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Home/Articles/Culture/Goodbye, Gotham

Goodbye, Gotham

This is an eminently lovable city, but it's not being loved by those who govern it.

In the summer of 2012, I moved to New York City, law degree in hand but with no intent to practice law. I’d traded a cushy associateship at a large law firm for a chance to work on the Wall Street Journal opinion pages as a “fellow” (read: glorified intern). I thought I’d stay in the city for a long time, and almost did. But this week, I resolved that I’ve had enough—that my family deserves better than what this city’s atrocious, deep-blue leadership has to offer.

There was no guarantee the Journal would hire me full-time once that “fellowship” was up. Student-loan payments loomed. So did the expectations of my Iranian grandmother, God rest her soul, for whom lawyering was a barely acceptable profession (real men become doctors or engineers). “Journalism?” As far as she was concerned, I might as well have embarked on a career as an itinerant wedding singer in the boonies.

It was the kind of gamble that has drawn countless other grasping cosmopolites to Gotham for generations. And it paid off. The Journal hired me as a junior book-review editor, and ever since, I’ve been able to make ends meet stringing sentences together. Soon, I left the Morningside Heights shoebox I shared that summer with a pair of nerdy Indian grad students. Eventually, I found myself married with two kids and residing in a respectable-sized co-op in the East 50s.

Save for a stint in London, that co-op and its surrounding neighborhood have formed my physical universe for the better part of a decade. New York City, to my mind, isn’t a megalopolis made up of five enormous boroughs. It isn’t even the Isle of Manhattan. Rather, “The City” is a small rectangle with our apartment at its center. In one direction, its outer boundary touches the News Corp. building, where I used to work until recently; in the other direction, it spans the far side of Queensboro Bridge, which I often run across for exercise, barely landing on Long Island City before I race back over the East River to the familiar comforts of Midtown.

The rectangle’s inhabitants include our doormen, whose heroics during the summer 2020 riots I wrote about for the New York Post. There’s my barber, whose chitchat often ranges over profound theological questions (he trained for years as a seminarian, including in Rome, before he decided he wasn’t called to the Catholic priesthood). There’s the Irish restaurateur who runs the best Italian joint in town—go figure—and has far better news sense than most professional hacks (on at least one occasion, his brainstorm for a Post cover made the actual cover). There’s my friend Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things, a block away, and a number of other right-of-center Catholic intellectual types (more of them than you might imagine). And there are the spin coaches at the nearby Equinox—which, for all its woke pretensions, keeps me coming back, mainly because the monthly membership fee is so steep, I’d feel terribly guilty if I failed to show up daily (hey, it works).

The point is that this is an eminently lovable little world, and yet, enough is enough.

Life in “The City” has become unbearable, and it’s about to get worse. The grim transformation isn’t the fault of some nebulous scapegoat called the pandemic, but of concrete policies enacted by the Big Apple’s ruling class and, in many cases, demanded by fellow New Yorkers, if indirectly through their ballot-box choices. And, I’m sorry to say, I doubt incoming Mayor Eric Adams can turn much of anything around, if only because he’s hemmed in by a hard-left City Council, elected anti-anti-crime prosecutors, and many other entrenched political forces.

Any one of the city’s manmade crises, on its own, would have been tolerable. But their combined force is intolerable. Consider a few:

In 2019, before anyone had heard of either the novel coronavirus or George Floyd, the state legislature passed and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an ill-conceived criminal justice “reform” package, removing judges’ discretion in setting cash bail for criminal defendants in a vast range of violent offenses. Even before the law came into effect, judges were forced to preemptively release suspects. The revolving door of criminality would be hilarious if it weren’t deadly: Suspects are released in a day, only to commit the same offense a day later, then are sprung again.

No, my own family hasn’t been directly impacted by the rising crime. The worst is concentrated in the very black and brown neighborhoods the “reformers” claim to seek to liberate, and besides, we own a car and can otherwise afford to avoid sidewalks, buses, and subways. And yes, the chances of any one person being shoved by a freshly sprung psycho into an oncoming subway train are low. Ditto for the chances of having an elderly relative punched out by some thug with a Tolstoy-length rap sheet. But the law-abiding taxpayer, whether residing in Midtown or the South Bronx, shouldn’t have to live with this degree of risk, and this degree of fear, period.

Then there are the addicts and crazies. Please, liberals, don’t gaslight us. Don’t you dare say, “Welcome to New York—it’s always been like this.” No, it was not ever thus. It has gotten much worse, despite the nearly $1 billion City Hall spent on its ThriveNYC mental-health program, with much of the money wasted on fighting mental-health “stigma” and combating generalized depression and anxiety, rather than getting the severely mentally ill off the streets and into the involuntary inpatient programs they need.

Why do ordinary families have to be treated to the sight of a humongous crazy lady taking a dump on the corner? When will the self-talking, needle-jabbed, leaning-over-half-dead heroin addicts be cleared off Broadway and Penn Station? Where is the compassion in letting the crazy lady s**t on the open street? What humane end is served by not confronting the addicts and getting them the help they need, even if they’re too f***ed in the head to realize it?

Now layer the Covid biomedical security state on top of all this: the cruel and development-warping masking of kids, which won’t end anytime soon, if ever, though we have known for more than a year that they are at minuscule risk from the virus and transmit it at a much lower rate than do adults; the prolonged lockdowns that carved a swath of destruction through some of the most beloved small businesses in my little rectangle and many other neighborhoods, as well; the endless vax-mandate and booster-shot treadmill, just extended to children as young as 5; and, yes, the added informal enforcement of it all by sad, mostly childless middle-aged white women henpecking you in elevators and in department stores, even when and where mask mandates aren’t in effect.

You know what? Take the Big Apple dream and shove it—for now, at least. I’ll miss my rectangle, but not enough to subject my family to its insanities.

Editor’s note: This column has been emended to reflect the correct amount expended on ThriveNYC.

about the author

Sohrab Ahmari is a contributing editor of The American Conservative and a visiting fellow of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University. His books include From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith (Ignatius, 2019) and The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos (Convergent/Random House, 2021). He is currently writing a book about privatized tyranny in America.

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