On October 29, 1975, Gerald Ford, then the president of the United States, gave a speech in which he said would he not support legislation that would have provided a federal bailout to New York City, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The next morning, The New York Daily News summed up his statement with a memorable front-page headline that has lodged itself in the history books: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”
It’s now 45 years later, and New York still can’t find much love from Washington politicians, not even from one who was born and used to live here. One of them, of course, is Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who recently floated the idea that states like New York, financially strapped by the coronavirus, should be allowed to enter into bankruptcy, a suggestion that immediately brought a fiery rebuke from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. At his daily press conference he called the idea “really dumb” and then pointed out that McConnell’s own state, Kentucky, gets more money from the federal government than it pays in taxes each year, and that the reverse was true for New York. “Mitch McConnell is a taker, not a giver. New Yorkers are givers, Senator McConnell. You’re a taker,” Cuomo said. “Just give me my money back, Senator.”
The other, more galling, is Donald Trump, who was raised in Queens, made his (questionable) fortune in Manhattan and who recently moved his permanent residency to the low-tax state of Florida. The president, who has publicly feuded off and on with Governor Cuomo throughout the coronavirus crisis, recently tweeted his support of McConnell’s stance, saying: “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states?”
Republican politicians always long to snuff out the burning ember that is New York City, but they never can. If there’s anything we can learn from history, it’s that New York is a city that can be down but never out. (After all, it never did enter bankruptcy in 1975, and came roaring back to financial health over the next decade.)
But New York is again in her hour of need, as the Empire State Building continues to remind us, flashing red like some kind of metaphor for the city it occupies. On CNN two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the virus outbreak and ensuing shutdown was costing the city billions of dollars in revenue. This is what the “pause” is costing us so far, at least in terms of dollars and cents.
Then there is the cost of lives, the unimaginable human toll this pandemic is imposing on this city. As of Saturday morning, the city has attributed more than 13,000 deaths to COVID-19.
So, the Broadway shows, the movie theaters and the museums, the restaurants and the stores, and the incredible street life are all shuttered for now. Many of the things that make New York, New York are gone for now—including the people. Many of my fellow citizens have fled to the surrounding suburbs or to Maine, Vermont, or Long Island. My Instagram is a sea of New Yorkers braving off-season beach houses, shopping at farm stands, and walking in the woods. Many of them thought they were going for a few weeks; those weeks have ticked on and on. And the emptiness is palpable: It feels like August, but many multiples more than that. The streets are largely car-less, the occasional ambulance drives down Park Avenue, its sirens on an intermittent beep because there’s nothing for them to wail against. Sidewalks are largely empty except for a smattering of masked pedestrians walking dogs or delivering something. Almost everyone wears masks because we’ve been told to, which feels both safe and terrifying.
But there are small signs that the city may be slowly re-emerging: The Starbucks near me just opened for online ordering; a few bodegas have reopened, as have a smattering of bakeries, dry cleaners, and even hardware stores. A couple of liquor stores that stayed open in the early days of the lockdown, and then shut their doors, have once again opened, selling cases of wine and bottles of vodka and gin to customers who wait patiently on the sidewalk to collect their orders. There a few more cars on the streets, more trucks making deliveries. New York is quietly percolating under the surface, like a seedling waiting for spring.
Hospitals no longer have lines snaking around the block. I no longer turn on my television to find terrified nurses and doctors weeping openly. (Though the stories of the patients they have witnessed dying, unable to say goodbye to loved ones because of social distancing, are still as heartbreaking as in the early days of the pandemic.) I no longer see my local hospital on the nightly news. The USNS Comfort, brought in to house up to 1,000 patients, received only 20 because of bureaucratic snafus; it is now gone. The temporary hospital at the Javits Center is emptying out. The feeling here is that things are getting a little better, with Cuomo saying at his briefing on Friday that while another 289 people had died the day before, it was the first time the state’s one-day death toll fell below 300 since March 30.
Throughout the pandemic, some parts of New York have stayed pretty much the same. Central Park is still open: wet from the April rain, it is a mossy paradise even better than Frederick Law Olmsted could have dreamed of in his wildest imagination. It is green and filled with flowers, its carved sculptures peak out under the foliage like reminders from another time. Central Park, where I continue to walk every day, social distancing with a friend, was almost built for this uncertain time. Olmsted operated on the principle that, “If a city is cramped, crowded, and rectilinear, its park should be composed of sinuous thoroughfares and a variable topography that includes large, open spaces.” Central Park is the calm, bucolic paradise perfect for escaping a pandemic.
I am glad I stayed with New York in her hour of need, self-isolating with my family on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I am glad not to be in some suburb wondering what’s happening back at home. I no longer fight with myself about my decision to stay. Life isn’t going to go back to February 2020, at least not right away. New York City has a long road back to “normal.” Even after this virus is controlled, even after the virus is eradicated, even then the city is going to need to dig itself out of a mountain of debt and repair the scars left by the thousands of deaths.
It’s impossible to know what New York’s recovery will look like, but I do know we will come back from this, just like we did from Hurricane Sandy and 9/11. New York maybe down, but it is never out. And as for Trump? Florida is welcome to him. As Governor Cuomo tweeted soon after the president moved his residency, “Good riddance. It’s not like @realDonaldTrump paid taxes here anyway. He’s all yours, Florida.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue