Perhaps the best argument a conservative can make when defending his political views is to simply point to the failings of any blue state. By any metric, these states generally do poorly, which has led to residents in these states migrating to red states like Texas and Florida.
Seeing that no progressive leader campaigns on the promise to limit people’s freedoms, bankrupt the government, and fail to deliver basic social services, it’s not altogether clear why this seems to constantly happen when leftists are in charge. It has something to do with progressivism, sure, but it becomes necessary to delve into details for a comprehensive explanation.
Fortunately, Seth Barron gives this explanation with his new book, The Last Days of New York: A Reporter’s True Tale. With great detail and a wry sense of humor, he charts the downward course of New York City from a world-class city that could thrive even after suffering one of the worst terrorist acts in history to a dysfunctional concrete jungle that is quickly deteriorating into a crime-infested ghost town.
The protagonist of this story is Mayor Bill de Blasio, an embodiment of mediocrity and hypocrisy. Barron notes that “Bill de Blasio was flower, fruit, and fragrance” of New York’s progressive political culture.
He is the son of two Ivy League-educated parents, both with connections to elites in media and government, as well as the Communist Party. After his father committed suicide, de Blasio eventually changed his name from Warren Wilhelm to Bill de Blasio, his mother’s maiden name. He attended Greenwich college and then Columbia, earning a graduate degree in Latin American politics, which he put to use by working for a pro-Sandinista nonprofit organization and engaging in Marxist advocacy.
In 1994, de Blasio married the black one-time lesbian activist Chirlane McCray and had his honeymoon in Castro’s Cuba. They had two children who have also become activists. As Barron reports, the couple was “aggressive about using their children as props, highlighting Chiara’s depression and substance abuse in pushing McCray’s mental-wellness initiatives and Dante’s experiences as a young black man dealing with the police.”
In his professional life, de Blasio worked on various campaigns, was a consultant for a health-care workers union, and eventually was elected to the city council. After pandering to every constituency in the city, he was elected mayor and resumed his activist platform, promoting socialism, denouncing police, defending violent criminals and terrorists, combatting illusory racism—all while letting his city fall into neglect.
De Blasio’s Ascendency
The first thing to go upon de Blasio’s ascendency to the office of mayor was law and order. Right before this, the city was the model for urban law enforcement because of the broken-windows and hotspot policing of Rudy Giuliani and the continued resilience of Mike Bloomberg, who introduced stop, question, and frisk (SQF) to crack down on illegally owned firearms.
In line with his leftist ideals, de Blasio instead declared war on the police and dismantled the protections they enjoyed under previous administrations. He determined that strategies like SFQ and broken-windows policing were racist and let them fall into disuse or actively blocked them. He then hired on race-hustler Al Sharpton as a consultant for law enforcement while alienating his police force.
Sensing a tacit endorsement with the new mayor, anti-police protesters (pre-Black Lives Matter) took action and openly assaulted police during a march on Brooklyn Bridge in 2013. A few weeks later, two policemen were murdered in cold blood by a deranged man inspired by anti-police rhetoric. Adjusting to the new reality, police started holding back in their duties. De Blasio and the city council went even further by instituting the “Right to Know Act” which, as Barron explains, “makes basic police work impossible by forcing cops to act as impromptu legal aid interpreters for the suspects they are trying to investigate.”
As he undermined his police department, de Blasio took up the cause of illegal immigrants in his city. Even though previous administrations largely protected them, they apparently did wrong by cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to address aliens who also committed violent crimes. De Blasio ended this relationship, evidently preferring violent criminals living in his city illegally over their victims.
Barron draws a straight line between this decision and the horrific crime in which 21-year-old illegal immigrant Reeaz Khan raped and murdered 92-year-old Maria Fuertes. Predictably, de Blasio took no responsibility and blamed ICE, Donald Trump, and racism for the crime. This kind of attitude led to a series of decriminalization efforts that were meant to combat the supposed evils of xenophobia and racism, even as they effectively made New Yorkers less safe.
De Blasio paired decriminalization with bail reduction and decarceration. Barron notes these movements are nearly all based on simplistic narratives and partial truths.
For example, leftists will take a story like that of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide after serving three years in jail for stealing a backpack, who was too poor to post bail. Barron corrects this line by pointing out that Bowder did much more than steal a backpack (he assaulted and robbed a Mexican immigrant, violating his probation for stealing and crashing a bakery truck) and was thus ineligible for bail. He doesn’t give these details as proof that Browder should have suffered as he did, but to show how leftist leaders like de Blasio ignore facts that complicate their misleading narratives.
