Imagine if New York City’s mayor ordered the Metropolitan Museum to turn over 20 percent of its income to other museums that he would designate. That’s exactly what New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had in mind with park conservancies. “During his campaign,” the New York Times reported, “Mr. de Blasio endorsed a plan to force the private groups that raise money for the city’s richest parks to hand over as much as a fifth of their budgets to needier parks.” He’s backed off from that, perhaps because it is blatantly unconstitutional, but, as the New York Post editorializes, “The public sector is putting our money where our mouth is,” de Blasio said. “We will…also turn to the major parks conservancies…[and] expect to get some real important contributions from the conservancies, as part of these processes.” Or, as the muggers who used to abound in Central Park would say, “Your money or your life.”
Back in the bad old days of the 1970s, New York City’s Parks Department more or less collapsed. The system’s crown jewel, Central Park, was a graffiti- and crime-ridden mess. Half the benches couldn’t be sat on because they were in such disrepair. Vast stretches of the Sheep Meadow, the East Meadow, and the Great Lawn were barren dirt. Litter was everywhere. No water flowed in Bethesda Fountain and its great Angel of the Waters statue stared down at mud and worse.
But in 1980, the Central Park Conservancy was formed to take over maintenance of the park with contributions from surrounding buildings and their residents, foundations, and others. About $700 million and 34 years later, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvin Vaux can rest easy. Their masterpiece, Central Park, one of the supreme artistic achievements of the 19th century in this country, is once again as it should be. The park is clean and safe, the lawns green. In spring vast drifts of daffodils can be seen “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” The 9,000 benches have been restored, thanks to the Conservancy’s adopt-a-bench program. The many bridges (no two are alike) and other structures have been restored. Forty million visitors a year testify to the park’s magnificence.
The Conservancy supplies 75 percent of Central Park’s budget, freeing city funds for other parks. Its experts train Parks Department employees in best practices. It has restored, at its own expense, four small parks in Harlem. But, as the Post writes, “Apparently it’s not enough for Bill de Blasio for people to be generous and make up for the city’s incompetence. He also wants the right to take your donations and spend them on what he wants.”
No wonder he and his wife honeymooned in Castro’s Cuba. Kleptocracy is Bill de Blasio’s preferred form of government.