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New York congestion U-turn leaves Democrats panicking

New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Credit: Getty

June 6, 2024 - 7:45pm

In a rare spasm of sanity, New York Governor Kathy Hochul yesterday cancelled the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)’s plans to implement a “congestion pricing” scheme in Downtown Manhattan to finance public transit improvements. Approved five years ago under the administration of now-disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo, the plan would have charged drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street a $15 toll, equivalent to the tolls already imposed on drivers entering the borough on most bridges and tunnels.

With the plan due to take effect at the end of this month, Hochul’s interdiction comes after Manhattan’s new Beijing-style street-by-street camera tolling system has already been installed. Both the New York Times and New York Post described her reversal as “stunning”. They needn’t have been so stunned.

In an election year, Hochul’s Democratic Party is in trouble both nationally and locally (if we define “local” as including the working-class suburbs that surround New York City — places like Nassau County, Westchester County, and North Jersey). The Democrats’ problem is clear: after decades serving as a political refuge for America’s working class, their support among that demographic is cratering.

Specifically, President Joe Biden’s support among non-college-educated Americans (60% of the national population) has declined by 10 percentage points since this stage in his 2020 campaign. Among black and Hispanic voters, two groups overrepresented in the working class, his support is down nearly 20 percentage points since last election cycle. As Batya Ungar-Sargon argued in her recent book Second Class, Democrats’ support is falling due to the party’s long-term refusal to address three issues that dominate the lives of regular people: unlimited (particularly illegal) immigration and its pressures on the job market, trade policies that disadvantage American manufacturing, and the high and increasing costs of living and working in America.

For decades, living in Manhattan has been a luxury unavailable to most people who work there. Average rent in the borough is over $4,500 per month, and more than half of its working population commutes to work. Workers in Manhattan’s service industry, trades, and other blue-collar jobs — particularly if they desire to own a home and live a relatively comfortable life — are frequently forced to travel from far away.

If they do not wish to waste hours in New York’s slow, unpleasant, and very expensive commuter transit system (which from past experience they know is unlikely to be improved much by the money raised through congestion pricing), they are forced to commute by car. Therefore, when the state imposes a toll on all cars entering Manhattan’s business district, it is functionally instituting an extra tax on the people who have already been priced out of living in Manhattan — on the taxi drivers, teachers, and cooks who work as the hired help of those wealthy enough to live in the area. Both the data and anecdotal evidence (perhaps most notably Donald Trump’s raucous rally in the South Bronx last month) show that voters are getting the message.

The language of Hochul’s announcement makes this subtext abundantly clear. “Let’s be real, [a] $15 charge […] puts the squeeze on the very people who make this city go,” she said. “I cannot add another burden to working middle-class New Yorkers or create another obstacle to our continued economic recovery.” Her wording is so perfect that it could have been written by Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison himself. And perhaps it was; in any case, the probability that her decision was influenced by some calls from Democratic Party HQ is high.

Recent history shows that New York and D.C. Democrats have no problem imposing new burdens on working middle-class New Yorkers (or New Jerseyites). What they do likely have a problem with, however, is seeing huge swathes of those voters cast a ballot for Trump in November, or elect more legislators like firebrand Republican Bay Ridge and Staten Island Representative Nicole Malliotakis to Congress in Long Island, New Jersey, and Northeast Pennsylvania. For both DNC headquarters and the State party, forestalling such a calamity is well worth an embarrassing U-turn on congestion pricing.


John Masko is a journalist based in Boston, specialising in business and international politics.

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Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
11 days ago

It is just a deferral, because there are limits to credible election fraud. So there is certain number of genuine votes needed. Once the results are known and the Democrats resume their cushy jobs the toll charge will be implemented. As the writer observes the past shows us the way forward. How naive can some people be.

J Bryant
J Bryant
11 days ago

Five months before the election and New York Dems start helping working people while Joe Biden finally (temporarily?) limits the number of illegal migrants entering the US.
Quick, lock the country down and instruct Pfizer to develop a vaccine against this serious outbreak of common sense.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
11 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Ha!

