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New Yorkers, Self-Assured and Opinionated, Defend Their Values

The New York Times logo The New York Times 1/16/2016 By N. R. KLEINFIELD
“I’ve learned you can’t just judge New Yorkers by their appearance,” said Ray Renato, 31, a doorman at a gentleman’s club. “Every time I make an assumption about a person I’m proven wrong.” © Bryan Thomas for The New York Times “I’ve learned you can’t just judge New Yorkers by their appearance,” said Ray Renato, 31, a doorman at a gentleman’s club. “Every time I make an assumption about a person I’m proven wrong.”

There is a broad and recognizable New York persona. It isn’t entirely enviable, not to everyone. Assured. Brazen. Unapologetic about money. There is a New York speed, and it’s rocket velocity. You want directions in the Midwest, someone will take you there, buy you a coffee, invite you later for dinner and to stay overnight. In New York it’s: “Two blocks down, take a left.” Whoosh.

By and large, New Yorkers would not have it any other way.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas saw fit to get on New York’s bad side this week and during the Republican presidential debate on Thursday night, swatting at Donald J. Trump for embodying “New York values” — as if they were a capital crime or something downright psychotic that a good therapist might work you through for $300 an hour.

But what exactly are New York values?

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There is an ambition — king-size. There is an edginess. Chips on many shoulders. There is a tolerance, too, because everything imaginable is here, all day, every day. There is a resilience and collective muscle. Look no further than the aftermath of Sept. 11.

New York exudes diversity. There are a lot of values kicking around. We’re talking about 8.5 million people of every conceivable background, people resettled from dozens of foreign countries who are thought to speak up to 800 different languages (Vlashki, Garifuna, Chamorro). Walk around the block and you can get an opinion from every vantage point on pretty much anything. Politics. Lapel width. Dim sum. The man in the moon.

There is dire poverty and astonishing wealth. New York has more billionaires than any other city in the world: 78.

And yet it has its oddities. At least one historian has suggested the city’s tolerant, profit-focused approach to life stems from the days when it was run by the Dutch. Some of the first tax protests in Colonial America, directed at the 1765 Stamp Act, were in New York and Boston. The National Rifle Association was founded in the 1871 in New York. While the city is certainly liberal-leaning, it has been home to any number of prominent conservative economic thinkers. Milton Friedman was born in Brooklyn.

Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology at New York University, said that when people moved to a city, the very nature of city life transformed one’s mental state. He said New York values included “a high level of tolerance for a wide range of behaviors” since that is what New Yorkers are exposed to on a daily basis. At the same time, he said there was a blaséness that comes from “being able to walk by a level of poverty and homelessness and compartmentalizing that.” And he added, “We are tolerant but we also have a certain superiority complex.”

And New Yorkers do like to talk. Do like to speak their mind. Which they did when they heard Mr. Cruz say that “values in New York City are socially liberal and pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage.”

It’s a Democratic city, of course, with a liberal bent. Some saw his words as antigay, too. Similar loaded phrases about New York in the past have been thinly-veiled cover for anti-Semitism.

Tens of thousands of Twitter messages flooded the Internet.

Lou Brutus wrote: “I have a message for those who doubt the values, integrity, patriotism or toughness of New York ... NO SOUP FOR YOU!!!”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, held an impromptu session with reporters on Friday and laid it out without reservation. “I am disgusted at the insult that Ted Cruz threw at this city and its people,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And the bottom line is he does not understand, in the least, New York values.”

The Daily News conceived a front-page headline that moved the response a large step further: “Drop Dead, Ted.” The Statue of Liberty made an obscene gesture.

Invited by The New York Times to describe the city’s values, hundreds wrote in, most framing them much differently than Mr. Cruz.

Richard Alston, 53, a clinical social worker: “We jump in and help someone when needed, otherwise we stay out of the way. We let folks live, which makes us all more alive. New Yorkers are open-minded and do not live in fear. New York values are synonymous with freedom.”

Some took the occasion to offer some tongue in cheek. E. D. Garvin, 64, wrote: “We like the smell of fire and brimstone with our morning coffee. I’d write more but I have an appointment in 10 minutes to commit lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride ... the usual stuff here. New York Minute. Gotta go!

In an interview, Joe Bednar, 61, a graphic designer, said: “The city is courageous. It’s like the Grateful Dead says, ‘New York got the ways and means but just won’t let you be.’ You put up with a lot here, but there’s a lot of staying power. Most people from New York are from somewhere else. They come here because they have a dream and they’ll put up with anything to make it a reality. They come here because they have ambition so you get the cream of the crop. Everyone else just stays home.”

In their meditations, some people were descriptive and eloquent.

Leah Ross-Kugler, 64, a voice therapist and singer, wrote: “In the mornings, I say ‘shukran’ to my newspaper guy, buy a croissant from the Belgian Jewish bakery, walk to the subway and greet a few neighbors who just moved from Texas to my neighborhood in Brooklyn, get to the subway platform where an 11-year-old Chinese student prodigy is playing a keyboard while I wait for my train.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, put forward this: “New York is in many ways the epitome of what formed this nation and what keeps it strong. The Statue of Liberty is in our harbor. We do believe in immigration, we do believe in acceptance. We do believe in community. We do believe in E pluribus unum.”

Hillary Clinton posted on Twitter that “just this once, Trump’s right: New Yorkers value hard work, diversity, tolerance, resilience, and building better lives for our families.”

Of course, not everyone is charmed by the New York persona. Harry Jones wrote in from Anchorage: “Arrogant, self-centered, in your face, loud, aggressive, I know better than you and have the right to tell you how to live. I am part of the center of the universe and others don’t matter, nor do their values matter.”

Mr. Cruz did not back down. Later on Friday, in response to questions, he issued a fake “apology” that was actually a backhanded attack on all he thought was wrong with the city and state, such as Mr. Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking and Mr. de Blasio’s stance on charter schools.

There is plenty of New York insult history. During his 1964 presidential campaign, Barry M. Goldwater suggested in a television spot that New York was so alien from the country’s values that it ought to be carved out of the continent and floated out to sea.

Reflecting on his visits to the city, Nikita S. Khrushchev once sniffed: “There is no greenery. It is enough to make a stone sad.”

No one has to come here. Everyone but the city’s roughly 10,000 prisoners are free to leave. Professor Conley grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, has lived elsewhere but keeps returning to New York.

Does he embody New York values?

“Guilty as charged,” he said. “The good and the bad.

“I recognize the more problematic part. But on balance, I wouldn’t trade them for another set of values.”

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