New York in the Obama Years

Did you hear the one about the Manhattan socialite who started paying her housekeeper in Obama memorabilia?  It would be funny if it weren't true.  Said New Yorker gave her (illegal) employee a commemorative Obama inaugural issue of Time Magazine with the advice to "take it home and put it in foil.  In 40 years it will be very valuable."  This keepsake was meant to serve as a late Christmas present, bonuses having recently fallen out of favor. 

Yes, it's springtime in New York.  Change has come, for some more than others.

Downtown, on what's left of Wall Street, bankers and brokers are adjusting to their new pay grade as honorary postal employees.  Many of the younger former masters of the universe, those who had never known a bear market, spent the summer and fall of 2008 chasing a more basic kind of return.  Supporting Obama was an easy way to get laid.  Fast forward six months.  Their free-love campaign has ended, and the young Masters find themselves vilified all over again. 

They might want to thank Elliot Spitzer, "no. 9" to hard-working gals across the city.  The formerly disgraced former governor is back on his anti-capitalist crusade, this time as a columnist for Slate.  Alas, Spitzer's famous escort, Ashley Dupré, has failed to be picked up by a major recording label.  For years the creative class has been longing for the New York of the 1970's.  Stagflation for them begot such memorable material culture.  When Ms. Dupré, in her 20/20 interview, told Diane Sawyer she didn't recognize client Spitzer because she "wasn't reading the papers," she blew her chance at lasting fame.  In the 1970's our bimbos were politically informed, like Jane Fonda.  It was much better then.   

In midtown, the legions of European tourists who were a fixture for the past four years are gone, replaced by repatriated New Yorkers.  Obama's coronation convinced them it was safe to give up their second homes in Europe and come back to New York.  One trans-Atlantic phone call later, the sublettor is out and the West Side is home again.  Rent stabilization is good like that.  Soon you may start seeing women bicycling the wrong way down Sixth Avenue, the baskets on their eco-cruisers brimming with organic produce and grass-fed beef.  La vie est belle encore, especially with the lines at Whole Foods so short these days.   

The city's liberal elite, who like their NY Times online and free, are back into activism, diligently downloading coupons for Gristedes and amending their ConEd statements to opt into green energy.  "We're all in this together" a retired public television producer was heard saying over walnut pear salads at Fika, a successful Swedish coffee shop adjacent to the Park Lane Hotel.  These customers have had the grace to adjust to the new economy.  They linger much longer over their $5 lattes.  The days of Harry (and Leona) Helmsley are indeed over.

But it's not all rainbows and puppies, pickled herring and unpasteurized cheese.  There is much uncertainty amongst those women who are married to men who still believe in markets and know how to shelter their income.  These fashionable women of a certain age wonder if fellow traveler Nancy Pelosi will include Botox and Restylane injections in the new universal health care bill.  Paying cash has been convenient in the past but now seems so gauche. 

In the meantime, the city's cultural institutions will have to hold their breath for that promised donation.  Benefactors are rescinding; cuts are being made.  Plans for an adaptation of Brokeback Mountain at NYC Opera have been scrapped.  NYC Ballet is firing eleven dancers.  American Ballet Theatre dancers agreed to a pay cut.  The Brooklyn Philharmonic might fold. 

The avant-garde, those peerless New Yorkers who understand the value of everything but the cost of nothing, is wondering just when Obama will push through that raise they all planned on.  They got their man in the office, but the new deal for the arts hasn't been forthcoming.  The capital flight out of New York doesn't faze people who manage to have successful careers without ever paying taxes.  They might luck out in one respect.  In the heated real estate market of the past small performance venues in Manhattan were facing eviction and worse, a move to outer Brooklyn (a real schlep from the East Village).  Now the commercial real estate market is correcting its greedy ways.  Try telling a New York City landlord that the precipitous decline in his property value is all in the service of art.  But no one teaches "Pyrrhic victory" in art school anyway.

Some things never change.  The recession special is in full force at Gray's Papaya, and it's still a bitch to get a table at Cipriani.  The Rangers are set to miss the play-offs.  The MTA is in the midst of another fiscal crisis.  Final exams will likely bring a new wave of protests at NYU.  The World Trade Center site remains shovel-ready.  I'm taking bets on when the Bronx will start to burn, exactly how far hemlines will be coming down and what that means for the garment district's great pantyhose debate. 

Some things are the same, but different.  Planes are falling out of the sky once again.  Only this time no one is to blame, and no one gets hurt. 

And Mayor Bloomberg is voting himself back in for another term.  The man who made billions innovating serving  the financial services industry has decided he likes the public sector just fine, thank you.  Even when facing a $2 billion deficit.  Because no one should work 100 hours a week and get paid handsomely when it makes so many of your subjects, er fellow citizens, look bad. 

I imagine it's good to be king, in this the king of American cities, the people's democratic republic of New York City.  Come up and see us sometime, the hotel rates just got a lot cheaper.