The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg

How the benevolent billionaire with no political debts ended up owning us all

The Times called it "a terrible idea" when Giuliani tried to prolong his stay, noting that neither the city nor the nation had "ever postponed the transfer of power" in the belief that it "could not get along without the current incumbent." But seven years later, it decided, after the next mayor and Sulzberger had reconnoitered, that term limits "would deny New Yorkers—at a time when the city's economy is under great stress—the right to decide for themselves whether an effective and popular mayor should stay in office." Conveniently, the paper saluted Bloomberg, before the mayor publicly announced his new third-term pursuit (as did the Post and the Daily News).

We are all used to editorial boards making endorsements determined by their owners, but this was the first time in memory that these three proud institutions had marched in such lockstep on a policy matter after meetings between a political figure and their three owners. But the editorial pages were hardly the only compromised voices. The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which the Times has called the "crown jewel of city political life," was compelled by the mayor and Quinn—who, together, appoint its members—to issue the "draft" of an advisory opinion designed to push undecided council members into the "yes" column. The board assured the council that if the extension passed and a member decided to run for re-election, the thousands of dollars that some term-limited members had already spent in seeking higher office would not count against their cap in a new council race. But it wasn't the substance of the ruling that was dismaying—it was the timing of it. According to sources close to the CFB, Bloomberg and Quinn staffers demanded that the board act before the council vote, with Quinn threatening to pass a similar bill—but with detrimental consequences—if the CFB failed to act. Asked twice if Bloomberg aides had lobbied the board to issue this unprecedented opinion in anticipation of a legislative vote, executive director Amy Loprest dodged the question and finally said: "I can't comment on that." Bloomberg even sullied his own charitable generosity, summoning nonprofits he funds to council hearings to pay homage despite their tax-exempt status, as if there is now a turnstile at his supposedly "anonymous" foundation.

Mario Cuomo trudged down to testify for the extension without revealing that the managing partner at his law firm is a director of Bloomberg L.P. and that the company is the law firm's top client. Ed Koch went from hosting his weekly show on Bloomberg Radio to celebrating the prospect of a third Bloomberg administration. Peter Vallone, who insisted when he was speaker that the only way to undo term limits was by referendum, switched sides without mentioning the $1.8 million in fees his family firm collected last year for lobbying City Hall (to say nothing about his son keeping the family seat). Five unions with fresh new contracts, thanks to Mike Bloomberg, rushed to the witness table, some closing their deals right before and some right after their appearance. Time Warner's Richard Parsons did a stint at the hearing and on his own channel (NY1), even while the Bloomberg administration was extending the company's lucrative cable franchise for six months and considering a 10-year renewal.

Alvaro Diaz-Rubio


With additional reporting by Patrick B. Anderson, Ana Barbu, Beethoven Bong, Sara Dover, and Jana Kasperkevic

No one is suggesting that these giants didn't actually believe their arguments for a third term, but the large number of Bloomberg fans who are also Bloomberg beneficiaries makes it harder and harder to distinguish enthusiasm from interest. His control over a vast city budget, hundreds of millions in private donations, and billions in undisclosed personal investments cloud the authenticity of every nice thing said about him. And a day-after-Christmas decision last year by the Bloomberg-appointed Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) has made his money trail both more expansive and more elusive. At his request, the board decided that he would no longer be restricted to salting away his money in "large, professionally managed mutual and exchange-traded funds." The COIB now allows Bloomberg's influential investment advisor, Steve Rattner, another big third-term booster, to put Bloomberg's estimated $20 billion fortune to work in a wide variety of investments, so long as he and the rest of us never find out precisely what they are.

Supposedly, Bloomberg is only consulted about the broad categories of his investments, and Rattner, whose other top job is advising his lifelong friend Sulzberger, makes the rest of the decisions. Perhaps that's why there was so much press speculation prior to Bloomberg's third-term decision that he might buy the troubled Times, a deal that could have put Rattner at the negotiating table with himself (Bloomberg told Newsweek that Rattner "couldn't represent either" because he's a friend of both). Even Sheekey, who appears to spend much of his fantasy life speculating about what to do with Mike Bloomberg's money, was telling his friends until shortly before the term-limits decision that he thought Bloomberg would go ahead with the Times purchase.

Sulzberger insists that the paper isn't for sale, but with the value of the family's controlling stock plummeting, a generous offer from a white knight like Bloomberg might be too much for some members of the Sulzberger clan to resist, making a third term for Mayor Mike a potential firewall protecting Arthur Sulzberger's ability to continue controlling it.

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