Cuomo Wields Imperious Axe Against NYC Restaurants

Restaurant owners and workers fight back.

Power-hungry Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York is singlehandedly starving New York City’s restaurants. By executive edict, Cuomo ordered the city’s restaurants, which were barely getting along as it was, to once again shut down their indoor dining services completely. Cuomo the grinch did so just in time for the holidays, when restaurants were hoping to make up for at least some of the revenue they have lost this year. By decimating the restaurant industry, Cuomo is also destroying the livelihoods of low and middle-income New Yorkers. For many restaurants, Cuomo’s draconian order is their death sentence. Restaurants are closing permanently in droves.

Restaurant owners and workers have reached their breaking point. Together with industry leaders, they protested in Times Square on December 15th. “Save our restaurants! Save our jobs!” protesters chanted before marching to Cuomo’s Midtown East office, the New York Post reported.  “The situation continues to get more and more dire, and the shutting down of indoor dining during the holidays, when New York City restaurants are providing the safety measures, is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Jeffrey Garcia, president of the New York State Latino Restaurant Bar and Lounge Association (NYSRBLA), said at the protest. “We need action immediately.”

A restaurant owner lamented that “now that we’re unable to pay rent due to the shutdown, I’m afraid that I’m going to lose everything altogether.” Another owner said, “My employees don’t have a job two weeks before Christmas. It breaks my heart.”

An executive chef/owner of two lower Manhattan restaurants pointed out the ripple effect of the shutdown. "It’s important to understand that the restaurant industry is an ecosystem, so when you shut down restaurants you are looking at a serious domino effect from the purveyors to the farmers and the employees,” he said.

“How will I pay rent, buy food, support my family?” a long-time cook at a West Village restaurant asked. “That is what I am afraid of.”

Cuomo has turned a deaf ear to the real human suffering his order is causing. The governor, who has long boasted that he looks at the data and follows the facts in making his decisions, is now ignoring the data and facts completely. He has taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Contact tracing data released by Cuomo proved how his exercise of raw power to shut down indoor restaurant dining lacked any justification rooted in genuine health concerns. Private household gatherings accounted for nearly 74 percent of the spread, based on statewide contact tracing data compiled from September through November. During this same period, when New York City’s restaurants were open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity, restaurants and bars accounted for merely 1.43 percent of the spread.

Cuomo’s reckless elimination of indoor restaurant dining will drive more New Yorkers to attend private household social gatherings during the holidays, exacerbating the worst source of the coronavirus spread. Somehow, outdoor restaurant dining in subfreezing temperatures is not very appetizing.

In a demonstration of his “let them eat cake” mentality, Cuomo said that restaurateurs should be “happy” that he has not shut down businesses yet completely. He warned that “if we don’t change the trajectory, we’re going to go to shutdown, and then your business is going to close.” But in the same breath Cuomo admitted that “Overwhelmingly, the number of new cases are coming from small gatherings, living room spread. The problem in the spring was going out. The problem in the winter is staying home and inviting people over.”

So, why in heaven's name did Cuomo shut down indoor restaurant venues where people could go out and socialize in a safer environment than if they did so at someone’s home? Cuomo could have chosen to keep his 25 percent capacity restriction in place for New York City, coupled with mandating certain safety measures such as the installation of air filtration systems suitable to protect restaurant patrons and staff from COVID-19. Instead, he shut down New York City restaurants’ indoor dining completely just because he could.

Studies have shown that capacity limits are effective as a reasonable alternative to total shutdown. “There is data that shows that capacity restrictions can be beneficial in decreasing transmission risks at certain places along with other types of measures as well,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, as quoted by the New York Times. “In general, I’m in favor of capacity restrictions when the alternative is to have just zero capacity and not allowing businesses to operate.”

Moreover, even though coronavirus positivity rates in other parts of New York State were higher than in New York City, Cuomo lowered his sledgehammer only on New York City’s restaurants. As of December 15, 2020, Manhattan’s 7-day average positivity rate was 2.8%. New York City as a whole had a 7-day average positivity rate of 4.1 percent. The 7-day average positivity rate in the Capital Region, including Albany from where Cuomo rules, was 6.2%. Yet Cuomo so far is keeping Albany’s restaurants open for indoor dining.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was fully on board with Cuomo’s decision to shut down indoor restaurant dining in the city. Shedding crocodile tears, de Blasio said, "The folks who work in our restaurant industry have been through hell, let's be clear. I feel for every one of them...we've got to bring this industry back, but it's going to take time, and in the meantime we need to stay safe.”

Back in August, however, the worst mayor in New York City’s history showed his true leftwing stripes when he framed indoor dining as an economic class issue. De Blasio said that indoor dining was “a very optional activity, which some people do a lot who have the resources and others can’t do at all because they don’t have the resources.”

For de Blasio, even people who want to eat at inexpensive fast food joints, diners and pizza parlors are amongst the privileged class. As for the workers in restaurants who are being let go – de Blasio and Cuomo would have them eat the leftover cake from the restaurants forced to go out of business. 

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