There was a time, not so long ago, when New York was not a place so much as an adjective in Washington, a crude shorthand meant to convey liberal excess.
This coming Congress, though, Democrats will be in charge of both the House and the Senate for the first time in twelve years. Guess who’ll be wielding gavels, calling the shots? Us. “I have so many new friends,” deadpans Harlem congressman Charlie Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “And I don’t know how I’ve earned them.” This power isn’t just a matter of bringing resources back to the city, though our politicians will certainly do that. “We’ll make sure that the Department of Homeland Security pays more attention to New York landmarks like the port and the Empire State Building,” says Chuck Schumer, “than popcorn factories in Indiana and petting zoos in Alabama.” Power also means controlling the conversation, creating a sensibility, insisting that attention be paid to places where people don’t own cars and leaf blowers. Cities matter now. Our city matters now. Takeout Indian might insinuate itself into meetings. Yiddish might insinuate itself into the Congressional Record. Congress speaks our language now. Hablamos New York.
It may do our math now too. Almost every spending bill has a formula for how the money’s divvied up, and these formulas, in the past, have not always been kind to our city. Congressman Jerrold Nadler points out that New York has one third of the mass-transit ridership in the United States yet is currently banned from receiving more than 15 percent of mass-transit funding. “Last time I checked,” says Nadler, “there was no formula limit on wheat subsidies.” Finally the city will get its fair share.