Hunt’s Point: Time for the Serfs To Pay Up Again?

Crain’s New York Business reports that negotiations between the City of New York and the existing food wholesalers at Hunts Point are at an impasse.  The existing wholesalers, on public land they receive for nothing, want new, modernized buildings for their operations.  There was supposedly a deal for the city, state and federal governments to pay half for their new buildings, but now that deal has supposedly fallen through.  “With tensions high, the market could rekindle talks with New Jersey, which had been wooing the vendors with tax breaks and other incentives—though, according to Mr. D’Arrigo, the co-op has not talked to Garden State officials in two years.  Complicating the negotiations is the fact that last month the produce vendors sued the city, naming as a defendant the Business Integrity Commission, a law-enforcement agency that regulates public food markets and haulers and carters, among other industries.”

I guess members of the general public have no leverage here.  We’ll just have to pay more in taxes, and accept less in public services, to give them whatever subsidies they want, and then pay up because any competing food wholesalers seeking to enter the market would not benefit from those subsidies.  Mayor Bloomberg would probably give away the store to seal a deal his successor would have to pay for, but the successor would be under even more pressure to show that he or she is not “against the middle class” by losing blue collar jobs.  So those not in on any of these deals, I suppose, will have to accept being worse and worse off.  Just as when the rich who sit on each other’s corporate boards enrich each other’s pay packages, then demanded a federal bailout when their house of cards collapses.  Just as when the federal government had no choice but to run up the debt to prevent that collapse, but now those debts will force those age 55 and younger to lose federal old age benefits.  Just as when the politicians and public employee unions cut deals to enrich their pensions, and then demand even more in taxes or service cuts to pay for it.  Just as the Yankees demanded their empty parking garage or they would move to New Jersey, and rich threaten to leave town when taxes rise.  They’ve got us.  They’ve got our children.  If you aren’t in the room, you are the victim, and we aren’t in the room.  Does it have to be so? I’ll discuss further after the break.

Haven’t you had enough of the blackmail?  Haven’t you had enough of those who have more demanding even more, leaving you with less, perhaps offering to put it off a few years to disconnect the two?

Now I don’t want to single out the Hunts Point wholesalers, since they are just doing what every self-interest group has done to our common future for 30 years.  I write reports on the industrial markets in San Francisco and Philadelphia every quarter, and the biggest news within city boundaries during the past eight years ago has been the construction of new, heavily-subsidized, public food markets.  They already did there what is proposed here.  And the coalition of 41 wholesalers at Hunts Point aren’t acting any different than the New York Stock Exchange, which extorted the city to spend $millions on a new trading floor it never built and which would have been instantly obsolete if it had built it.

But I am sick and tired of the feudalism of New York.  The idea that those who grab special deals that others don’t get have an unlimited right to keep them.  And every time you wake up another such deal has been cut. The general deal, meanwhile, continues to get worse and worse, whether the rent those outside rent stabilization are forced to pay, the income taxes those who are not retired public employees have to pay, the services ordinary people might expect to receive.  When you look at the debt load and deferred public employee retirement costs, you know that will continue to be the case.  And the fact that the deal continues to get worse for those without contracts, deals and privileges goes far beyond the municipal government of New York City.

What I would hope, but not expect, is for the next Mayor of New York City to stand up and say there will be a food center in Hunts Point.  No matter what.  That is not up for discussion.  What IS up for discussion is whether the existing wholesalers, or new wholesalers, will occupy it.  New wholesalers with new suppliers serving new retailers and new consumer distribution channels.  New businesses formed by new younger people financed by new investors.  They’ll be east of the Hudson.  The existing coalition, over in Newark, would have to serve east of Hudson customers from west of the Hudson.  Let the competition begin.  Now that changes the leverage, doesn’t it?

In fact, thinking about New York as an economic, social and cultural entity of 19.6 million people rather than a city of 8.4 million, is there any reason why we can’t have more than one food center?  Do trucks delivering produce to Monmouth County, New Jersey really come from Hunts Point, in the Bronx?  Is that a good thing?  Would two food centers, one in Newark and one in the Bronx, each with a mix of existing and new wholesalers, be better?  The Bay Area and metro Philadelphia each have about 6 million people, and they have one food center each.  Metro New York is the equivalent of three such metro areas, plus a couple of million people.

If one were to add up everything that the most manipulative, most entitled, least considerate, most arrogant people in metro New York believe they are entitled to, it would add up to 120% of all there is, leaving less than nothing for everyone else.  And since the MO for satisfying them without attracting undue attention from everyone else has been to shift the cost to a future that continues to arrive, that less than zero is going down all the time.  Focus on the idea of “inconsiderate.”  When thinking about what they want, what they are entitled to, such people are unwilling to consider what other people are getting, and what the effect on them will be, now or in the future.  A curtain of rationalization stands between their demands other people’s situation, and don’t you dare try to lift it. 

Don’t dare ask the wholesalers of Hunts Point if other food traders get such a huge subsidy. Other than Fresh Direct, of course.  They don’t have that leverage EDC says they do, either.  EDC claimed that if New York City did not pay any price and give the New York Stock Exchange anything it wanted for a new building in the heart of Lower Manhattan, the city’s economy would collapse.  Well, has it?  The city’s economy will collapse because its existing companies become fewer and fewer and not enough new ones rise up to take their place.

The common future, and the common people, only have a chance if we have leadership willing to tell these folks to drop the blackmail, that there are lots of people who want lots of things for themselves in era where things are being taken away, and if they aren’t willing to be part of the solution we’d prefer that they go elsewhere.  But the venue where our elected officials tend to meet up with entitled, inconsiderate and arrogant people is not conductive to that kind of straight talk.  Fundraisers.

With regard to Hunts Point, the existing wholesalers need to know that people can start new businesses to take their place, or could if the city were not handing them a special monopoly franchise.  The new wholesalers would initially be few in number, and hold a small share of the market at first, but that share could grow.  By providing a subsidized property, the city would be freezing such new businesses out, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me. 

That the 41 merchants who are part of the existing group seem to assume that could get a better deal from the next Mayor implies an expectation of a city for sale.  So does the attitude of the public employee unions.  But it’s just as well that they hold out.  Frankly, after that 25/55 deal for NYC teachers and the Fresh Direct deal, I don’t want Mayor Bloomberg cutting any more deals either.