“THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK: A REPORTER’S TRUE TALE”

Veteran New York City writer and editor Seth Barron joins us tonight with his new book “The Last Days of New York, A Reporter’s True Tale.”

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL P. ROMAN.

AFTER DECADES OF DECLINING CRIME, WHY DID NEW YORK CITY GET DANGEROUS FOR NEW YORKERS OVERNIGHT?

WAS THIS NEGATIVE TURN SIMPLY A CONSEQUENCE OF THE COVID PANDEMIC?

WAS IT DUE TO MAYOR de BLASIO'S MISMANAGEMENT?

OR DO THE CAUSES OF THE MOUNTING PROBLEMS GO MUCH DEEPER THAN THAT?

THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE QUESTIONS THAT VETERAN NEW YORK CITY WRITER AND EDITOR SETH BA BARON RAISES IN HIS NEW BOOK, AND HE JOINING US NOW.

SETH, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS, RAFAEL.

I'M GLAD TO BE HERE.

SETH, FIRST OF ALL, I MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY IN 1979.

AND AT VARIOUS TIMES SINCE, I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT I WAS LIVING THROUGH THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK CITY OR SOME VERSION OF THAT.

FIRST IT WAS THROUGHOUT THE '80s AND THE BEGINNING OF THE '90s.

THEN IT WAS AFTER 9/11, OF COURSE.

AND THEN IT WAS BRIEFLY AFTER THE FINANCIAL MELTDOWN.

AND OF COURSE WE CAME BACK MORE OR LESS STRONG IN EACH OF THOSE CASES.

DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT THESE ARE THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK, THAT WE ARE IN A IRREVERSIBLE DECLINE NOW?

WELL, YOU KNOW, NEVER SAY NEVER.

BUT I WOULD SAY THAT WHAT WE'RE EXPERIENCING IN NEW YORK RIGHT NOW IS A RAPID UNWINDING OF A PERIOD OF STABILITY, PROSPERITY AND GROWTH THAT I THINK NEW YORKERS HAVE GOTTEN TOO USED TO.

I THINK WE HAVE GOTTEN COMPLACENT.

CLEARLY NEW YORK CITY ISN'T GOING TO VANISH.

WE HAVE ALMOST NINE MILLION PEOPLE.

THE CITY IS, YOU KNOW, BEEN AROUND FOR 400 YEARS.

I DON'T THINK IT'S -- YOU KNOW, IT'S NOT MOGADISHU AT THE MOMENT.

IT'S NOT KABUL.

HOWEVER, IN 2020 AND THIS YEAR, TOO, NEW YORKERS EXPERIENCED A RAPID DISLOCATION.

WE HAVE NEVER SEEN CRIME, LIKE VIOLENT CRIME ESCALATE AS RAPIDLY AS IT DID, SHOOTING UP 40% MURDERS.

THAT HAS A KIND OF WHIPLASH EFFECT.

AND THAT SORT OF ACCELERATED, YOU KNOW, IT IS ALMOST LIKE A KIND OF COLLAPSE IN PUBLIC ORDER.

CAN CERTAINLY MAKE PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THEY'RE LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK.

SO YOU DEDICATE THE LION'S SHARE OF YOUR BOOK, THE CATALOGING EXAMPLES OF WHAT YOU AND OTHERS CONSIDER MAYOR BILL de BLASIO'S FAILURES, IGNORANCE IN HIS TENURE AND EVEN BEFORE HIS TENURE.

HOW MUCH DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE DECLINE AND THE PROBLEMS, SEVERE PROBLEMS THAT WE'RE SEEING TO HIM?

I MEAN, LOOK, IT WOULD BE UNFAIR TO BLAME ONE MAN FOR EVERYTHING.

I THINK BILL de BLASIO IS THE EPITOME OF A MOVEMENT THAT CAME TO POWER AROUND THE SAME TIME THAT HE WAS FIRST ELECTED, THAT I CALL THE PROGRESSIVE ASCENDSY IN THE BOOK.

SO HE HAS TO SHOULDER A FAIR AMOUNT OF THE BLAME, THE SAME WAY WHERE HE GETS CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE.

BUT I WOULD SAY THAT HE IS THE FRUIT AND FLOWER OF THIS POLITICAL MOVEMENT THAT AIMS VERY EARLY ON TO IMPLEMENT, YOU KNOW, CERTAIN POLICIES THAT I THINK HAVE HAD A VERY DELETERIOUS EFFECT ON THE CITY.

SO HE'S THE CHIEF REP, LET'S PUT IT THAT WAY.

IN A MOMENT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THAT AND FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW THEY GOT TO WHERE THEY ARE.

