Friday, November 8, 2013

Bye, Bye Bloomberg—Bumps Aside, It’s Been a Triumphant Trip

Is the mayor contemplating his
wealth or the city's future?
For more than a decade, Michael R. Bloomberg governed the Big Apple. Entering politics after years as a business entrepreneur, he adapted to the process and departs with conspicuous accomplishments. To paraphrase an iconic line from a Grateful Dead song, it’s been a long, sometimes contentious, yet triumphant trip.
Some Election Day exit polls indicated that more than half of those surveyed approved of Bloomberg as mayor, but they also felt it was time the city had a new direction. And while no can predict the future, a change is gonna come.
As the quality of life appreciably improved under Rudolph Giuliani, who had a knack for alienating those with whom he clashed, New York advanced even more under a mayor with a more agreeable demeanor. However, Bloomberg, too, sometimes heavy-handedly snubbed dissent.
The toughest jobs for New York’s 109th mayor, Bill de Blasio, may be to maintain that level of achievement and attain the ambitious progress pledged throughout his campaign. To accomplish that will be nothing short of a miracle, especially moderating the city’s income inequality.
There’s no question that the city prospered under Michael Bloomberg, even when he made tough, unpopular choices. Many feared the worst when Bloomberg ordered city agencies to trim budgets, to layoff and reduce staffs and services, including 20 percent of City Hall workers, to help shrink the city’s huge deficit, but they eventually proved to be the right moves.
Nonetheless, Bloomberg exits with many municipal union contracts in limbo. Those leftovers will be one of de Blasio’s first dilemmas. The outcome of those settlements, which will undoubtedly involve concessions, could set the tone for his entire administration.
Unlike his predecessors, Bloomberg took control and stabilized a beleaguered education system and restructured its bloated bureaucracy that had been mismanaged for decades. While some argue that public schools are better off today than a decade ago, they see eye to eye with opponents who contend it will be quite a while before significant improvement is evident. Even so, Bloomberg deserves credit for putting what many believed to be an unmanageable system on the right track.
Crime under Bloomberg reached lows not seen for almost half a century. In spite of this, the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy needs to be modified to end its palpable unfairness without undercutting police routines. Statistics confirm that Stop & Frisk had minimal impact on overall crime reduction.
Another Bloomberg success is the 311 phone system that has weathered its share of problems, but generally works efficiently for handling New Yorkers’ complaints.
He irritated smokers and business owners when he raised cigarette taxes and subsequently banned the habit in public and private establishments. But, it was a breath of fresh air and the first of a few decisions that has boosted health citywide. His unwelcome trans fat ban a few years ago has gone nationwide as the FDA this week called for similar limitations. Yet, his effort to mend New Yorkers’ health by limiting oversized sugary drinks proved to be unpopular with the masses, who most likely celebrated the state’s Appeals Court decision to reverse the city’s Health Department’s order with a Big Gulp.
Bloomberg rankled motorists when he doubled parking fines and changed midtown traffic patterns to ease the flow of vehicles, and, of course, to bolster city revenue. Traffic grids are better, but will never be tolerable in compact, heavily-congested areas, like midtown. The higher penalties are avoidable if conscientious drivers don’t double park, which does obstruct smooth traffic flow, and remember to feed parking meters.
When the mayor shut down a city landfill it was embraced by Staten Islanders, but he left the ongoing debate, whether or not to build a waste transfer station on the Upper East Side, for his successor to resolve.
As de Blasio pointed out, Bloomberg set a pattern that largely benefited big businesses and higher-income taxpayers, but marginal prosperity barely trickled down to small businesses or the masses. Bloomberg, the mayor-elect charged, neglected working class New Yorkers. Combined with the national economic recession that course helped widen the separation between rich and poor.
De Blasio slammed Bloomberg for leaving behind “a tale of two cities” divided by economic inequality under the pro-business, pro-development agenda that readily cooperated with real estate developers. Even after community hearings, which turned out to be futile, builders were accommodated to construct luxury dwellings as neighborhoods became unaffordable, forcing current residents to relocate. 
Nevertheless, under Bloomberg, the city survived and somewhat thrived during a recession that arose in the wake of the lingering nationwide financial meltdown and the aftermath of 9/11. In good economic times or bad, few citizens like tax hikes or budget cuts and layoffs, but, early in his administration, Bloomberg had no alternatives and those decisions proved worthwhile.
A Boston native, who became a billionaire entrepreneur behind his eponymous financial data and media empire, lifelong Democrat Michael Bloomberg switched to the Republican Party in 2001, and spent $73 million to win election over Democratic challenger Mark Green. Bloomberg topped that outlay by $12 million against his next Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer, in 2005. He later became a political Independent and, after he convinced the City Council, by a 28-22 margin, to make him eligible for a controversial third term, he defeated Bill Thompson, with a whopping campaign spending tally that topped $100 million. His vast wealth afforded him the opportunity to self-finance campaigns, at any cost, while dodging campaign finance laws his opponents were compelled to obey.
As a journalist there were a few occasions when I covered Mayor Bloomberg in Canarsie. Though I never directly spoke to him, I sensed the Manhattan-centric mayor appeared at these obligatory Brooklyn events just for the photo opportunities. In the end, he came, he posed, he hit the road.
Bloomberg foes felt this was his attitude
for most of his 12 years in office.
The departing mayor’s public persona was personified by his detachment from New Yorkers in the outer boroughs. Intentional or not, some critics attributed that to Bloomberg’s billionaire status, which left him out of touch from most New Yorkers. More often than not, he seemed to barely make an effort to empathize with problems from which a man of his standing was disconnected.
 Maybe the finagled third term was one too many. Regardless, there’s no denying that Michael R. Bloomberg walks away from City Hall on December 31st with the kind of legacy most predecessors should envy and most successors will find hard to emulate.