Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Mike's Crosstown Traffic

Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it. So goes the saying and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the walking embodiment. He wanted a third term, got the term limits law overridden to attain it -- and now finds headaches on all fronts. He's quietly feuding with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the parameters of how to layoff city teachers.  There's a stunningly embarrassing $800 million fraud-and-cost-overrun scandal involving a contract to develop an electronic timesheet for city employees.

But scholars Fred Siegel and Sol Stern go into full detail on why the, ahem, bloom has left the rose of this administration.  While last December's snow storm perfectly dramatized the collapse of Bloomberg's much vaunted "managerial" reputation, Siegel and Stern assert that the writing was on the wall much earlier:
It is tempting to depict Michael Bloomberg’s reversal of fortune in his third term in office — a term he secured by muscling through a change in the city’s term-limits law before spending $150 million to win only 50.7% of the vote — with hubris metaphors drawn from classical tragedy. But this assumes there was glory before the fall. In reality, there never was greatness. There have been no lasting fiscal or education reforms.

The story of Bloomberg’s mayoralty is this: There is no there there.

It is now abundantly clear that the myth of Bloomberg’s accomplishments was the result of two forces: his own immense wealth and the city tax dollars generated by the stock-market surge of the 2000s. Both sources of revenue, private and public, were used to co-opt and silence his opposition and thereby allow the glamorized portrait of an indispensable manager and the guardian of the public purse to be drawn without countervailing criticism. 
An objective accounting of Bloomberg’s tenure reveals the many ways that Bloomberg’s standing as New York’s richest citizen actually undermined New York’s democracy, even as the city’s fiscal health and essential infrastructure deteriorated.
It's an excellent, comprehensive piece. The "New York's richest citizen" part should be kept in mind throughout.

Meanwhile, if Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and departed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein epitomized the sturdy professionalism of Bloomberg's first two terms, a different individual symbolizes the third one. The Times explored the vexing problem of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has managed to infuriate parts of all five boroughs with what, to many, seems like an anti-car agenda -- bike lanes everywhere and traffic shut down on Broadway at Times and Herald squares.  Indeed, residents of the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn have filed suit over a bike lane around Prospect Park. 

Counterintuitively, The Post, in a rather tongue-in-cheek editorial Monday, urged the mayor to keep Sadik-Khan -- after first noting a Bloomberg quote from last year:
"I've always said that if you want lifetime employment in our administration, you just get The Post to demand that I fire you," you said last December.
Lest anyone think the above quote from Bloomberg on whether he listens to media when it comes to dealing with his closest aides was simple throw-off line that the mayor didn't really believe, I humbly refer you to the following commentary. It didn't see print at the time, but was written by yours truly three-and-a-half years ago after an interesting encounter with Hizzoner. The date was August 28th, 2007. Some elements of the present day troubles might be gleaned even then.

-- Robert A. George

King Michael the First?

You might as well call him that, given that’s the way Mayor Bloomberg sees himself – always correct, never to be questioned, never to be challenged.

Stripped apart from his loyal – and, to be fair, capable – communications team, the real Michael Bloomberg came out to play with a Post writer Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
It wasn’t a pleasant cameo.

Ironically, both Mayor Mike and the Postie were at the National Press Club as guests of the Brookings Institution to speak about recently released poverty figures for the nation.
But the mayor clearly had other things on his mind. Annoyed that The Post had called for the resignation/firing of FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta over the deaths of two firefighters at DeutscheBank, Mayor Bloomberg chose a defiant stance: "If there’s one way to guarantee someone’s job, it’s to demand that I fire him."
When The Post writer responded, "Yes, we know that from [Administration of Children’s Services Director] John Mattingly," the mayor responded with full barrels.

"If I fired Mattingly, who would take the job…he’s the best out there…You can’t fire someone after one incident.’

But, with all due respect, Mr. Mayor, it wasn’t one incident that caused The Post to call for Mattingly’s firing. It was several kids dying.

"There’s always going to be people dying in the bottom 10 percent. You guys just don’t get it. Calling for his firing is basically calling for kids to die. No one else would want to take the job…"

In calling for the dismissals of Mattingly and Scoppetta, one fact should be kept in mind: It is The Post’s respect for the job that the latter did at ACS during the ‘90s that influenced the paper’s view that Mattingly came up short in the same position.

Similarly, it is that same respect that caused a call for Scoppetta’s resignation as fire chief to be delivered with a tone of sadness rather than anger. It’s called accountability.

"Accountability?" Apparently in the Bloomberg administration, that is, to paraphrase the mayor’s co-billionaire, Leona Helmsley, "for the little people."
Little people like the unfortunate lackey in the city’s Albany office caught playing Solitaire on his computer during a royal -- excuse me -- mayoral visit: He was fired on the spot.

Yet commissioners responsible for people dying? Oh, well, so it goes.

The mayor says, "[You] don’t realize how little influence you have."
The people – or the press?
"The press. My polls have gone up despite all your shots at me – trans fats, congestion pricing, John Mattingly…the polls keep going up and up….Hmmm…perhaps, I shouldn’t be so hard on the media. After all, I do own reporters myself."
Own reporters?
That comment was a reference to the media organization that bears his name. Still, someone on King Mike’s staff should remind him that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed the outright ownership of people – for which, apparently, the people of New York should be grateful.
One of the arguments for having wealthy individuals run for office is that they can’t be "bought" or influenced by the temptation to help oneself to the public treasury (see: ex-Comptroller Alan Hevesi).
Alas, in Michael Bloomberg, every now and then, one gets a glimpse of the downside of the truly wealthy politician:

It is that criticism of him or his courtiers is impertinent and illegitimate. It will not be tolerated. Indeed, seen in this light, the mayor’s decision not to take a salary (except for a nominal $1) is hardly a "noble" sacrifice. On the contrary, it further removes him from having the real connection with residents that a true public "servant" would. He doesn’t live in Gracie Mansion. He doesn’t take a public salary. He is answerable only to himself.
The only problem with this formulation is that it has its limits. As the mayor should have learned from the West Side Stadium and Olympics failures – and he will likely learn on congestion pricing – simple force of will and buying various constituencies off can only go so far. (And, yes, The Post actually supported the mayor’s congestion pricing. But, of course, we have little influence, so don’t blame this paper if and when it goes down in flames.)

Eventually, even the biggest – or richest – bully runs into individuals or groups who can’t be bought. They have wealth or power of a different sort. They realize that they will be around longer than a term-limited mayor and can choose to ignore this week’s rich man’s folly.

The rich man then is left to realize that, darn, he thought he had bought the mayor’s office – only to find that he had only just rented it.

Still, this is a good lesson for the next bit of property that his majesty chooses to "invest" in.


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