Whose subways are they, anyway?
Michelle Go of Manhattan, dead at 40 beneath the wheels of an R train in a Times Square station Saturday morning? Or Simon Martial, 61, the apparently insane vagrant with a violent history who police say shoved Go to her death?
“Yeah, because I’m God,” shouted Martial while in NYPD custody soon after the crime. “Yes, I did. I’m God. I can do it.”
How grotesque. But how utterly, banally predictable.
Take a bow, Bill de Blasio — Michelle Go’s death is on you. You and your feckless ideologue of a social-services czar, Steven Banks, the man most responsible for the return of pre-Giuliani chaos to New York’s public spaces.
And take a deep breath, Eric Adams — those spaces are recoverable, but not without prompt and ruthless effort and a willingness to sail directly into New York’s prevailing political winds.
Michelle Go’s death is being cast as yet another crime against Asian-American New Yorkers. And there may be something to that; who knows what lunatic impulses drove Martial to murder?
But that’s not the issue. And that’s not the challenge now before Mayor Adams.
The point is this: Why are the subways so full of babbling lunatics in the first place — them and nodding-out addicts and in-your-face panhandlers and cold-weather campers who easily could find space in New York’s billion-dollar-plus shelter system, but who prefer not to?
They are there because de Blasio aggressively rejected the tough-love approach to public-space management initiated by Rudy Giuliani and maintained by Mike Bloomberg. They kept the city’s subways and terminals and parks mostly clean and safe for two decades.
There was nothing complicated about how it was done: A robust social-services delivery system was coupled to policing practices founded on the principle that no one has a right to homestead on public property.
That is, if beat cops keep vagrants moving — and they did; their sergeants saw to that — pretty soon most of them tire and come into the shelters. They’re better off there, the mentally ill are more easily managed, and the straphangers get the trains back.
Was this approach perfect? Of course not. Was it sufficient? By and large, yes.
Is the present situation even remotely acceptable? Absolutely not.
And therein resides Adams’ challenge. New York’s rookie mayor was a veteran cop when the Giuliani reclamation began. If he was paying attention, he knows that in addition to the relatively simple mechanics involved, success hinged on the then-mayor’s formidable will. He was determined to give New Yorkers safe streets, and he largely succeeded.
But if Adams is to do the same, he’ll have to confront — and defeat — a political culture that has normalized social decay and its attending violent disruptions.