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Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2001 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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The Big Apple's core

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- NEW YORK, to use a New Yorkism, is getting a bum rap from some folks in Congress. The emergency $20 billion the president authorized has not been appropriated. An additional $5 billion has been included in the fiscal stimulus program approved by the Senate's Finance Committee but not yet by the full Senate. And $25 billion is already known to be inadequate to the scale of the cataclysm. It is at the lower end of the range typically provided by the federal government when areas like Northern California and Florida have been struck by earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. The September 11 earthquake-plus-hurricane has left New York with losses that could reach as high as $105 billion. The human losses are incalculable, brought home by the daily funerals of those who died in the tragedy.

America has long had mixed feelings about New York–this polyglot, raucous, often rude, and intensely commercial city. That's not surprising. New Yorkers, too, have mixed feelings about New York because it's a city that represents every human quality, writ large, including both conceit and the wit to puncture it. It was, after all, a New Yorker, Saul Steinberg, who lampooned New York's egocentric view of itself as the center of the universe with his famous map showing New York upfront and nothing much beyond the Hudson River.

New York is a panorama of paradoxes. It has long been envied and resented for its glitter, glamour, and greed. But last month's terrorist attacks have revealed another side of the city. Who has not been moved by the heroism, selflessness, and charity New Yorkers have demonstrated these past few weeks? After 9/11, New Yorkers were seen nationally as US and not as THEM. "New York, New York" used to be thought of as preening and boasting. After 9/11, the song became a kind of anthem, a statement of the determination by the city that never sleeps–as a commitment to rebirth, as the symbol of the guts to come back slugging after the sucker punch that brought the city to its knees.

Talent city. Why is New York City so critical to America? In an era of globalization, it is the global city par excellence, built on pluralism, diversity, and international commerce. It has always been an international city, first as a great port, then as a great manufacturing center, and, finally, as the entry point for millions of immigrants. At a time of exploding interest in the arts and entertainment and the worldwide appeal of American culture, it is the wellspring of our culture and creativity. At a time when merit and education mean more and more in an information era, it is the ultimate meritocratic city where dreams are fulfilled by talent. At a time when the skyscraper has come to symbolize urban life and America's pre-eminence in the world, New York is the quintessential vertical city where high-rise and density are the urban frontier. Skyscrapers made it possible to fit more and more people in New York–and symbolized the aspirations of everyone reaching for the skies.

Talented young people move to the city because they share the idea that New York is a place that works. Seinfeld would never have been such a phenomenal success if it didn't reflect that. After all, New York had transformed itself in the 1990s to the point where it was ranked the No. 1 city to live in, the No. 1 city to visit, and the safest big city in America.

New York welcomes talent, nourishes talent, celebrates talent, rewards talent, and, therefore, attracts talent. Indeed, it attracts the best and the brightest from around the world, for if they succeed in the Big Apple, they can reap the highest rewards. Old Blue Eyes was right. If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere.

Talent made New York the indispensable, irreplaceable global center for finance, media, advertising, the arts and culture and a leader in education and health. New York, with less than 3 percent of the nation's workforce, accounts for nearly 40 percent of the financial-services industries, a fifth of its national advertising, and probably half the leading media entities that set the tone for our media-saturated culture. But New York City especially dominates the global financial world, fueling jobs and prosperity nationally. It is an enormous engine, driving much of the national economy and giving the United States worldwide leadership in commercial and investment banking, money management, accounting, legal, and financial-rating services, insurance, you name it.

New York is the city that the world thinks of when it thinks of America. Its success proclaims American success–just as its failure would advertise American failure to the world, and to America itself. There is tremendous fighting spirit in the city–epitomized by the "damn Yankees" who always–well, almost always–manage to come back from behind. But New York can't do it all on its own this time.

This is no time for myopia. Congress must get off the dime and redeem the commitments that President Bush made to New York City. Now.



JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman