Public service

Public service and community can cope with New York’s post-COVID crisis

Public service and community can cope with New York’s post-COVID crisis

When you live in a city as crowded as New York, you seek community in your neighborhood, your neighborhood, and the city as a whole. We identify with the place — it offers the security of familiarity. Last weekend, I watched the city’s sanitation department plow through the snowy streets. I also saw building staff clearing snow from the sidewalks. I saw ambulances slowly moving towards the entrance to the hospital emergency room a few blocks from my house. And I saw NYPD cars on patrol. It’s the beating heart of a city that never sleeps, and its rhythm comes as natural to me as breathing. It is the rhythm of people leaving the comfort of their homes to serve others.

Police, firefighters, emergency responders, sanitation workers and healthcare providers have made it their business to serve others. Public service is a calling, and our community depends on public servants to survive and thrive. In 1985, when I first became a trustee at Columbia, I remember talking to my dean, the late Al Stepan, about the importance of developing committed leaders in public service. He agreed, saying that the mission of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs is to make the world a better place by serving the community, the city, the nation, and the world. I was energized by this mission at the time, and it remains a source of personal motivation today. Decades later, I see this vision on the faces of my students and in the many alumni I see contributing their lives to many different versions of public service.

New York City is going through a difficult time right now. Not as difficult as the 1980s and 1990s, but challenging enough. We have a new mayor committed to public safety who seems both tough and empathetic. Crime and violence do not fall from the sky, they have root causes that can be fought and prevented. Eric Adams’ credibility comes from who he is, where he comes from and what he has accomplished in his life. He understands that the fundamental and irreducible function of government is public safety. A child cannot benefit from universal pre-kindergarten if he cannot get to school safely. And to ensure public safety, we must rely on and support our police service. This does not mean accepting bad policing or forgiving bad police, but ensuring that our police know that the public supports their service and the roots of their success. Last week we saw two young NYPD officers killed in the line of duty: Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora. These two officers, like most of their NYPD colleagues, were people of color. Maureen Dowd of New York Times wrote a moving column after watching the heartbreaking funeral of officer and now Detective Rivera last week. I take the liberty of quoting at length from Dowd’s article when she wrote that:

“We don’t hear much about good cops these days. Their stories get lost amid searing episodes with trigger-happy, racist and sadistic cops. The good ones are lumped together, even if the last person who wants to get in a police car with a bad cop is a good cop. It takes a disaster, like 9/11, or a coup attempt like January 6, or a heartbreaking funeral with a sea of ​​blue, like Friday’s ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the slain policeman of 22 years in New York. Jason Rivera, to remind us that we should be proud of the good cops even as we root out the bad ones….When they took Rivera out of the hospital in the freezing cold a week ago on Friday, to be put in an ambulance to the morgue, his body was draped in an NYPD flag and police stood watch, silent . The only sound was a police helicopter whirring overhead. Officers there said they were stunned when the eerie silence was broken by moans from Rivera’s mother. “My boy, my little boy, come home, my little boy,” she yelled at the body. Tough cops lowered their heads, their faces wet with tears.

In the ideological and polarized nation in which we live, it is crucial that we reduce our attention to what divides us and pay more attention to our collective and shared values. The value of service to a community is certainly one of these shared values. In nearly two years of battling COVID and all of its many impacts, we have repeatedly seen people helping others. At the start of the pandemic, New Yorkers applauded healthcare workers at the end of each workday. Food pantries and other forms of assistance have materialized nationwide to help suddenly impoverished families and the federal government has provided trillions of dollars in aid – some of which passed with bipartisan majorities. .

The demons of social media misinformation seem to know that lying about people helping those in need will never work. Human pain and misery, and the rewards of helping those in need, are realities that ideology cannot taint. At least so far.

Here in New York, we face the impact of disruption to the city’s historic and geographically distinctive business model: people from across the city, region, and world travel for work and play in Manhattan. Zoom guarantees that working life will never be what it was before the pandemic. Midtown and downtown will become more residential. But that just means that the form of trade and tourism will change. He will not die.

Meanwhile, Mayor Adams and all New Yorkers face the challenge of Penn Station and Grand Central Station as illegal homeless shelters. The increase in vagrancy and street begging throughout the city. There is a pre-COVID crisis lingering in our school system as we struggle to emerge from COVID: Approximately 100,000 of the city’s 1 million public school students are homeless. We have a housing crisis and a poverty crisis. New York City’s economic recovery due to COVID is lagging behind that of the country. The city is invaded by rats. It has to deal with its many vacant storefronts and rising crime rates.

What can we do? We need to come together as a community. This place crowded with people from all over the world is our home. We must imagine creative and coherent solutions to the many problems we face. It starts with mobilizing ourselves and supporting our public servants. All the resources we have must be put at the service of our community and our city. When something goes wrong, let’s stop looking for blame and work to understand cause and effect.

New York’s diversity, intense energy and communities are the sources of its strength. From Sunnyside in Staten Island to Sunset Park in Brooklyn; from Washington Heights in Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn; from Morris Heights in the Bronx to Astoria Heights in Queens. Lots of heights and more than a few valleys. More than three million New Yorkers were born in other countries. Millions more are children of immigrants, and most of us are grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants. We are proud of our origins and the sacrifice of those who migrated here to build a better life for their families. Getting here and thriving here takes tremendous energy and many, many helping hands. This sense of community and caring is easy to find beneath the superficial indifference of a New Yorker rushing down the street. People here seek to help people in difficulty. We are often on foot and don’t have the luxury of sunstroke by walking past and ignoring people who need help.

It was the sense of public service and the creative energy unleashed by the people drawn to this place that saved New York in the 1980s and 1990s, in the aftermath of 9/11 and after the Great Recession of 2008. As we fight to emerge from COVID, we have the direct and clear leadership of our new mayor and the noble service and sacrifice of Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora of the NYPD to strengthen our resolve. But it will take all of us serving one another to ensure our recovery.