Recently I attended a wake in Rego Park, Queens, a county which is unfortunately a part of New York City. It was the end of a wonderful kosher deli that was beloved by Jew and non-Jew alike, Ben’s Best.
This terrific eatery might have died a natural death—many of its elderly patrons were moving to Florida and other less taxing climes than our tax-crazy city. But the city government, which rules from a long distance in another county, helped shorten the life of this wonderful Queens institution as it has done many times with other businesses. Indeed, under both Republican and Democrat administrations, the city government consistently enacts policies that are anti-small business.
The Decline and Fall of Ben’s
About six months before Ben’s demise the city initiated a new parking plan on Queens Blvd., the main avenue going through most of Queens. The plan destroyed many of the parking spaces Ben’s needed to accommodate its customers. Many of them were elderly. They would drive great distances to enjoy Ben’s wonderful food and an ambiance that was full of the history of our communities.
Ben’s, whose hot pastrami was among the best I ever tasted, had been doing fine until the new parking plan went into effect, according to Ben’s owner Jay Parker.
But the New York City government, through its Department of Transportation (DOT), said the parking plan made the area safer. And besides, one of its spokesman said in a published account exuding a Manhattan-centric view that seems to care little about a distant Queens neighborhood, there were plenty of transportation alternatives.
“The block is well served by transit,” the DOT official said (I doubt he lives near Ben’s or anywhere in the outer boroughs, which are anything but “well served” by public transit).
“There is an entrance to the 63rd Drive M/R subway and a bus stop serving the Q60, QM11 and QM18 buses,” the DOT official continued.
By the way, I live three neighborhoods away in Kew Gardens. I always walked over there for my kosher feasts. But I am an oddball who can walk six miles an hour. However, my wonderful neighbor, an observant, devoted conservative Jew, Charles, died a few years ago after passing 100. He loved Ben’s. Charles drove over there. In the last 20 or 30 years of his life he could no more use New York City public transit—a gruesome institution not fit for the young, elderly or anyone with any respiratory or stomach ailment—than I could play second base and bat cleanup for the New York Yankees. If that seems an irrational judgment, consider this: One never sees our rulers, the governor or the mayor, on the R-train at night going for a hot pastrami sandwich.
The Fools Who Rule Us
The DOT official, in his let’em ride subways and eat cake comment, shows how out of touch big government is becoming in America, especially in big impersonal cities where the government and its agents are becoming an alien force. The Rancid Apple is an example of this. New York City’s municipal government is both unique and far too big. This is why it is pricy and ineffective.
It is the only large city in the United States that I have ever heard of that isn’t the biggest part of a county. It encompasses five entire counties!
It is a city that is really five cities but it is ruled by one alien mindset from the center of the city, Manhattan. It is run by people who often have not the slightest idea what is important to people who live outside of Manhattan.
We’re not Manhattan
Queens, where Ben’s existed for some 73 years, is one of the four outer boroughs. Queens, along with Brooklyn, Staten Island, legally Kings and Richmond counties, respectively, and the Bronx are the outer boroughs. The Bronx, where the New York Yankees play, is where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. That was a time when there were lots of kosher delis in the city. The city was once home to a thousand kosher delis and now we are down to about a dozen. Lots of other businesses, both small and large, have gone the way of Ben’s.
Sure, some would have died a natural death. But outrageous city and state policies pushed many into an early grave. This robs neighborhoods of their products and services. And the government, ever ravenous for more money, misses out on the tax revenue, but no one ever said city government was smart.
One irony of these tax, regulate and destroy policies is that many of the same birds who dream them up will be the same elected officials who will campaign on a theme of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Jobs come from the Jay Parkers of the world, not the men and women who are constantly thinking of the next campaign and how they can obtain or retain power.
Society’s wealth comes from the labors of a million Jay Parkers, not from professional politicians who seem to know nothing about how strong economies are created and lack the commonsense to get out of the way of men and women who create something great (And yes, I believe a great deli, kosher or non-kosher, can, in some circumstances, be great as I do of any great idea or business that makes this world a better place). The problem comes from a highly centralized mind frame. It is a way of governing that holds that Washington or a huge municipal government as we have here in New York should have more and more power.
The Scourge of Manhattan
Manhattan, the center of New York City, is the county of Broadway. It is the part of the city most tourists see. It is the place where the most important decisions are made and the bulk of city officials live. Even some of the officials born and raised in the outer boroughs tend to move to Manhattan once they attain high office and start lording it over we mere “provincials” living in the outer boroughs.
Actually, there is more than humor and sarcasm in that last sentence. Many of our public officials privately have contempt for those of us who live in Queens. They think we’re all Archie Bunkers.
Those living in Staten Island or the Bronx or Brooklyn are similarly, quietly, demeaned by the powers that be in city government and mainstream media.
We Make the Decisions. You Be Quiet and Pay
This is where Ben’s and thousands of other small businesses present and past come into the story. Decisions are made in Manhattan that have enormous effect on the outer boroughs. Our dysfunctional system of government ensures that there is little or no participation from the people who are affected.
Parker, the former owner of Ben’s, can testify to that. Oh, sure we have a New York City Council. But it meets in lower Manhattan. That is a long trip on our wretched state-run New York City subways for most city residents. The council meets during the day. That means most city residents, especially those from the outer areas, have little chance to attend.
Indeed, what average New Yorker, who has to pay some of the highest, most abusive taxes this side of King George III, has the time to go to a meeting of the New York City government? Very few, unless they are independently wealthy.
He or she has to work to pay for the endless spending of government. Often this average New Yorker has to work several jobs to maintain a decent standard for his or her family. By the way, this average New Yorker—there are far more New Yorkers living in outer boroughs than in Manhattan—usually lives outside of Manhattan because the rents are less outrageous than in the center of the city, where most of our ruling class resides.
However, aren’t there public officials to represent each borough? Yes, but…
Don’t Forget Borough Presidents
Each of the five boroughs has a borough president and under previous city charters they had power when there was something called the Board of Estimate, which had similar powers to the City Council. But the Board and those powers are gone. Today borough presidents are generally second-rate or third-rate career pols. They are usually looking to use the borough president post as a last payday to increase their retirement pay or as a stepping stone to higher office. The borough president post has had some ignominious occupants.
One of our most notorious Queens Borough presidents was Donald Manes who, as he was caught stealing in the 1980s, committed suicide. Before that, he previously was in the running to become the next governor of New York. That seems appropriate since our state government is famous for having some of most venal public officials in history. Many of these Tweeds were members of a Black Horse Calvary that would try to steal anything not nailed down.
Hey, We Can Also Steal!
But the city itself has been no slouch in providing its share of crooks, with both major parties represented in the Big Apple Hall of Shame. Indeed, if you ever come to New York City and visit our city hall in Manhattan, be sure to look on the other side of the building. There, one will find the infamous Tweed courthouse, built in the 19th century. It was one of the most expensive public buildings in history. It is a testament to what our pols. yesterday and today, do to the forgotten men and women who pay the bills. I have written about this before here.
So the average taxpayer must pay the bill for the political sharpie class, most of whom don’t even live among the people they rule in the outer boroughs. This ruling class, not happy with picking their pockets every day, enact policies that wreck many of their businesses.
Vaya con Dios, Ben’s Best. You Were Great.
But what must be done is end the madness of centralized rule from Manhattan; from all the Manhattans in our country, the politically centralized governments that wreck people’s lives. I believe we need radical decentralization in all levels of government. Let’s begin here in the Rancid Apple.
Decentralization was the theme of the original U.S. constitution and it is the theme, as the great historian Lord Acton would tell us, of all free societies. I will discuss this in our next segment.
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