In a similarly obtuse fashion, de Blasio took on the city’s economic inequality, blithely asserting in his 2019 “state of the city” address, “Brothers and sisters, there’s plenty of money in the world. There’s plenty of money in this city. It’s just in the wrong hands.”
To rectify this, he blew out the city’s budget on paying off interest groups like the United Federation of Teachers, useless initiatives like “New York Works” and “Renewal Schools” programs, hiring more unionized city workers, and filing ridiculous lawsuits against all major oil producers. Despite this spending, the city’s businesses have fled the city, leaving its finances in a more precarious position than ever.
Moreover, as the city grew poorer and laxer with law enforcement, homelessness became a bigger problem. By now the pattern for de Blasio’s leftist “reforms” had become familiar: misjudge the problem and let it fester while spending tons of taxpayer money on useless programs. As such, to deal with the homelessness, de Blasio cited the lack of affordable housing as the culprit for homelessness and paid more than $1 billion for substandard homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs, all while refusing to address the vagrants and junkies harassing people in public parks and libraries.
In the following chapter, Barron shows how the same leftist logic played out with helping the mentally ill. De Blasio’s wife ran a series of initiatives under the banner “Thrive NYC,” emphasizing prevention, destigmatizing mental illness, and additional counseling. Predictably, the program was a bust since stigma against seeking treatment hardly exists and most people with mental illness require far more than counseling to function. As a result, thousands of mentally ill people continued to go untreated and posed a daily threat to other residents.
Meanwhile, New York’s youth continue to languish in inferior schools (that is, when lockdown don’t force them to languish at home) run by corrupt teacher unions and radical leftist district leaders, even as the city spends more than $25,000 per student each year. As usual, when called to account, those in charge blame racism and inequality.
De Blasio’s remedy was to provide universal pre-kindergarten, which ended up being funded by taxpayers across the state. His district superintendents Carmen Farina and Richard Carrazana remedied other problems by removing screening admission tests, ignoring testing data, and implementing critical race theory training for teachers.
The Cycle of Corruption
In his second to last chapter, Barron wraps up by discussing how New York City’s dysfunction originates from parasitic leftist organizations that perpetuate a cycle of corruption: “Much of the problem—unsurprisingly—lies in New York’s interlinked networks of donors, party bosses, unions, and consultants, who choose candidates, fund them, and essentially control them once they’re in office.” Barron does yeoman’s work connecting the many dots between so many groups, like the WFT, CONY, ACORN, AKPD, NWRO, and several more.
This corrupt web leaves little hope for new leadership to come clean up the mess. After all, incompetent activists and consultants are drafted into government positions, then use their authority to enrich the groups they left. They take businesses for granted because they’ve never worked for a business. They think government spending is the solution for everything because they themselves are the beneficiaries of government largess.
Even if an outsider sees de Blasio as a total failure of a mayor, there’s little reason to think that someone better will replace him. As Barron puts it, “If you are a city employee, he expanded your workforce, rewarded you with good contracts, and protected your job. If you run a political consultancy, he enriched you. If you work for an activist nonprofit organization, he supported you. If you are a hard-left activist or aspiring politician, he gave you a pivot to swing the city further left, because he didn’t.” Consequently, anyone who doesn’t do all these things and more will not win elections.
While Barron concedes that NYC is not quite a hellscape yet, it’s far from its former greatness. “All this may not amount to ‘anarchy’ in a purist’s sense of the word, but it isn’t the New York City that Bill de Blasio inherited either,” he writes. His book ends with a disturbing account of a man who aimed a crossbow at him while he was walking his dog. After discovering that the man had a long criminal history, Barron reported the incident and the police took the man in custody for a brief time before… releasing him.
Overall, The Last Days of New York is a valuable and fascinating case study on the effects of leftist leadership. Although frequently dispiriting, it upholds the analysis and predictions of those who resist the currents of leftism. It isn’t sustainable, it ushers in widespread corruption, and it’s destructive.
It’s a shame that the residents of America’s greatest city have to suffer from their poor selection of leaders. But it would be even more shameful the rest of the country fails to heed the lessons in Barron’s book and suffers the same fate as de Blasio’s New York.