Squeegee men return to harass New York City motorists

Back in the '80s, drivers in NYC knew the routine. Stop at a light, get swarmed by guys wielding squeegees and buckets of questionable liquids. Slip one a buck to back off — blackmail by piss — and drive on to the next stoplight, and the next squeegee guy. Well, 19 years after Giuliani claimed to exile them from the island, they're back.

As the Daily News reported recently, squeegee men have returned to the streets of New York. In the early 1990s, then newly-elected mayor Rudy Guiliani targeted these itinerant window washers as part of the city's campaign against so-called "quality of life" crimes. Busting low-level criminals (e.g., subway fare dodgers, squeegee men, public urinators), the "broken windows" theory went, sent a subliminal message that general disorder will not fly, the ripple effect of which would reduce the city's more serious crimes. Considering NYC's precipitous drop in all crime during the years that followed, it would seem the zero-tolerance strategy had some effect.

Two decades ago, NYC's unemployment rate was 13 percent. Today it's over nine percent, and the city's seeing its highest poverty rate in 27 years. And so, squeegee men are again manning the city's intersections. Among New Yorkers, it's one of the strongest indicators yet that Wall Street's shaky recovery hasn't lifted the fortunes of many city residents.

Naturally, for every crackhead waving a bucket of effluvia, there's a family man with Windex and a solid work ethic, as reporters have found. But, like in the past, many motorists resent what they feel is a relentless shakedown. We'll see very soon if Mayor Bloomberg will follows the same zero-tolerance policy as the previous administration, or if now's not the time for punishing people with entrepreneurial initiative.

Photo: Michelle Donahue Hillison / Shutterstock