Failure to Thrive
October was a cruel month in New York City, with three horrific attacks by violent, mentally ill homeless men dominating the news. They included a quadruple murder of other, more vulnerable, homeless men in downtown Manhattan, a random assault on a six-year-old child in Queens, and a chair-throwing incident in a Brooklyn nail salon that put a police officer in a coma.

Mayor de Blasio’s response, on the substance and the politics, has been puzzling. His measures seem halfhearted, his finger isn’t anywhere close to the pulse of New Yorkers on the subject, and he’s created another giant opportunity for the Governor to swoop in and take control of a problem the mayor cannot or will not handle.

In response to the growing furor over the mentally ill homeless and their danger to themselves and others, de Blasio ordered a 30-day review of the city’s mental health services. Critics weren’t impressed. “We don’t need a task force,” D. J. Jaffe, a mental health advocate, wrote in the New York Post . “We need action.”

The Post hates de Blasio, but its coverage of the issue has been difficult to dispute. Julia Marsh reported that after a year and a half of work, members of a mayoral task force created to look into police shootings of mentally-disturbed people were infuriated that their efforts were reduced to a one-page press release. “I’m feeling a little used,” a member told Marsh .

The mayor’s misdirected priorities on the issue have been frustrating. His widely-criticized ThriveNYC project, an unwieldy $850 million mental health outreach program created by First Lady Chirlane McCray, devotes only 10-12 percent of its budget to the homeless mentally ill. “That so little of it still gets to people in the deepest need is just damn crazy,” the Daily News fumed .

Recently, de Blasio kicked in another $37 million to address the crisis – for a pilot project in just two neighborhoods. “That’s it?” The News asked.

You can barely take a subway ride anymore without encountering a mentally ill person, and we sometimes wonder if de Blasio, who rides the subway less frequently than his billionaire predecessor, is even aware of it. He doesn’t control the MTA, he often points out. Talk to Cuomo.

Which brings us to the governor. Andrew Cuomo took to the subways and professed shock at how bad the situation had gotten. He was all over the airwaves declaring that commuters had a right not to ride in intolerable conditions inflicted by incoherent street denizens. He vowed to pass legislation that would ban repeat troublemakers from the subway. The MTA announced that 500 additional cops would be deployed to deal with quality of life issues.

You can debate all you want whether Cuomo came too late to this realization, or smirk at his interest in upstaging de Blasio. But it was another example of how much better he is at sensing New Yorkers’ frustrations and positioning himself as the leader in the crisis (think about it when you’re riding the L train). De Blasio's right that he doesn't control the MTA, but why wasn't he demanding the governor step in?

The same dynamic was evident in a recent tabloid controversy over a Mother Cabrini statue, a sideshow that City Hall somehow allowed to blow up into front page news. The patron saint of immigrants was the landslide winner when the “She Built NYC” program headed by the First Lady solicited nominations from New Yorkers for women deserving of statues. City Hall bypassed Mother Cabrini and chose those far further down the list.

De Blasio belittled the ensuing criticism from the Roman Catholic community. “I want us all to start thinking about how people talk about things in this city and how much time is wasted on the wrong things,” he said on radio. But the condescension wasn't helpful. The story grew.

“De Blasio’s Great Cabrini Boondoggle,” headlined a Staten Island Advance column by Tom Wrobleski. “ It looks like the ‘She Built NYC’ initiative is being overseen with the same keen eye as the ThriveNYC program.”

Yet again, Cuomo seized on the issue and announced the state would commission the statue. “We understand the discontentment, and it will be remedied,” he said on Good Day New York .

Problem solved. “God Bless him,” de Blasio responded .

Questions about de Blasio's political antenna are hardly new, as anyone who followed his campaign for president can attest. And a lot of this is just political theater. But when a mayor is less concerned - less angry – about something as serious as the growing problem of the mentally ill homeless on the streets and subways, that’s not his problem, it’s ours. De Blasio might want to ride the subways a little more frequently and see for himself.
Quotable
"The restaurant will always have its loyalists. They will laugh away the prices, the $16.95 sliced tomatoes that taste like 1979, the $229.80 porterhouse for four. They will say that nobody goes to Luger for the sole, nobody goes to Luger for the wine, nobody goes to Luger for the salad, nobody goes to Luger for the service. The list goes on, and gets harder to swallow, until you start to wonder who really needs to go to Peter Luger, and start to think the answer is nobody." -- Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, in his zero-star review.
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