Going out to a delicatessen for brunch is a distinctly New York City tradition.The ritual survives on the Upper West Side despite the financial pressures of the moment—worries about the city’s rising costs of living and stagnant wages, the slow reduction of entitlements for seniors, and a sense that under the next mayor—whoever it might be—the grime and chaos of yore could return to the streets after 12 years of Bloombergian order.
That being said, the customers at Artie’s Deli on Broadway and 83rd Street aren’t so thrilled with Mayor Michael Bloomberg either. “I would like to see some of what Mayor Bloomberg has done reversed—that’s why I won’t be voting for Christine Quinn,” said Artie’s diner Linda Tsakonas. “He’s congested the city terribly with bike lanes, he’s trying to make the city cleaner with less cars—I think he doesn’t want any cars in the city. Also pedestrian plazas are inappropriate in a Mecca like Manhattan. You need to have roadways open.”
Her friend, Evelyn Bourricaud, agrees. “This is New York, you don’t need to have New York look like Europe,” she said. “[Bloomberg] goes to Germany, London, France, and he tries to bring what he sees there, but this is New York. The mayor gets involved in silly issues.”
Artie’s patrons, like many Upper West Siders, tend to consume a lot of news and vote Democratic, though Artie’s will serve you its famous matzoh ball soup and pastrami sandwiches no matter which way you lean politically. In interviews conducted last week, the health of the economy and fiscal negotiations in Congress were generally the patrons’ foremost concerns. Most of the customers were not particularly tuned into the mayor’s race yet; few could name more than one or two candidates among nearly a dozen running.
A recurring theme among Artie’s customers was concern for the future, particularly whether they would be able to continue living in the neighborhood. “I’m worried that we became out priced, that we can’t live here anymore,” said a woman who lives and works in the neighborhood named Ieshia, who declined to give her last name. “Can you afford to live here? No, you can’t. You have a global young European coming in who has no opinions about anything expect being global and travelling and that changes your community. A one bedroom is $4,300 a month and this used to be Dodge City.”The wait staff at Artie’s has similar concerns, citing the economy, jobs and housing as key issues over the coming year. A loquacious server named George Junior, who, before finding a job at Artie’s two months ago, had worked for 13 years at the Stage Deli in Midtown Manhattan—which closed in December of last year after 75 years in business—voted in the presidential race but doesn’t know who he’ll be voting for mayor yet, if in fact he will end up voting at all. “I haven’t voted in a mayoral race in a while,” he said. “I didn’t like Bloomberg. I didn’t like the other guy. You know what, if Koch lived long enough and ran again, I would have voted for him. How’m I doin? How’m I doin?”
George wants the next mayor to put people to work fixing the city’s roads and bridges and to communicate with the city’s diverse communities. “If you’re going to be the mayor of New York City, which is a very multicultural city, you should be able to get along with every ethnic background, every leader, whether Hispanic, Jewish, [or] black,” he said. “Giuliani wasn’t great at it, Koch wasn’t either, but somehow he got over it. And don’t run the city like it’s your business.”
His co-worker, Natasha Youngman, was more concerned about saving up enough money from work to pay off her student loans. She says she owes about $700 a month and can barely afford to live in a Harlem apartment she shares with her boyfriend. “I went to a conservatory arts program, graduated in a year and a half and now I’m in immense financial debt because of student loans,” she said. “To pay to go to school it’s just outrageous. I have loans from three different banks constantly harassing me and [I’m] working full time trying to pay it off. I can’t pursue anything else because I’m paying off these loans.”
Youngman plans to vote for whomever has the best economic plan that will help young people such as herself and her friends. “A lot of people are going to get welfare, food stamps and a lot of people are applying, they still have a full-time job, but they can’t afford to buy eggs and bread and milk,” she said. “I do have a lot of friends trying to apply for food stamps. They don’t have children, they’re not supporting anyone but themselves, and just to pay rent it takes up their whole paycheck.”
The restaurant’s manager, Barry Orenstein, was one of the few people at Artie’s who knows who he is voting for in the primary this summer. That would be Democrat Bill Thompson. “I don’t like [Christine] Quinn because she’s a sell-out,” he said. “Thompson I like because he should have beaten Bloomberg in the last election. And I don’t like the Republican that’s running, who’s on the board of the MTA. Who else is running?”
Like his staff, Orenstein worries about the growing divide between the rich and poor in the city, which he calls a “chasm rather than a slight break.” But he has other concerns too. “I worry about the lack of respect that younger people have for older people in the city,” he said. “They’re not taught at school to respect people who are older than them. They never give up a seat to the elderly or people who are physically handicapped. Their lack of respect, compared to the way my generation grew up, will manifest itself as time goes. It will be a ‘me too’ generation and they won’t want to help the elderly, in terms of entitlements and financial systems.”
Orenstein also does not believe the city will do much to protect itself from another natural disaster but he hopes the next mayor will try to push forward to seek solutions to climate change and to reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. “Maybe there’s a need for commercial rent control in some way, maybe there has to be either restrictions or more tax on luxury developments, and maybe there has to be laws that earmark monies to go to specific programs instead of the general fund,” he said. “There are issues that can be dealt with. We have the means. I just think it’s a matter of will. The city has a $100 billion budget, and we can’t solve certain problems?”
Tags: Artie's Deli, Barry Orenstein, Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, Ed Koch, Evelyn Bourricaud, Five Borough Ballot, Linda Tsakonas, Michael Bloomberg, Natasha Youngman, Rudy Giuliani, Stage Deli, upper west side