Coronavirus threatens to unravel government services all over the country, but one citizen of New York is continuing to enjoy excellent government support: New York first lady Chirlane McCray.
Officially, McCray enjoys eight full-time staff members paid for by New York taxpayers. But according to the City, which first reported the matter, McCray’s staff has quietly swelled to 14 in recent months, with six staffers assigned to work for McCray while nominally employed, and paid, by other city agencies. The staffers’ total compensation approaches $2 million, including a $130,000-per-year ‘director of policy’ and a $140,000 per year ‘communications adviser’ (for comparison, the press secretary for the UK prime minister earns less than $120,000). Other employees in McCray’s retinue are a dedicated social media manager and a $70,000-per-year videographer who produced a video of McCray baking ginger snaps back in April:
— Chirlane McCray (@NYCFirstLady) April 2, 2020
This sort of excess may have been defensible a year ago, when New York harvested a surplus of several billion dollars from its overtaxed residents. But New York, like almost every other American city, has essentially gone broke thanks to coronavirus. Just this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that 22,000 city employees, about 7.5 percent of the city total, will be laid off in October if the city can’t find a way to pay them. McCray herself, meanwhile, was credited by her husband with the decision to cut NYPD funding even as shootings surge in the city.
But no budget crunch is enough to stop the accumulation of retainers and courtiers to America’s political elite. If anything, the coronavirus has accentuated the fungus-like expansion of paid staff surrounding the persons of the powerful. The constant stream of virus-related press conferences has highlighted how many politicians enjoy dedicated sign-language interpreters; de Blasio’s own sign language operation employs at least two people. Less clear to Cockburn is what function they serve, since closed captioning already exists on television, the mayor’s statements can easily be found online, and American Sign Language may not even be in the top 15 of languages spoken in New York City.
And while only four mayors have been assassinated nationwide since World War Two, and not one of New York’s 109 mayors has ever died to blade or bullet, the de Blasio family enjoys a bodyguard worthy of an ancient despot. During de Blasio’s 51-day vanity presidential run in 2019, not only did the mayor have a full 10-person security detail paid for by the NYPD to ferry him about Iowa, but McCray had the exact same detail for her when she campaigned separately. Also in 2019, it came out that de Blasio had his NYPD security detail help move daughter Chiara’s belongings from a Brooklyn apartment into the Gracie Mansion. He also had the NYPD repeatedly ferry his son to and from Yale University, and the officers naturally tagged along during de Blasio’s mighty 12-mile motorcade jaunts to his favorite Brooklyn gym. Instead of protecting the de Blasios’ life, this taxpayer-funded army seems intended to protect their egos instead.
Not that the de Blasios are exceptional. Even as she voted to defund the LAPD, Los Angeles City Council president Nury Martinez had officers guarding her home 24/7. And Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot very publicly declared herself the exception to a general ban on visiting hairstylists during the coronavirus lockdown. In New York itself, 57 city employees have dedicated drivers, including McCray’s chief of staff.
America may be a republic, but as government grows ever-larger and more powerful, local leaders are styling themselves more and more like petty royals. Louis XIV may have had 100 attendants observe him getting out of bed, but he at least had the defense of being an all-powerful absolute monarch. Does the Divine Right of Kings extend to the Mayor of New York?