The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg

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

If Bloomberg is mayor again, it's certainly less likely that he would bid for the Times, whose total market capitalization is a meager $1 billion. With the obvious cost-saving synergy between Bloomberg's information company and the Times, this acquisition has a business logic that transcends politics, even while it might be already influencing it.

There's just as unnerving and confounding a tangle of interests between Bloomberg and Murdoch. In 2007, Bloomberg L.P. decided, apparently after some consideration, not to compete with Murdoch for The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch similarly decided this July not to compete with Bloomberg when he paid $4.5 billion to buy Merrill Lynch's 20 percent interest in Bloomberg L.P. In this walled-off billionaire playground, it's impossible to tell if any of these third-term mogul endorsements spring in part from a business motive.

The colossus we know the most about is Zuckerman. When Bloomberg ran for mayor in 2001 and the Daily News was the only paper to endorse him, he held more than a half-million dollars of stock in Boston Properties, the publicly traded real estate company that Zuckerman controls (Bloomberg may have actually owned more, but, by law, he was required only to disclose dollar amounts up to that ceiling). Bloomberg had to give up those holdings when he took office, prompted by an earlier COIB ruling, and the Bloomberg administration ended up doing its share of deals with Zuckerman's company—like air rights and other approvals on the company's 39-story tower at 250 West 55th Street. At an October 8 investors' conference, Boston's senior vice president Robert Selsam boasted of the company's success with City Planning, recounting how the firm had secured three complicated variances across five zoning districts that allowed it to maximize floors and footage. "The key," said Selsam, "is knowing how to effectively navigate the review and approval processes" of the city. He didn't, however, mention that he might have a bit of an edge at that game.

Alvaro Diaz-Rubio


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

Zuckerman served as a prime promoter of Bloomberg's presidential candidacy ("He's the most gifted public servant I've ever encountered") before he moved on to become the editorial hammer against anyone who dared oppose a third term (blasting some as "Term Limit Hypocrites" on the same page that called supporters of a similar 2006 bill "shameless"). And the warm embrace between these two raises questions about everything the city does when Zuckerman's interests are involved. Zuckerman tells the Voice that he doesn't think "anything other than the normal process" was done by the city on West 55th Street.

At least Zuckerman doesn't need Bloomberg's cash. Many New Yorkers have an eerie feeling now that Mike's money is literally everywhere and that a city, said to be for sale in the era of the big-time bosses, has actually been bought by a mayor so much bigger than they ever boasted of being. The richest man in New York is also, for the first time, the mayor of the city and one of its grandest philanthropists, making it almost impossible for the rest of us to talk to him without wondering at some level of consciousness: "Can I get a slice of this guy?" His personal and public outlays have flooded the city's bloodstream for years now, and few are so uninterested in a possible transfusion of their own that they will take him on.

The claim that all this was done because of Bloomberg's sudden discovery, apparently in late September, that the city faced a daunting financial crisis is a joke. Had the mayor decided to seek a third term sooner, a referendum could have been put on the ballot to allow voters to have a say about term limits for a third time.

Bloomberg would have us believe that the city requires his mastery of market and municipal economics, though he was one of the few people in town who, by his own account, didn't recognize that the crisis was so severe that the city needed him—until Lehman collapsed, which is when he ostensibly made up his mind to run again. Zuckerman is at a loss to explain why Bloomberg didn't see the crash coming sooner. "I don't know," he says. "I never talk to him about stuff like that." The mayor is such a financial seer that he is still awarding new 8 percent salary increases to supportive unions even while Governor David Paterson is publicly asking the state's unions to re-open their contracts for cost-savings that could prevent mass layoffs. The police union, which used to picket Bloomberg's townhouse and drive him nuts, got such a rich deal recently that the mayor restored four paid days off that state arbitrators had just taken away. Their leader then put in some overtime for the third-term bill.

No one played a larger role in making the term-limit extension happen than public relations giant Howard Rubenstein, who, usually only an agent for the town's invisible heavy lifters, became a "principal" this time, according to those in the know. Rubenstein, who represents Bloomberg L.P., insists he did his term-limits work as a "volunteer." He got client Murdoch in on the deal and sat Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler down with Ron Lauder, another client and the billionaire who got the term-limits law passed in the first place, way back in 1993. Lauder, who was already doing ads opposing an extension, agreed to muzzle himself. Rubenstein also reached out to Zuckerman and Sulzberger, appeared as an unnamed source in the Times story that launched the buildup to the bill, served as the spoon that fed the Post the Lauder story, and put together the press conference that 12 supportive unions held at City Hall. Yet, as intimately involved as he was every step of the way, Rubenstein's chronology of how the mayor made his decision demolishes the notion that the market crash was the cause.

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