BUT LET'S FOCUS ON THE TIME BEING ON THE MAYOR SINCE YOU DEDICATE SO MUCH TIME TO HIM AND LET'S TALK ABOUT THE MAYOR AND CRIME.

CRIME DID DROP DURING de BLASIO'S FIRST FIVE YEARS IN TENURE, FIRST FOUR YEARS.

AND NEW YORK REALLY WAS, AS HE OFTEN SAID, THE SAFEST BIG CITY IN THE COUNTRY.

THAT IS IN PART BECAUSE TO THE SURPRISE OF SOME, HE HIRED BILL BRANTON TO BE HIS POLICE COMMISSIONER, THE GUY WHO IS GETTING THE CREDIT FOR TURNING CRIME STATS AROUND IN THE CITY AND TO HELP TO START THE RENAISSANCE OF THE CITY.

YOU SAID HE DESERVES SOME CREDIT.

HE SHOULD DESERVE SOME CREDIT FOR THAT, RIGHT?

OH, SURE.

IT WAS A SMART THING TO DO TO HIRE BILL BRATTON.

HE KNOWS HOW TO RUN A POLICE DEPARTMENT.

HE HAD THE POLICE BEHIND HIM, LARGELY.

SO, SURE.

AND, LOOK, YOU KNOW, AS ADAM SMITH SAID, THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF RUIN IN A NATION.

IT TAKES A LONG TIME TO SPEND DOWN ALL OF THE GOOD WORKS THAT THE CITY CREATED IN 20 YEARS OF, YOU KNOW, PUBLIC ORDER AND SO FORTH.

SO I WOULD SAY, YOU KNOW, THE FIRST FIVE OR SIX YEARS OF de BLASIO'S TENURE, YOU KNOW, HE WAS SORT OF, YOU KNOW, EATING OUT ON THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION'S EFFORTS.

TALK ABOUT THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION'S EFFORTS.

BILL BRATTON WAS ON THE SHOW AND HE REMINDED US THAT IT WAS MAYOR BLOOMBERG WHO CUT THE NYPD BY SOMETHING LIKE 7,000 OFFICERS, WHICH MADE COMMISSION EHIRE KELLY DEPEND ALL THE MORE ON STOP AND FRISKS WHICH GOT SO OUT OF HAND THAT IN ONE YEAR, AS YOU WRITE IN YOUR BOOK, THE NUMBERS OF INCIDENTS WERE OVER 600,000 WHICH OF COURSE LED TO A SOURING OF RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE NYPD AND MANY PEOPLE IN POOR COMMUNITIES OF COLOR, WHICH INDIRECTLY LED TO THE POPULARITY OF THE DEFUNDING THE POLICE MOVEMENT HERE IN NEW YORK CITY.

SO THEY DESERVE SOME OF THE BLAME, RIGHT?

WELL, I MEAN, I WOULD TAKE ISSUE WITH THE IDEA THAT DEFUNDING THE POLICE WAS EVER POPULAR, ESPECIALLY IN THOSE POOR COMMUNITIES YOU REFERENCED.

WHEREVER IT IS POPULAR.

I MEAN TO THE DEGREE THAT IT IS POPULAR, THIS HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT.

I DON'T MEAN TO SAY IT'S POPULAR OVERALL THERE.

THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A RADICAL COHORT THAT REFLEXIVELY BLAMES THE POLICE AND ASSUMING THAT THE POLICE ARE A KIND OF OCCUPYING FORCE, ESPECIALLY IN BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS.

I PERSONALLY DON'T THINK THAT THAT'S A LEGITIMATE PERSPECTIVE AND I DON'T THINK MOST PEOPLE IN THOSE NEIGHBORHOODS VIEW IT THAT WAY.

IN FACT, IF YOU GO TO PRECINCT COMMUNITY MEETINGS WHICH YOU USUALLY HEAR ARE PEOPLE IMPLORING THE POLICE TO INCREASE THEIR PRESENCE BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE DON'T LIKE HAVING DRUG DEALERS ON THEIR CORNER.

THEY DON'T LIKE PUBLIC DRINKING AND FIGHTING AND ALL THE KIND OF -- OR EVEN LOWER-LEVEL DISORDER THAT CAN -- THAT CAN GATHER AND BECOME, YOU KNOW, MAJOR, MAJOR.

YOU WRITE ABOUT THE ROLE THAT HOMELESSNESS AND PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH PLAYED AND THE SIGNIFICANT EROSION OF QUALITY OF LIFE IN OUR CITY.

BOTH EXHIBITED BEFORE MAYOR de BLASIO TOOK CONTROL.

HOW DID THEY MAKE IT WORSE?

WELL, I THINK ONE OF THE WAYS IN WHICH de BLASIO AND THE PROGRESSIVE ASEN DANSY MADE IT WORSE IS THIS FOCUS OF HIS THRIVE NYC PROGRAM.

