What goes around, comes around — including that venerable symbol of pre-Giuliani municipal disorder, the squeegee man.
So what’s next, trashed autos in West Side Highway pull-off alcoves, no wheels, sitting on cinder blocks and waiting endlessly for a city tow truck?
Hey, why not?
When French tourists can be slashed randomly in Harlem, when double-digit index crime increases are the new normal, and with subway cars serving as rolling homeless shelters, Midtown sidewalk traffic impeded by peddlers’ blankets and public spaces everywhere crammed with aggressive panhandlers, why wouldn’t there be squeegee men in busy intersections — like there were over the past weekend, around the approaches to the Lincoln Tunnel.
Though it’s not just over the weekend, it seems: Neighborhood folks say they’ve been there for some time.
Again, why not? Disorder unresisted is disorder triumphant — or soon to become so. And Bill de Blasio — ideologically blinkered and epically lazy — has shown no appetite whatsoever for pushing back.
Squeegee men essentially are extortionists: They shmush dirty water on your windshield, sort of wipe it off, hold out a hand for a “tip” and are as likely as not to key your car if you don’t cough it up.
It’s an easy field to enter: All one needs is a dirty rag, a squirt bottle of water, a cheap squeegee — and, critically, the tacit acquiescence of the police.
When all that is forthcoming — as it was in the ’80s and early ’90s — the result is a socially debilitating sense of municipal chaos, followed by rising crime of a more serious nature.
Sounds sort of like de Blasioville, 2020.
Case in point: John Jay College is reporting a massive drop in quality-of-life law enforcement since 2017, with high double-digit declines in tickets and arrests for public urination, open-container violations and so on.
Combine that with the de facto decriminalization of both turnstile-jumping and the public use of marijuana — where can one go in Midtown and not smell it? — and why be surprised that some people take it all as permission to flout the law, if not an open invitation?
Then blend in Albany’s misbegotten criminal-justice “reforms” and the sharp increase in serious crime noted since New Year’s Day seems almost to have been inevitable.
Indeed, taken against the 27 percent increase in shootings so far this year and the 35 percent hike in robberies, the return of the squeegee men might seem like small beer.
But it’s not. Symbols matter.
Back in the Dinkins era, the ever-present squeegee men broadcast a message: Gotham, a great global city, had all but given up on itself.
And those who took a second look saw the abandoned cars, the cracked-out vagrants arrayed across public spaces and a legion of highly aggressive beggars — a confirmation of surrender.
New York’s not quite there yet — thank God for the dramatic decline of crack — but it’s not hard to see the trend lines. That is, the fissures in the facade that signal real crises.
The sad fact is that New Yorkers have elected a political class lacking the fundamental self-respect, and the courage, to stand up to the nihilists now dragging the city down. And, indeed, some of them are nihilists themselves.
Political squeegee men and women, even.
They put up with it, but there’s no reason for hardworking New Yorkers to. Not with any of it.