WATERTOWN — I just got back from dinner at a friend’s house in these times of no restaurants and limited social interaction.
You may remember me. I used to be mayor of Watertown and now do talk shows and, until recently, operated the Pearl Street Pub.
For 35 years, I have owned the pub. It’s been a journey with ups and downs.
But until March 16, it was a good run. I have been pleased as we had a great staff, and those people and customers are really family to me.
My life, like many of late, went asunder. The daily routine, the challenge, the relationships are suddenly gone as this social place is now entered upon threat of fines, revocation and, for all I know, imprisonment. A local restaurant owner recently caught on camera a woman peeking in his business’s windows with a camera in what is presumed an effort to ensure no commerce occurred there.
Two friends in the business have boarded up to protect their property until they can reopen. Countless people I know are unemployed both in and out of the industry. A pall is over all local businesses with layoffs, closures, broken dreams and uncertain futures.
The notion of freedom is losing out to what is to some martial law dressed up as “a pause for New York.” Albany had to be consulted to find out if my pet can be groomed. And it’s now allowed, with stipulations and protocols.
The effects are up and down the supply chain and others are affected. Even coin-operated car washes are shut down. Although to keep a grumbling populace subdued, liquor stores were deemed “essential” businesses to remain open.
It’s all the result of a rat-a-tat-tat of rules from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is suddenly a much-praised national figure based on his daily press briefings. He is a smart, shrewd man who speaks in the tradition of his father. He is a man who has a lot on his plate but also has adopted the easy plank of saying all New York state residents must bear the same burden resulting from COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus poses challenges but also questions. We annually struggle with seasonal flu that kills tens of thousands, and these pandemics have drifted through before.
Now we have a scoreboard of death and infection on cable news all day, and it is disturbing. But we don’t do the same for every other malady.
When you look at the cases, you will learn that more than 90 percent of New York’s positives are in New York City, Long Island and the three counties north of the city. Cases are scattered along the Thruway, and much of New York’s rural areas are scarcely affected.
To their credit, local health departments are on it, and sensible people have tightened up protocols on hygiene and that new term: social distancing. It would be a teachable moment, but alas the schools are closed as well.
The governor unleashed a bludgeon, closing businesses and creating the possibility of 30 percent unemployment and a destroyed summer tourism season. He offers no finality but has said this could last up to eight months. Then he concedes the situation is economically “unsustainable.”
The numbers tell us the mortality rate for COVID-19 is low and centers on the elderly and vulnerable. They need to be protected, but decimating the economy is not a fair trade.
Anyone who believes government as usual can plod on under these circumstances is mistaken. With the second quarter of this year wiped out, it will take more than closing a pool in this city to balance things out.
This whole matter is also, as is much these days, highly political with this for some a final chance to ditch President Donald Trump or put in place a set of legislative priorities on a range of issues.
The attempted larding up of the stimulus bill with things like windmill tax credits, labor union protections and Green New Deal provisions says volumes.
Amidst the promise of $1,000 checks, I have heard little discussion of the long list of the social problems that poverty, despair and anxiety can cause. Let me mention the pending rash of suicides, domestic violence, substance abuse and possible civil unrest once the richest nation in the world isn’t any longer.
I actually appreciate how Mr. Cuomo has fought for federal help in mitigating what he sees as a bullet train headed toward the city of his birth. He has received national praise and has eclipsed former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat running for president, from his bunker (home) in Wilmington, Del., where he streams daily shadow briefings on the matter.
I don’t appreciate how north country leaders have been like crickets on the calamity raining down on us or their unwillingness to challenge current policy.
So I will say it. Let our economy restart. We work. We pay taxes.
This state and none of us can afford this. The notion we are “stopping the spread” by standing around doing nothing is specious.
The county I live in only voted 28 percent for Mr. Cuomo. That is a stark number for a man who keeps score. Let’s look at it this way.
New Yorkers are one, and we want to help the city. We can best do that by working and paying taxes. The alternative is an economic calamity of biblical proportion.
I admit I just want to go back to my life. Enjoy friends. Employ good people. Pay taxes. And be proud. I also understand challenges exist and good people are meeting them.
Standing in an empty business watching TV and producing nothing for the first time in my life is not fun. It’s wrenching. Current gallows humor about cabin fever and selling this as a war on the invisible enemy are a meal not very filling.
Disappearing jobs, diminished tax revenue, a ripped social fabric. All part of my world and yours and consider that replicated across thousands of businesses, families and governments in 62 counties.
Governor, let us work. Follow the data and abandon this one-size-fits-all governance.
Do it for the state as a whole. We can’t afford what’s going on now.
Easter this year looks pretty dour but hopefully can change.
Jeffrey E. Graham is the former mayor of the city of Watertown, having served five terms. He was first elected to the position in 1991.