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Aug. 7, 2020, 11:57 a.m. EDT

The Great Return: How to get the wealthy to come back to New York City?

The governor and mayor have differing views on courting Richie Rich

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By Ellis Henican


iStock
Skyscrapers along Central Park, also known as Billionaires' Row.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio don’t agree on much these days, but they are singing one verse of harmony: It sure would be nice if some of New York’s wealthiest COVID-19 refugees would come back home. Leave their Hamptons hideaways. Exit their Hudson Valley quarantines. Depart their Connecticut weekend manses, return to New York City, and start paying their full share of taxes again.

But that, right there, is where the sweet song ends. When it comes to making the Great Return actually happen or deciding what it even means, New York’s two top leaders are at each other’s throats again.

Cuomo is sounding like a frustrated maître d’, not quite able to usher the big tippers back to what had been their usual tables.

“I literally talk to people all day long who are now in their Hamptons house and also lived here,” the governor bemoaned to reporters in the city. “And I say, ‘You gotta come back. When are you coming back? We’ll go to dinner. I’ll buy you a drink. Come over. I’ll cook.”

He must have a lot of rich friends!

See: ‘I can’t believe this is America.’ Confronted with unprecedented need, New York food pantries try to fill in the gaps

But even the promise of chicken cacciatore alla Andrew hasn’t been enough to drag these well ensconced refugees back to New York City. 

“They’re not coming back right now,” Cuomo insisted. “And you know what else they’re thinking? ‘If I stay there,’ they pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge.”

So the last thing the city and the state should be thinking about right now is raising rich folks’ taxes. Or so Cuomo argues. That could convince some of the Richie Riches to stay away for good.

But to the city’s progressive mayor, those are fighting words.

“Fair-weather friends,” de Blasio grumbled about selfish city dwellers who are hiding out of town until a vaccine is found and the recent crime wave blows over. “This city is for New Yorkers who live here, who work here and fight to stay here,” the mayor sniffed. “We must build our policy around all New Yorkers…We don’t make decisions based on the wealthy few. I was troubled to hear that concept.”

If people with money want a voice in the city’s future, de Blasio suggested, they should get their butts back to the boroughs right now.

Also read: Mortgage applications for suburban homes are surging as buyers try to escape the coronavirus pandemic

These are tough times, the mayor emphasized. The city budget is a disaster area. People rich enough to have two or three homes—should they really be ducking the city income-tax surcharge by temporarily shifting their residences? If they were spending money like they used to, at least the city would be getting its share of the sales taxes.

“The rich are getting richer,” de Blasio said, summing up his argument. “Wealthy New Yorkers can afford to pay a little bit more so all of us can get through this crisis.”

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