Blacks on Bloomberg

Leaders Offer a Surprising Mix of Praise and Put-Down

With Bloomberg's black disapproval rating hitting a high of 65 percent in May and inching downward to 59 percent last week, black leaders who give him generally positive ratings offer a variety of explanations for their divergence of views. Scarborough says the mayor's "suffering from the fact—media-created or true—that he's a billionaire out of touch with the common person. That's sent his polls into the toilet." Rangel attributes it to Bloomberg "inheriting an economic basket case," and Owens says that with high unemployment, "you blame the people on top."

Stewart says if Bloomberg were a Democrat, "he'd have a higher rating," adding that as a Republican, "he's taking some of the blame for Bush's economic debacle." The Brooklyn councilman complains that Bloomberg has said "nothing negative" about Governor Pataki or Bush. "Bloomberg hasn't put the blame where it rightly belongs so people put the blame on him," says Stewart, who actually endorsed Pataki himself in 2002.

The mayor's education reforms have also taken a beating in polls of black voters, with 55 percent disapproving, far more than among whites, especially upset with the elimination of community school boards. Yet black officials are far more open to the changes, such as Assemblyman Aubry, who says: "He falls and stumbles, but making schools the keynote is the right thing to do, whether I agree with all of it or not." Leaders understand the political risk Bloomberg is taking to improve the system, Owens and others argue, but all the people see so far is "chaos and inconvenience."

Even Councilman Charles Barron (right), the most strident black critic in City Hall, concedes, "Bloomberg has a way with people that's disarming."
photo: Jeff Day
Even Councilman Charles Barron (right), the most strident black critic in City Hall, concedes, "Bloomberg has a way with people that's disarming."

A Voice check of equal-employment data filed by the city reveals little change from the Giuliani era, whether in the percentage of blacks in the overall and executive workforce, or in the percentage of blacks in the mayor's office. Other indicators—such as black complaints against the police, and food stamp and welfare numbers—show no real advances over the Giuliani era. Leaders like David Jones, president of the Community Service Society, are angry over Bloomberg's failure to counter the economic downturn with policies that target minority youth and the unemployed. Brandon Ward, president of Blacks in Government, is dismayed by the paucity of black leadership within the administration.

Fernando Ferrer, who's already announced an exploratory committee for the 2005 election and ran strongly among blacks in 2001, expects no doubt to tap into this discontent, probably securing the endorsement of even the leaders who praise Bloomberg now. "Is this peace or is this just quiet?" asks Sharpton, who's been out on the presidential hustings for months but promises to be active here again in 2005. "Peace means everyone's happy. Quiet means there's no noise. But it could be the calm before the storm."

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