During a debate that pitted Florida against New York, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed that “MAGA extremism” will ultimately undermine the Sunshine State, even as it attracts tens of thousands of former New Yorkers.
The Democrat predicted many skilled Floridians would leave the state due to policies such as a newly passed six-week abortion ban.
New Yorkers, by contrast, “feel safe from extremism” and “feel safe from intolerance,” according to de Blasio, who was succeeded as mayor by Eric Adams in 2022.
He argued that his home city remains an unmatched place for opportunity despite what he characterized as “overly restrictive immigration laws.”
New York, a self-described “sanctuary city,” limits cooperation between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The debate titled “Is Florida Eating New York’s Lunch?” was organized by Intelligence Squared and will air on public radio May 5.
The former two-term mayor, now teaching a course at New York University, squared off against Reihan Salam, president of the conservative Manhattan Institute, and himself the son of Bangladeshi immigrants.
Salam presented the viewpoint that Florida is beating New York, while de Blasio took the opposing view.
Salam never seriously challenged de Blasio’s culture war broadsides, which the politician did not fail to miss.
The Manhattan Institute president did note that New York State had been bleeding population at least since 2010 even as Florida’s population surpassed that of the Empire State in 2013. New York, he pointed out, had not become less tolerant during that period, suggesting other factors were at play.
Salam zeroed in on school test scores, public disorder, and, in particular, housing costs. He argued that those factors worked to the disadvantage of New York, driving away the working and middle class even as millionaires proliferated.
“We’re really losing strivers,” Salam declared.
He claimed that the city’s density, which makes it commercially and culturally vibrant, leaves it vulnerable to even small increases in crime, noise, and congestion. Unlike tightly packed New Yorkers, Floridians “can just hop in their SUVs” to get away from certain nuisances, he said.
De Blasio, born Warren Wilhelm, Jr., began by telling the story of his maternal grandparents, who came to Gotham from southern Italy, and whose name he adopted in 2002.
He said he respected Florida and was “not here to be negative to another state.” That assertion, however, appeared to contradict his repeated references to “MAGA extremism.”
Salam, for his part, repeatedly stressed his own love of New York City, saying he personally wouldn’t choose to live in Florida.
De Blasio asserted that the city’s improved tourist numbers since the end of COVID showed that it was gaining new strength.
He argued that even its high housing prices signaled the city’s essential vitality: “The rents are high because people want to be here.”
Moderator John Donvan pointed out that the debaters were conflating New York City and New York State.
On Salam’s telling, that strengthened the case that Florida is indeed “eating New York’s lunch.”
The conservative commentator argued that Upstate New York had lost out because of policies that are more to New York City’s liking. He also blamed unaffordable housing in and beyond the city, also citing suburban sprawl and long, tiresome commutes from places like the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.