THIS MODEL OF, YOU KNOW, MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS IS FOCUSSED ON TRYING TO GET AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE INTO SOME VERSION OF THERAPY TO DEAL WITH WHAT'S BEEN CALLED THE WORRIED WELL.

PEOPLE WHO ARE, YOU KNOW, ANXIOUS, INNENEUROTIC, DEPRESSE.

THAT'S NOT REALLY THE PROBLEM IN NEW YORK CITY.

THAT'S KIND OF LIKE A LUXURY PROBLEM.

THE PROBLEM IN NEW YORK CITY ARE SERIOUSLY MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE WHO ARE BASICALLY BEING ALLOWED TO, YOU KNOW, TO SIT IN THEIR OWN FILLth, RUN AROUND THE STREETS, YOU KNOW, ATTACKING PEOPLE, PUSHING PEOPLE INTO THE SUBWAY TRACKS WITH THE ASSUMPTION THAT, WELL, WE CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, FOR VARIOUS LIBERTARIAN REASONS AND THE IDEA BEING THAT, WELL, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS, WELL, WE JUST HAVE TO HAVE SERVICES ON OFFER.

WELL, WE SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON SERVICES FOR THE MENTALLY ILL.

WE HAVE AN OPTION, KENDRA'S LAW.

IT IS THE MOST ROBUST LAW OF THIS SORT IN THE NATION THAT CAN ACTUALLY COMPEL PEOPLE WHO ARE MENTALLY ILL AND PUTTING THEMSELVES OR OTHERS AT RISK, THEY CAN BE BROUGHT BEFORE A JUDGE AND COMPELLED TO, YOU KNOW, STAY WITH THEIR TREATMENT.

SO WHY DON'T WE USE IT MORE OFTEN?

WELL, THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION.

PART OF THE PROBLEM HAPPENS AT THE STATE LEVEL.

THEY HAVE REDUCED THE NUMBER OF BEDS, BEDS FOR THE MENTALLY ILL IN HOSPITALS AND, YOU KNOW, I HAVE ASKED de BLASIO ABOUT THIS.

HE CLAIMS THAT THEY ARE USING IT, BUT THE NUMBERS DON'T BEAR THAT OUT.

IT'S NOT BEING USED EFFECTIVELY.

AND I THINK A LOT OF IT HAS TO DO WITH THERE IS THIS SENSE, AND YOU WILL READ IT IN THE PAGES OF THE NEW YORK TIMES THAT SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS IS JUST ANOTHER WAY OF BEING.

AND THOSE PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO, YOU KNOW, LIVE AS THEY WILL.

WELL, YOU KNOW, LET'S GET TO THE PROGRESSIVE ASCENDANCY.

WHO AREID THEY COME TO POWER?

AND WHO ARE THEY?

FOR SOME PEOPLE MAY SAY, WAIT, THIS ISN'T RIGHT.

WELL, I THINK YOU SEE IT IN THE ORIGINS OF THE WORKING FAMILIES PARTY, WHICH WAS BORN IN THE EARLY 2000s, LATE '90s, WHICH CAME OUT OF ACORN, YOU KNOW, THE COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION THAT DID TENANT ORGANIZING AND SO FORTH.

VERY EARLY ON, THE FOUNDERS OF THE WORKING FAMILIES PARTY, MOSTLY UNION REPRESENTATIVES, WANTED TO SEE BILL de BLASIO BECOME THE MAYOR.

AND BY 2009, THEY ELECTED A NUMBER OF PEOPLE TO THE CITY COUNCIL.

THEY GOT TISH JAMES IN.

THEY GOT BRAD LANDER, JAMINI.

THESE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE THAT BECAME LEADERS OF THIS MOVEMENT.

BILL de BLASIO CAME THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE.

WHEN HE BECAME MAYOR, HE INSTALLED HIS CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER AND ESSENTIALLY THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOW RUNNING THE CITY, YOU KNOW, FOR HIM.

WHAT ARE THEIR POLICIES?

WE SAW IT WITH de BLASIO'S 2013 CAMPAIGN, THIS IDEA THAT THE CITY IS, YOU KNOW, BROKEN, THAT WE HAVE THE TALE OF TWO CITIES, THAT WE HAVE THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS.

SO WEALTH, INEQUITY, TO HIM IS A MAJOR PROBLEM.

NOW, WEALTH INEQUITY CAN BE A MAJOR PROBLEM, BUT IN NEW YORK CITY WE HAVE A LOT OF VERY RICH PEOPLE WHO PAY A HUGE AMOUNT OF TAXES AND THAT'S ESSENTIALLY WHAT FUNDS THE ENTIRE SERVICES SUPERSTRUCTURE.

