Political pundits have always been confounded by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg when attempting to pigeonhole him. Neither Republican nor a real Democrat, the Mayor has consistently surprised friend and foe in delivering for the Big Apple on the many fronts that keep the city’s economy vibrant.
So it was unsurprising to find that the Mayor had started a commission to look into seemingly intractable poverty in parts of the city (mostly the Bronx). Filled with many leading lights of the city’s business community such as Dick Parsons of Time Warner and Stan O’Neal of Merrill Lynch as well as other civic leaders, the commission is tasked with focussing on a number of areas centering around lifting communities hard hit by generations of poverty.
Recently, I was fortunate to hear the ideas being considered by the commission which has rightly zeroed in on job “creation”. Most members were aware that the hospitality industry was one of, if not the, leading employer in New York City. Yet, as Andrew Wolf notes in a recent issue of the New York Sun there is only one hotel in the Bronx, the borough most badly afflicted with decades of urban blight, poverty, drugs, recidivism etc., a Howard Johnson’s on West Farm Square. Wolf indulges in some (unfair) polemic in raking the borough president, Adolfo Carrion, over the coals for failing to promote business – it was Carrion who had the former users of the building shut down for prostitution and enabled the construction of the Howard Johnson – but his larger point is well taken. Businesses, hotels included, will not situate unless there is a viable book of business. And it rarely, if ever, is a chicken and egg situation for private enterprise based hotels as few want to be pioneers and look at a 40% or less occupancy number. The answer is the provision of security(still absent to a perceptible degree), ancillary infrastructure and incentives for development such as tax breaks (real estate and sales). That, at least, would be a good start. In the end, the jobs that Mayor Bloomberg’s commission is seeking to stimulate can come from the industry that does so well for Manhattan and, increasingly Queens and Brooklyn only when it becomes commercially viable. The social good that it then addresses perforce has to follow that process.