The Hidden History of the City's Greatest Era

Days of whine and poses

Another great falsehood about the New York of that era was that it was somehow less democratic because it was ruled by something called the Board of Estimate. Such slander. The board was composed of three citywide officials and each of the five borough presidents. Its biweekly meetings on big projects and contracts were exercises of pure democracy in action. They were held in a great, carpeted hall on the second floor of City Hall (Bloomberg made it into his private office). These were always standing-room-only affairs: You got to go up to the front of the room and tell city leaders (well, their representatives anyway) exactly what you thought of them. If you peeked down the hallway, you could watch the lobbyists sneaking up the back stairs, whispering instructions to the officials. Meetings often went all night, and there would be great theater—as when Donald Manes, the lovable borough president of Queens and Koch's great friend, would take off his shoe like Khrushchev and pound it on the table. Manes later killed himself in the midst of a huge corruption scandal, and many who had spent late nights at the board mourned him as a friend who'd lost his way. I guarantee you, there is not this kind of connection to the current crop of city officials.

Finally, the silliest knock on the city back then is that it was some kind of jungle, that no one dared live in outer-borough places like Park Slope because they were dangerous. Are you kidding? In the late '70s, before the gentry invasion, there were 14 bars on Seventh Avenue between Flatbush Avenue and 9th Street, all of them friendly and affordable. Paradise. Today? Latte and flower shops.

Michael Sloan


We rest our case.

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