Inner City Diary
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New York and Winnipeg: twin cities in my mind
January 6, 2002
I scanned the front pages of the papers. It sounded almost like Winnipeg.

But this time, the city was New York. On January 1st, Rudy Giuliani handed over the reigns of the city to the incoming Mayor, Mike Bloomberg. One of the wealthiest men in America, spending almost $69 million on his election campaign, Bloomberg took a subway ride from his townhouse to his first day of work at city hall.

The New York Post read "Mike the knife begins first day with calls for cuts." The Daily News quoted Mike's proclamation, "I will not fail." In the article Mayor Mike vows that the city will remain safe, there will be no tax hikes, and he’ll also cut spending.

Is it just me, or do all mayors sound the same? Or are all cities the same? All promise to do more with less than the person who preceded them. I figure they all mean well. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that they may actually have an idea of how to achieve their lofty goals.

The next day the papers quoted police and firefighter unions slamming “Bloomy’s” call for cuts. Advocates for new domed stadiums for both the Mets and Yankees, estimated at about $800 million each, cried foul. Activists expressed cynicism that services to the needy could be enhanced by budget cuts. Two days after the ceremony, the excitement of the honeymoon is seemingly being displaced by the realities of life and politics in New York City.

In this city of New York, as in every other city, there are many things beyond the control of any one person.

The city and its citizens have been humbled by the events of September eleventh. Our family stood on a newly constructed platform staring into the abyss that is awkwardly called “Ground Zero.” It’s one thing to see pictures in the media, it’s another to smell the dust of death on a day when yet more bodies were escorted from the wreckage. We stood silently with others from around the world, chilled by more than the winter winds of New York City.

This city has been humbled, but not paralyzed.

Every morning, countless thousands of people still jam the buses, subways, streets and highways on their way to work. Each seems sharply focused on arriving and returning safely, managing their time and resources successfully.

The dazzling lights of the Times Square entertainment district seem even brighter against the dark backdrop of recent events. Small pieces of confetti from the New Year’s Eve celebration are still whipped up by winds funneled through city streets and lanes.

People lined up for movies and Broadway plays stare at vagrants putting on shows of their own. One fellow unleashed a torrent of accusations against Michael and Janet Jackson, followed by a condemnation of Bush and the CIA. The rants are rhetorical, not inviting dialogue, but eliciting a variety of muted responses.

This city, like most others, is more than a city. There are cities within cities. There are adjacent, yet separate, communities and lives. You cross a street to move from Chinatown’s bustle and smell of fish markets, to the smells of pastries and cafes of Little Italy. Languages and dialects too numerous to count. The Village and Barrio, the garment district and financial district, the spacious shipyards and crowded schoolyards. Each are a study in the contradictions of the city.

I grew up in this town called New York. It’s been awesome to return for a visit, but I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and my neighbourhood in the West End of Winnipeg. This time, as I return, I feel like Winnipeg and New York are closer than I realized. Bold political promises, stark cultural contradictions, and a driving determination to leave the city bigger, better and stronger than before. These are the realities of life in the city – my home.
Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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