No handouts; just justice 

Monday's New York Post carried a story with this title: "Broke Cities Beg Gov Dime and Dime Again."

Cute headline.

But the Post was talking about us. And it was quite an insult.

According to Post writer Fredric Dicker, Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse "are 'close to bankruptcy' and are looking for a bailout from Gov. Cuomo's administration."

The Yonkers mayor, the Syracuse mayor, and our Tom Richards "have held secret talks in recent weeks on their financial options," Dicker wrote, sometimes joined by the mayors of Buffalo and Albany.

Dicker says an unnamed "Cuomo administration source" told him that the mayors need to shape up and explain why they're having trouble – and what they're going to do to solve their problems.

"To come to us year after year for a handout as they have been doing, only to come back next year asking for the same handout, is a nonstarter," Dicker says the source told him. "It doesn't work."

First off, Richards noted on Tuesday, Rochester isn't facing bankruptcy. But we do need state help. As Richards and the Yonkers and Syracuse mayors said in a joint statement on Monday, they are not seeking handouts. They have "repeatedly and with great pain" cut services and staff. And they can't fix the problem themselves.

The mayors didn't sound angry about all this. But I am.

Dicker's article and (if true) the comment from the "Cuomo administration source" are simply preposterous. I'm not familiar with the situation in Yonkers and Syracuse, but I certainly am with Rochester's. In the past 41 years, I've watched Rochester change from a city with a growing population and a thriving downtown to the struggling city it is today. And I will swear on a stack of whatever you want that it wasn't because of corruption or waste.

In fact, we're damned lucky that the situation isn't worse than it is.

I have watched as a succession of mayors, City Council members, school district leaders, neighborhood activists, social-service and philanthropic leaders, and quite a few business leaders struggled to keep the city safe, whole, and attractive.

I have watched as suburban sprawl – aided and abetted by New York's destructive home-rule system, tax policies, and federal housing and transportation policies – has attempted to suck the life out of this city.

I have watched as the leadership of the Monroe County Republican Party moved sharply away from Lou Morin's Community of Monroe commitment.

I have heard mayor after mayor after mayor after mayor warn about what lies ahead; I have watched them cut services. And I have watched as the city and the school district fought over money, each trying to serve a growing population of poor people with growing needs.

Cities house and educate the New Yorkers that the rest of the state doesn't want – and has run from. Cities host – tax-free – the hospitals, government offices, and arts centers that suburban residents value. Cities provide the police and fire protection for those facilities. Cities clean the streets on which suburbanites drive to get to those facilities.

We are not asking for a handout. We are asking for justice.

Non-urban areas of the state – and the bigwigs in Albany, Democratic and Republican – need to understand the enormity of the burden cities bear, if for no other reason than self interest.

What do you think will happen if New York State's cities go belly up? What do you think will happen if desperately needed services are cut in our cities, if police and fire departments are emasculated? If the quality of life for the remaining middle and upper-income city residents deteriorates so badly that they move out?

Do you really think you can keep walling up the state's poor inside the cities – slamming the door, for instance, on the future for millions of inner-city children? Do you think there will be no consequences for the larger community?

And, thinking less selfishly, have we really come to this? Do we no longer care about the poor?


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