On New Year’s Day, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was sworn in for her first full term. In the speech that followed she said “We must and will make our state safe … we have to make our state more affordable … And we must reverse the trend of people leaving our state in search of lower costs and opportunities elsewhere.”
The governor of New York is choosing not to understand why people are fleeing her state.
I know because I was one of them.
A year ago, my husband and three children got on an airplane, moved to Florida and never looked back. Our move had made the news. I’m a columnist at New York’s storied newspaper, the New York Post, but more than that I had long been New York’s greatest champion.
My family had arrived in Brooklyn in 1978 from the Soviet Union. Raised in Flatbush and then Bensonhurst, I returned to Brooklyn after college to live in Greenpoint. I made the big move to “the city” when my career started taking off and lived on the Upper East Side.
I moved to the Upper West when I married my husband, also a lifelong New Yorker with a similar story about an immigrant family (from Israel) growing up in the boroughs (Queens.)
We eventually moved back to my Brooklyn, to Park Slope, and planned to raise little New Yorkers in the dream home we built for ourselves. Ours was the classic story of the American dream and making it in America’s gateway, New York City.
Then COVID hit. We saw a lot of people flee in the early days but we never considered leaving. This was our home and fear of a virus would not push us out. We had survived 9/11, the blackout of 2003, Hurricane Sandy. New York would bounce back, we believed, of course it would.
It wasn’t the virus that killed our New York dream. It was the political reaction to that virus. The George Floyd riots in the summer of 2020 shook us but not nearly as much as the response from public health officials saying the protests were OK or the politicians covering for the destruction of cities across the country with woke platitudes.
Every conversation seemed to take a similar path. COVID was a giant danger, we were constantly told, so you must do what we say.
Schools in New York City couldn’t open, obviously. Well, except private schools. Only public school kids needed to be kept extra safe. And masks needed to be worn all the time. It was necessary! Yes, even outdoors! But then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo was almost never photographed in one and his successor Hochul, who kept masks on toddlers until the middle of 2022, was rarely seen in one either.
My husband and I sat on a Long Island beach that summer of 2020 and said words we could never have imagined: we’ve got to go. We have to get our children out of this.
But we didn’t go. Because leaving the place you had loved for so long, where your family lives and where your dream of your life was supposed to take place is harder than it sounds. When schools went from their ridiculous part-time model to fully closed in November of 2020, that’s when we got semi-serious about getting out.
We got a vacation rental in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, an area we hadn’t heard of before, and enrolled our three children in the local public school.
For nearly five months, we lived a life New Yorkers like us could not imagine. The kids went to school every day. We went out to dinner. We never wore masks outdoors. It was normal and normal was glorious.
During that stay, I interviewed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the first time. He said words my New York leaders would not say.
He talked about putting children first, how important it was for him personally that schools opened for Florida kids, and how he was ready to fight for these kids. Meanwhile, in New York, the politicians were also fighting…to give Teachers Unions whatever they wanted at the expense of kids.
We went back in May of 2021 and we still were not ready to abandon New York. We had one foot out the door but one foot still in our dream Brooklyn home. Maybe we could make it work?
Schools did open for full-time learning in fall of 2021. But masks were required, even outside, even though Dr. Anthony Fauci himself had said that was unnecessary.
My kids ate lunch on the ground outdoors, urged to mask between bites, while the elderly Gov. Hochul traipsed the state, maskless, eating as a normal person living a normal life.
Meanwhile, crime was continuing to spike. But conversations around the crime wave were much like the conversations around COVID. There was correct language and correct ideas.
The multi-million dollar townhouses on my block still had their “Defund Police” signs in the windows. Police were bad and crime, well, did it even really exist?
Talking about crime was racist, talking about ideas on how to fight crime was racist, it was better to not speak at all. So many people did just that. Why have a fight in a Facebook group to say you were worried about crime when people would just shut you down with numbers saying that crime wasn’t even that bad yet or that concern about crime showed your privilege. It was easier to just be quiet and move away. Many people did just that.
There wasn’t one moment that broke us, and severed our ties to our home city, but a million little moments. My middle son struggled with masking and would often get in trouble for having it under his nose. Again, outside, in nearly 2022.
Our youngest was falling behind academically. The mask was stunting his verbal skills. He was hard to understand and was having trouble understanding his teacher.
In November of 2021, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was photographed maskless indoors. In her defense she tweeted “I wear a mask most of the time indoors. We took them off as people were having a hard time hearing us.”
Well, yes, that’s the problem with masking. My son had a hard time being heard in school for years. For years. And she did not care whatsoever. But, again, hypocrites will be hypocrites. It was the silence from my fellow New Yorkers about stuff like this that was impossible for us to take.
There wasn’t one moment that broke us and forced us to finally make the move. We made the decision in late November of 2021 and by early January we were on a plane to Florida. We landed in our short-term rental and the kids started school, maskless, for the second half of the school year.
We were done. We are free. A few months later Gov. Hochul would urge Republican New Yorkers to “jump on a bus and head down to Florida.” She included the dig that they’re not New Yorkers.
Her spiteful, hateful, leadership caused people to do just that. Now, as the news hit in the New York Post last week that over 2000 millionaires left New York during the pandemic, she has to beg for people to stay. These millionaires didn’t leave “in search of lower costs and opportunities elsewhere,” they left because of her leadership.
They didn’t suddenly realize Florida had no state income tax. They saw the writing on the wall for New York just as we did. I appreciate the poetics of Hochul’s latest comments and I appreciate even more that I get to do that from afar.
A question I get asked a lot is if I have any regrets about the move “now that COVID is over.” New York continues to have COVID restrictions aimed specifically at children.
My sons’ Brooklyn public school continues to do all of their school events outdoors. A recent one was held while it was 45 degrees.
Parents who haven’t been vaccinated for COVID-19 are not allowed inside the school buildings.
It’s 2023, we know the vaccine doesn’t control spread, and yet some parents haven’t been inside their kid’s classroom since 2020. It’s madness and it continues.
There’s also the additional fear that masking could be reimplemented at any time.
When Philadelphia and Boston discuss masking in schools, New York City parents tell me they worry their schools will be next. It’s a worry Miami parents simply don’t have because of Gov. DeSantis. Leadership matters.
Because our move was so public, I’ve heard from people all across the country. I’ve heard their struggles in leaving their families, their hometowns, their dreams of a certain life for themselves and their families.
It wasn’t just New Yorkers fleeing. People across the country left for similar reasons. They didn’t just end up in Florida either. Texas, North Carolina and many other states picked up the refugees yearning for a better life.
Not everyone I hear from is fully happy with their move. Some aren’t sure they landed in the right place. But I have yet to hear from anyone who is going back.
The great majority of people who contact me are like us: full of gratitude and happiness that we got to sanity, to safety, to normalcy. We’ll always love New York and wish for it to return to its former glory. But we’ll do that wishing from the Sunshine State that has become our family’s home.
Every year, our family celebrates the day we came to America. July 20th is our Americaversary.
On January 3rd our family will celebrate one year as Floridians. The concept is similar. Pursue freedom and celebrate where you find it.