Saturday, August 31, 2013

To paraphrase Harry Nilsson, I guess the lord must not be in New York City

I have a neighbor, George Capsis, the publisher of Westview, a local monthly paper serving the West Village, who has recently been in the news because of a public incident in which he allegedly slapped a New York state senator.  ("Allegedly" because I gather one could quarrel about whether that's the best description of exactly what he did.)  It made such a big stir that even national press and bloggers, such as the snarkmeisters at Wonkette, have featured it.

I know Capsis decently well.  He's a neighbor, and a constant presence on my block who has been here for decades as other things have changed around him (and, since 1995, around me).  I have several times written short pieces on tax or budget policy for Westview, and he was kind enough to publish a feature in it concerning my novel, Getting It.

Much hilarity from snarkmeisters everywhere over this latest incident (and yes, I do enjoy reading Wonkette, although this time less so, given the personal association).  But let's pause for just a second to look at the backstory.

The incident occurred at a political rally in front of the former site of St. Vincent's Hospital.  St. Vincent's was for decades the only hospital, with the only true ER, on the lower west side of Manhattan.  I've gone there numerous times with family members, and have had a child born there.  It failed a few years back, apparently due to managerial failures and despite its having a large pool of successful doctors and a very large customer base, ranging well up in the affluence scale.

Vigorous community efforts to get another hospital, or even just a true ER or anything that would help meet local medical needs, lost politically (Mayor Bloomberg decreed that not everyone needs to have a hospital nearby).  Capsis and Westview played a very active role in the campaign.  The interesting thing about this political failure is that the community behind it is much more likely to get listened to by politicians than most of the communities in New York City.  We're downtown near the financial district (some of whose big ticket people live here), with money, connections, etc.  Imagine a much poorer community, more in the city's outskirts, trying to get listened to - all else equal, it would face much longer odds.

But there's a monkey's paw kind of irony to why we ended up losing anyway (and so far as I can tell, we never came close or had a chance).  The real estate down here is enormously valuable (this is why you need to be relatively affluent to live here), and there was simply no way that a hospital was going to come close to maxing out the site's market value.  So, while people in the outer boroughs generally have less political clout, they also wouldn't have had to ask for something so prohibitively valuable, just to have local medical aid.

So here's the outcome.  The main block on which St. Vincent's used to stand, serving thousands of people per week, is now a construction site for six luxury townhouses, which I would guess will sell for well over $10 million each, plus some luxury condos.

This is a classic twenty-first century NYC story, a version of what I suppose has been happening here for more than 20 years (and I surely benefited from earlier stages of this process).  But why get into a slapping controversy with a state senator?  Well, it turns out that said state senator was participating in a rally in front of the site that, at least in the view of some, was disingenuous in purporting to complain about what is happening there.  And Capsis, as he reveals in the latest issue of Westview (not yet available on line) just lost his wife of many decades.  Because St. Vincent's is gone, she died in a hospice on 181st Street in the Bronx, where he had to go to see her, day after day until the end via a long, multi-stage trip by public transit, and with much less ability than he would have had around the corner to make sure that she was getting the best care.

So what a funny thing, huh.

1 comment:

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