NEW YORK — It’s become the common catchphrase for those seeking to lead the nation’s biggest city: New York is increasingly out of reach for the middle class.
That sounds inarguable in the home of the $125 million penthouse, the $1 million parking spot and the $295 burger. And it’s a strategic line for candidates looking to capitalize on the view among many that ultra-rich Mayor Michael Bloomberg was out of touch with the average person.
But is it just populist campaign rhetoric, or is the Big Apple really hollowing out at the socioeconomic core?
Key statistics are mixed but indeed sketch a city of increasing economic extremes and a crunch in the middle. It’s a trend nationwide, but the wealth has raced to the top faster here.
From a pier in Brooklyn’s middle-income Sheepshead Bay, charter fishing boat captain Keith Kmiotek sees a New York that’s gotten tougher for middle-class or working-class people.
His father bought a house in the city on a carpenter’s income; Kmiotek, now a married father himself, rents and doesn’t see a clear path to buying. And he’s frustrated by what he considers a tax structure that works for the wealthy and a social-service system directed at the indigent.
“You’re choked out” as a New Yorker in the middle, he says. “You’ve either got to be very poor or very rich.”
That’s a theme Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has hammered on his way to a big lead in the polls ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary, telling a “tale of two cities” with have-it-alls on one side, have-nots on the other and the center “in danger of disappearing.”
Rival Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, speaks frequently of her “actual record of delivering for middle-class New Yorkers.” Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner has built his campaign around a series of ideas to aid “the middle class and those struggling to make it.”
It’s such a theme that a debate Tuesday featured a video of them and fellow Democratic hopefuls John Liu and Bill Thompson repeating the words “middle class.”
Bloomberg told New York magazine he found de Blasio’s “two cities,” rhetoric divisive. He said one of the best ways to help the city’s have-nots is to attract even more wealthy people to the city.
“They are the ones that pay the bills,” the mayor said. “This city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for services for the other.”
Bloomberg also implied that poor New Yorkers have never had it better.
“By most of the world’s standards, you ain’t poor,” said Bloomberg. “I’m not being cavalier about it, but most places in the world our poor are wealthy.”