Kat L
Kat L
4 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

It’s only temporary.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 days ago

Damn. Rare is the occasion when the New York Times and New York Post agree on anything of substance. A political act surprising both of them at the same time might indeed be unprecedented. The Democrats must be pretty desperate to thwart what is surely the brainchild of climate doomers who are eager to tax automobiles out of existence at any cost regardless of who pays. I’m just wondering how bad their internal polling must look to take such a step after dumping so much money into it. The big thing to me here is that New York is the most reliably blue state after California and this is a local issue. What is the governor seeing that makes her think she needs to defy the ultra-liberal NYC establishment and risk pissing off the Democrats core constituency of over-educated wealthy urbanites for whom fifteen bucks a day represents nothing more than another cup of overpriced organic humanely sourced coffee? There must be some reason. If the state of New York is actually in play for senatorial races or the presidency, then things must look a lot worse for Democrats than we’ve been led to believe. On the other hand, maybe this is the rare case of a politician doing something because they actually think it’s the right thing to do rather than the politically expedient thing to do. Given the governor’s other public statements and overall policy, I doubt that’s the case.

Last edited 11 days ago by Steve Jolly
David Paler
David Paler
11 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

But remember, even Nancy Pelosi said (while in London, I believe) that you could put a D next to a glass of water and New Yorkers would still vote for it.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
10 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Biden was +6 over Trump in New York in a poll last week. He won by 23 in 2020. That’s how bad it is…

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
11 days ago

For 6 months prior to an election, the party in power will begin doing things they could have done at any time during the previous 3.5 years. The people, after all, have a short memory.

AC Harper
AC Harper
11 days ago

“Let’s be real, [a] $15 charge […] puts the squeeze on the very people who make this city go,” she said. “I cannot add another burden to working middle-class New Yorkers or create another obstacle to our continued economic recovery.” 

I wonder if Sadiq Khan is paying attention?

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
11 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

There is no need for him to pay attention. He will be in office forever and if he dies his handlers can stuff him like Jeremy Bentham and he still will be in charge.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
11 days ago

I think you’re over-stating the involvement of the Democratic National Committee. They’re not capable (in recent years) of such a straight line of reasoning…agreement…execution.
There is , I suppose, the possibility that they tripped over their own feet (as usual) and accidentally pushed the right button. Or maybe, in that moment when they were face-down on the floor, Ms. Hochul did it for them.

Last edited 10 days ago by laurence scaduto
Kat L
Kat L
4 days ago

Nope

William Brand
William Brand
11 days ago

The Democrats have totally dumped the working class. As long as it’s one man one vote there are more people in the 90% than in the top 10% of the population. The only chance they have is MAGA’s stupid choice of Trump as candidate.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 days ago
Reply to  William Brand

True, but Trump was the only politician brave enough to stand up to these crooks.

Rob C
Rob C
11 days ago
Reply to  William Brand

The Democrat Whites, Jews, and East Asians have gone full universalist morality and have combined with the so-called disadvantaged, Blacks, Latinos, and poor immigrants, who support them for different reasons (someday there will be a split). The former group believe exactly what those in charge of the Soviet Union believed. They rule in the name of the working class, but not for it. The working class have never wanted to live with the bare necessities of life.

Bill Tate
Bill Tate
10 days ago
Reply to  William Brand

The 90% in the NYC metroplex area are a pretty consistent block of voters. Disposed to reflexively attach responsibility for the city’s failures on anyone other than their own “gov’ts the answer to every problem” approach to doing business. The only “panic” Albany experienced is the realization they tried to eat the entire buffet in one bite. Silly them. They’ll just take a momentary pause & re-tune the congestion pricing in a more incremental way and NYC voters, belonging to the 90%, will gripe and moan but the substance of how things are done in NY will remain unaltered. The composition & mindset of NYC city council and Albany will remain unaltered & the most powerful political players in NY will continue to do things the way they have always done for decades. Trump’s rally in the Bronx was a collective letting off steam – a feel good, protest vote that alters nothing in the way things are done in NYC. There is no “new thinking” coming to NYC or Albany – this is their DNA.