In 1974, a great movie called “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” featured the hijacking of a subway car. The crooks demand a million-dollar ransom from New York City. “Goddamit,” yells the mayor, “this city doesn’t have a million dollars!”
No one-liner was ever so prophetic. The following year, in mid-October 1975, New York City owed its creditors a payment of $453 million — and had exactly $34 million on hand the day before the bill came due.
Yes, this nation’s largest city had the equivalent of two quarters and some lint in its collective pocket when the bill collector came to call.
What I’m saying is we’ve seen this movie before. And we could be heading for a remake.
Before the riots and looting of the past week, New Yorkers were facing existential questions about their continued residence in the city going forward. Primarily this: How can we stay here when the compensating pleasures of a life lived in crowds might be putting us and our families in danger?
The economic crash caused by the coronavirus response also raised the prospect of an increasing tax burden in this very highly taxed city to deal with the inevitable budgetary shortfalls that will come in its wake — which will inevitably mean paying more for fewer services.