This is what it has come to – Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for President of the United States, disparages an American city in hopes that it will endear him to his kind of voters. Who are these people he is hoping to entice into pulling the lever for him? It matters not really, but what does matter is what the man said, how he said it, and what it means in the big picture in the race for the White House.
Of course, Cruz was attacking fellow candidate Donald Trump when he spoke of the man’s “New York values,” as if it were a contagious disease needing a cure. Donald Trump is many things, but one thing is certain – he is as New York as a bagel with a schmear.
At heart Trump is a Queens’ boy and, growing up not far from where he did in Jamaica Estates, I have heard people talk as he does my whole life. Despite all the trappings of his wealth and living in that glitzy tower on Fifth Avenue, he still speaks like all the people I knew and he makes no pretense about it. His accent is New York, while Cruz sounds like what he is – a slick politician born in Canada and trying to pass himself off as American as apple pie and Chevy.
Looking at the Republican candidates on the stage in South Carolina last Thursday evening, we saw some desperation and some anger. There are guys like Dr. Ben Carson, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who are clearly out of the race but hanging on by their fingernails. Then there are Florida senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, still in the hunt but coming to the point of no return, and there are Cruz and Trump – clearly the frontrunners.
So Cruz gets into his head – or someone close to him did – that he should go after the New York aspect of Trump. After all, isn’t New York envied and despised by most of the rest of the country? Especially those living in those red states? Cruz must have thought, “Won’t they all love this attack and support me in the primaries?”
Unfortunately, Cruz miscalculated the trajectory of his attack. By attacking New York Cruz was not just trying to stick it to Trump, but he stabbed at the heart of the Big Apple. No matter all its faults – and I grew up here so I do know they are many – New York is America. We are the crossroads of the world with the Empire State Building and the new Freedom Tower as symbols that most of the world recognizes as not just New York City but America. And lest we forget, there is that beautiful lady in the harbor, holding a torch that has welcomed people to our shores for over a century. The Statue of Liberty is what America is all about, Mr. Cruz, and also what New York City represents.
Mr. Trump heard Cruz’s words and then went right back at him, like any New Yorker Trump’s a fighter who then mopped the floor with Cruz. In what only exacerbated his apparent stupidity, Cruz stood there clapping as Mr. Trump knocked him out as he spoke of the titanic effort of everyone – not just New Yorkers but people from all over America – who came and sweat tears as they fought smoke and started rebuilding from day one after the attacks.
The New York Daily News featured a fitting response to Mr. Cruz on the day after the debate. This cover, criticized by some people as going too far, is actually as New York as it gets. You rub us the wrong way or say something inherently stupid as Cruz did, and you’re going to get this reaction. The beautiful thing is that it’s not just New York flipping the bird here – Lady Liberty represents all of America telling Cruz to shut his trap and go back to Canada.
The day after the debate I was in my local coffee shop, which is as much the crossroads of the world as Times Square in many ways. People were buzzing about Cruz and none of it was good. If anything, Cruz seems to have united New Yorkers of all stripes – black, white, Republican, Democrat, even Mets and Yankees fans – and they all spoke negatively about Cruz and positively about Trump’s reaction to him.
Old Manny, the former Brooklyn Dodger fan usually dressed in Mets gear, on this morning sat dressed resplendently head-to-toe in Pittsburgh Steelers everything. As a lifelong Jets fan, I have no idea how any New Yorker cannot be either a Jets or Giants fan, but nevertheless old Manny clearly loves his team and I joked with him about it. Still, Manny is a sage and often makes clever comments about everything from soup to nuts.
On this morning I asked Manny what he thought about what Ted Cruz had said about New York City values. Manny looked down at his coffee in the quintessential blue and white New York paper cup, stirred some sugar into it, and then looked up at me and said in an accent not too unlike Mr. Trump’s, “That Ted Cruz – he ain’t even worth anything you could buy in the 99 cents store.” Wow, Manny always hits the nail on its proverbial head!
Getting back to what Mr. Cruz said, he had an opportunity to apologize the next day, but just as in the debate he missed the chance to score any points. He gave what we New Yorkers would call a half-assed apology, which basically means nothing.
To borrow from old Bill Shakespeare, Cruz’s story is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing. With a few weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Cruz may have time to repair the damage done, but probably will be treading water all the way.
As a New Yorker I don’t have to guess as to what Cruz was trying to say – I know exactly what he means. All New Yorkers from Governor Mario Cuomo to old Manny in the coffee shop know what he means, and his failed attempt to score points against Trump is nothing but despicable.
Sadly, Cruz knows nothing about the real New York City. The New York City I know, despite all its problems, has a heart as big as the town itself. All of my life I have known so many good New Yorkers – ones who ride the subways, go to work every day, and make this city what it is. It’s the construction workers, the firefighters, the police, the teachers, the sanitation workers, the EMTs, and all the blue collar and white collar people working long hours in office buildings. New York is Broadway, Lincoln Center, Central Park, and the United Nations – where representatives from all over the world meet. New York is that guy who gives up his seat on the subway to an old woman, the person who will take you by the arm and show you where to find a museum, and the kid who looks up at the skyline and is proud to call it home.
You don’t know New York, Ted Cruz. From the looks of things, you don’t seem to know much of anything. Where I come from, we would say, “Not for nothing, but you’re a jerk.” Goodbye, Ted Cruz, we hardly knew you, and on behalf of all New Yorkers, we want to keep it that way.
Photo credits: foxnews, ny daily news