SETH, TIME IS RUNNING SHORT, BUT, YOU KNOW, YOUR BOOK CAME OUT BEFORE THE RECENT MAYORAL PRIMARIES AND BEFORE ERIC ADAMS GOT THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION ESSENTIALLY RUNNING ON A LAW AND ORDER PLATFORM, PARTICULARLY IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS.

EXPLICITLY SAYING THAT UNLESS WE GET CRIME UNDER CONTROL, THAT THERE WILL BE NO ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL RENAISSANCE IN NEW YORK CITY.

DOES THAT MAKE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK?

WELL, YOU KNOW, I SUPPOSE IT'S THE RIGHT KIND OF RHETORIC.

I'M NOT SO SURE THAT HE'S THE GUY TO REALLY DO IT.

MY FEELING ABOUT ERIC ADAMS IS HE'LL SAY ANYTHING AND DO LITTLE.

I REALLY HAVE A WAIT AND SEE ATTITUDE ABOUT WHAT HIS POLICIES ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO BE.

I WAS NOT HEARTENED THAT HE SAID HE'S ON THE SAME PAGE AS THE PRESUMPTIVE MANHATTAN D.A. ALVIN BRAG REGARDING SUCH THINGS AS NOT ARRESTING PEOPLE FOR GUN CRIME OR, YOU KNOW, NOT SEEKING JAIL SENTENCES FOR VIOLENT FELONS.

I THINK THERE IS MAJOR QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN, THAT WILL REMAIN TO BE SEEN.

ALL RIGHT.

IT'S A WAIT AND SEE ATTITUDE THAT YOU HAVE.

WELL, YOU KNOW, THE CENSUS NUMBERS RECENTLY CAME OUT AND SHOW THAT NEW YORK CITY'S POPULATION GREW TO A RECORD 8.8 MILLION PEOPLE IN 2020, ALMOST UP 8% FROM 2010.

NONE OTHER THAN THE NEW YORK POST SAID THIS WAS PROOF OF THE CITY'S CONTINUED VITALITY AND THAT IT GAVE US REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THE BEST WAS YET TO COME IN A POST-COVID AND POST-de BLASIO NEW YORK.

ARE YOU MOVED BY THEIR ENTHUSIASM?

WELL, YOU KNOW, THE NEW YORK POST, THEY HAVE LIKE REASONS TO BE BOOSTERS.

YOU KNOW, I HAVE A MORE JAUNDICED EYE, I'D SAY.

YOU KNOW, I PUBLISH IN THE POST, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN I SHARE ALL OF THEIR OPTIMISM.

SO, LISTEN, I CAME ACROSS THIS RECENTLY.

WHEN I READ IT, I THOUGHT OF YOUR BOOK, WHICH I HAD JUST FINISHED.

HE SAID THIS, COUNTRIES GENERALLY GO FROM ORDER TO DISORDER AND THEN FROM DISORDER MOVE BACK TO ORDER BECAUSE QUIET, LAZINESS, LAZINESS DISORDER, FROM RUIN COMES ORDER.

FROM ABILITY GLORY AND GOOD FORTUNE.

MAYBE WE'RE NOT IN THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK.

MAYBE WE'RE IN THE LAST DAYS OF DOWNWARD CYCLE.

MAYBE GLORY AND GOOD FORTUNE IS WHAT AWAITS US.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I HOPE SO.

YOU KNOW, FROM YOUR LIPS TO GOD'S EARS.

I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, BUT IT COULD TAKE A WHILE.

RIGHT NOW WE'RE AT A CRATER AND HOPEFULLY WE COME BACK.

SO GIVE US A SENSE.

IN YOUR BOOK, YOU'RE VERY CANDID, AND YOU DON'T PRETEND TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN.

BUT I WANT TO PUT YOU ON THE -- PUT YOU ON THE SPOT.

WHERE ARE WE GOING TO BE IN TWO YEARS FROM NOW?

WELL, I THINK IN TWO YEARS THE FISCAL PROBLEMS ARE GOING TO REALLY BECOME ACUTE.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS NOT GOING TO CONTINUE TO SHOVEL TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS INTO NEW YORK'S COUFFERS.

DEPENDING ON IF HE'S WILLING TO STAND UP TO THE PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS.

YOU KNOW, IT DEPENDS ON WHAT HAPPENS WITH BIG BUSINESS.

I WAS HOPING THEY GET A LITTLE BIT OF OPTIMISM, BUT I GUESS I'M NOT GOING TO.

BUT ANYWAY, SETH, THE BOOK IS THE LAST DAYS OF NEW YORK, A REPORTER'S TRUE TALE.

IT'S A RIVETING READ.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

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