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The Politics of the Pandemic: Crushing the Backbone of America’s Small Businesses

By Phil Orenstein, on January 18, 2021

248 years ago, the British Crown picked winners and losers in the colonial economy of America, creating an unjust monopoly over the tea trade. The Crown ruled that the British East India Company would have the advantage over the American colonial purveyors of tea.

In March of 2020, the New York State Legislature abdicated its authority by granting Governor Cuomo unchecked emergency powers. King George III picked winners and losers in colonial America and discarded the rights of the people, and today King Cuomo, in crushing the backbone of small businesses across the state, has accomplished the same feat.

Over the last 10 months many New York City small businesses and restaurants have closed their doors for good. The ones that are left are on life support. Half of the 6,000 restaurants in Queens, and countless small businesses throughout the state, may not survive the forced Cuomo shutdown.

The essence of a free and democratic society is based on checks and balances on power. Queens County is one of New York State’s 62 counties. Queens suffers from absolute control by one political party.  There are no checks on power and Queens legislators at the city and state level cower at King Cuomo’s exalted powers.  At the end of this political gamesmanship rests the fate of the New York City small business community.  After thousands of small businesses shutter their doors, the autopsy will reveal the true cause of death to put on the toe tag of each dream which was known as a small business. In varying degrees, many counties across the state have suffered the same fate.

A case in point is Antun’s of Queens Village, which is not just a catering house, but a community institution that has been serving all cultures from the greater New York area for generations. Now, like so many other businesses and restaurants here in Queens and throughout the state, they are struggling to survive. Antun’s employs hundreds of staff from the local Queens County region. Because of the arbitrary and capricious dictates of King Cuomo and the politicians who bow at his feet, not only has Antun’s cut its staff down to nothing, but its entire business ecosystem has been affected. Typically, on New Year’s Eve they hire about 100 wait staff to cater to the merriment. This year, zero.

This is not about stopping the spread of COVID. Something else is going on. Widely reported transmission data shows that only 1.3% of new COVID cases come from restaurants and bars, while 74% come from private in-home gatherings. But Governor Cuomo issues emergency directives that do not follow the science and data, and absentee politicians in our one-party town surrender without a fight for the people who elected them to office. 

The New York State Legislature handed over absolute power to King Cuomo. This is eerily similar to the pre-Revolutionary War era when the British were cracking down on the merchant class in America. King George III and the British Parliament strangled colonial merchants by passing laws taxing products sold in the American colonies including tea, and authorized a monopoly on the American tea trade to eliminate competition. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a revolt of the merchant class against the oppressive policies of the British, which led to further “Coercive Acts,” and the shutdown of merchant shipping in Boston and establishment of British military rule.  

This led to the American Revolution, from which our country was born, based on the struggle of small merchants against government oppression, for the sake of liberty. Small businesses and restaurants today face the same oppressive government overreach as the American colonies. Now our politicians, elected by the people, want to throw 250 years of our history down the drain, refusing to stand up to a New York Governor who is acting very much like the tyrannical British King.

Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency back in March and since then has issued dozens of “decrees” including the shutdown of restaurants and bars, and authorized which businesses and regions are essential, and which are not. In Nassau which has higher COVID rates  than Queens, restaurants are open at 50% capacity. Just like George III, King Cuomo picks winners and losers, and Queens politicians, under one-party rule, willingly oblige.

Just over the border, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) has an open invitation for Queens residents to drive out east and dine in Nassau, where restaurants are open and staying alive. Triple Crown Diner in Bellerose, Queens is closed while restaurants across the street in Bellerose, Nassau are open. Lights were out on New Year’s Eve in Floral Park on the Queens side, but on the Nassau side of the street, the lights were on, and people were happily ringing in the New Year. King Cuomo picks winners and losers on the Queens-Nassau borderline, and in similar localities throughout New York State.

Although a Democrat, Laura Curran is fighting for her constituents, and wants her business community to survive. The difference is that Nassau County has a two-party system with a thriving Republican Party to keep the opposition accountable. If Queens had a two-party system, restaurants would be likewise be open at 50% capacity and our local politicians would come out of hiding and end their silence.  Similarly, the Democrat supermajority one-party system in Albany poses a dangerous threat to businesses all across New York State.

But we must not be silent. We will support our small businesses and demand fairness. We must open the economy and stop the tyranny of government overreach. We will work towards ending one-party rule in Queens and throughout the state, and elect Republicans who will go to bat for their constituents. With two robust political parties, all small businesses would be treated as essential, and our communities would prosper and thrive. We call on all fellow citizens to join the struggle for the very survival of our business community.


Phil Orenstein is the president of the Queens Village Republican Club. Established in 1875, it is America’s oldest Republican Club. Historian, Jerry Matacotta, founder of History Seminar Series at Queensborough Community College was the advisor for this article.

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