump administration’s action.
“This is thoroughly political and unconstitutional,” they said in a joint statement. “The president is playing cheap political games with congressionally directed funds.”
It’s not the first time Trump has threatened to yank funding from big cities. In 2017, he declared that so-called sanctuary cities — localities that withhold some information about undocumented immigrants from federal immigration authorities — would lose federal police funding, about $200 million in New York City’s case.
Ironically, cuts to police funding are among the reasons the Department of Justice said Monday that New York City qualifies as anarchist, notwithstanding that per capita the city has among the largest and best-funded police departments in the nation, even after cutting more than $300 million from the $5.9 billion police budget in June.
The sanctuary city dispute is still bouncing around in federal court, with the Trump administration losing most of the rulings but winning the most recent one, in February.
For New York’s real estate industry, the anarchy story comes as big commercial landlords and some large employers are trying to entice people to return to Manhattan offices. It is unlikely that the narrative will affect that, given that the president’s message is not aimed at New Yorkers.
As for tourists who might believe the claims of anarchy, neither de Blasio nor Cuomo is trying to attract them right now anyway. Quite the opposite, in fact: Cuomo has mandated 14-day quarantines for visitors from many states and de Blasio set up checkpoints for visitors.
Real estate leaders have themselves called attention to problems that have arisen in the city during the pandemic: an increase in shootings and homicides, trash on streets and homeless people in Manhattan.
But unlike Trump, they did so using muted language, rather than the over-the-top, ratings-grabbing pronouncements. The mayor responded by starting to move homeless men out of Manhattan hotels and increasing wastebasket pickups.