Saturday, September 14, 2013

I Vote for the Afro

New York politics is rarely dull. New York City Mayoral elections are especially spicy this year. We have some beauties running for this esteemed office, said by some to be the second hardest job in America after President. Because our city is such a multi-racial, multi-cultured hotbed of diversity, there are many constituencies to which candidates may try to appeal. I imagine that boring cities in the Midwest actually have to discuss real issues in their elections, but not in New York. Here we run elections for entertainment just to see who crawls out from under those rocks to throw his or her hat in the ring. Here are this year's mayoral hopefuls.

As usual, the Democrat side of the slate is the most fun. It looked like Christine Quinn was a runaway winner just a couple of months ago. The polls showed her with a clear lead, but then some funny things began to happen. First, her backroom deals on the City Council to change the law and allow Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term came back to haunt her. Personally, I think the Mayor has done a pretty good job on his watch, but his perceived intrusions into people's health habits made him a lot of enemies. Also, when a guy has that much money, it's only a matter of time before people resent it.

Bill de Blasio is a New York City elected official, holding the office of New York City Public Advocate. He was a relatively minor figure on the landscape until he decided to release a commercial showing his good-looking, articulate, bi-racial son, who sports an azalea bush sized Afro, speaking about his Dad's platform. (That ball is high and deep, and clears the upper deck for a monstrous public relations home run.) Suddenly de Blasio was a player, making big strides in the polls and Quinn didn't look so invincible. Bill Thompson, the last viable Democrat candidate, is a career politician who surprisingly finished second to de Blasio and ahead of Quinn. He had a commercial too, featuring his lovely, ex-schoolteacher daughter. Thompson was backed by the Teachers Union, a huge endorsement in NYC, and though still hoping for a runoff election holds no hope of beating de Blasio, even if one is held.

For comic relief on the Democrat ticket we have the self-destructing Anthony Weiner. Everybody thought Weiner was a political corpse after his scandalous behavior tweeting nude picture of himself to women online. Along with ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer, who had similar problems to Weiner's and made a run for State Comptroller and lost, Weiner found enough faithful supporters who were willing to forgive and forget. He might have fared better if it didn't come out during the campaign that even after being humiliated in the press and losing his job, Weiner continued to engage in the same bizare behavior.   Weiner's wife stuck by him, at least during the election; I have a feeling she will dump him now that he's finished a limp fourth. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

On the more boring Republican side we have Joe Lhota, Rudy Giuliani's best boy who ran the MTA squaring off against John Catsimatidis, the owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain. Lhota looks like a ferret and has the reputation for being cold and calculating. He took a lot of flak in the press for saying he wouldn't shut down the subway system until two stray cats were found. Also, New Yorkers think $2.50 for a subway ride is way too high when in fact it is one of the greatest bargains in the City. Catsimatidis is a highly successful businessman who started as a stock boy and rose to the top of the heap. Normally this would work in his favor, but in a day when people are more admired for their looks, poor John is an overweight, rumpled fellow who just doesn't come across on TV.

Bottom line, we are about to choose a Mayor for arguably the greatest city in the world based on his son's Afro or how he feels about pussy cats. The electorate has become so dumb that they are unaware of their candidates' issues. If they bother to vote at all (many do not) they will cast their ballot like they would on a reality show. Welcome to New York, the next Detroit.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shop Til You Drop

Walked at the mall this morning due to lousy weather. They are nice enough to open at 7 am for walkers, and we appreciate it. The Staten Island Mall would probably be classified as a medium-sized operation with three wings on two levels and a nice food court. As we passed the various storefronts it occurred to me how much the shopping experience has changed over the years. As the suburbs developed, the main shopping areas shifted from local neighborhood stores and "downtown" shopping areas to sprawling malls outside of city residential areas. Clearly things are much different.

The widespread use of cars is one of the factors that made this transformation possible. When I was a kid we pretty much walked to all the stores we shopped at. Once in a while we would make a pilgrimage to downtown Brooklyn, or even less frequently to Manhattan, but this was the exception. The neighborhood provided food stores, bakeries, service establishments like laundromats, dry cleaners, clothing stores, shoe repair shops, liquor stores, drugstores, beauty salons and barber shops. For special items we would get on the train and go to the A&S Department store in downtown Brooklyn or maybe Macy's or Klein's in Manhattan. 

The first real mall I can remember was Green Acres off Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream at the beginning of Nassau County in Long Island. For city dwellers, this was the equivalent of travelling to Uzbekistan. When one of my friends got his driver's license and we ventured to make this trip, I had the feeling I had entered Shangri-La. The place was endless line of marble, glass, and neon as far as the eye could see. They had an ocean of parking spaces, something no Brooklyn driver had ever witnessed. There was music piped in and even places to eat. Surely we had crossed over into some mythical shopper's paradise.

New Jersey is arguably the heaven-on-earth for mall lovers. They have good roads, plenty of suburban land and customers with serious cash in their pockets. If you've ever driven around the state you know there must be a law that requires a spacious mall to be built in every town. Just ride north to south along Routes 1, 3, 9, 17, 18, 34, 35, 36 and you can shop till you drop. It's not just the quantity of malls but the size and splendor. One of the best is the Jersey Gardens Mall built in a faltering industrial zone that was suffering economically. Along with Ikea, the Swedish retailing giant, this mall transformed the area, bringing in hotels and restaurants to serve locals as well as travelers from nearby Newark airport with time on their hands.

No doubt we have reached the point of diminishing returns as far as how many malls can be supported. Many have vacant stores and a few have closed altogether. Ironically, as some inner-city neighborhoods like Red Hook and Williamsburg make strong comebacks, so too are local stores reestablishing their presence as shopping alternatives. Many residents of these areas can't afford to keep cars and are looking for places near their homes. I like this trend because it gives mom and pop operations a second chance. With our economy struggling we need opportunities for entrepreneurial types to make a buck, and a return to shopping locally helps that goal. 

I doubt malls will ever go away completely; they have become a part of the American way of life, destinations unto themselves where people go to hang out, even if they have no intention of shopping. Just one final thought...the newest, biggest, fanciest store in our mall...Victoria's Secret! (Why do you think all those guys are walking at 7 in the morning?)


Children's Craniofacial Association