The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg

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

Of course, the Partnership sees itself as a civic association acting on behalf of us all, but Bloomberg has not just been good for business in the broadest sense—he's been especially good for particular businesses, like Jerry Speyer's. Speyer is both an owner of the Yankees and the developer of its new stadium, which is steeped in so many layers of suspect Bloomberg subsidy that both a state assembly and House subcommittee are investigating alleged violations of bonding laws. Speyer was also designated by the city as the developer for the Gotham Center in Queens five years ago and is only now beginning to build a 21-story tower, tenanted entirely by the city health department under a 20-year lease. Speyer started out seeking a city lease for less than half of the building's 600,000 square feet, but when he failed to locate any other tenants, the Bloomberg administration decided to take it all, moving 2,700 employees from 15 different sites to Speyer's building. The city will also spend another $50 million on streetscape and other improvements near the new tower, making it a monument to Bloomberg subsidies, with city-owned land and a $29.6 million starting annual rental stream emanating from City Hall.

In 2006, Speyer also bought Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, an 11,000-apartment heaven for middle-class families for decades. The largest and most controversial real estate deal in American history, with a price tag of $5.4 billion, the Speyer purchase was fiercely opposed by tenant organizations, who submitted their own $4.5 billion offer and were seeking tax breaks and other support from the Bloomberg administration. The mayor refused to intervene, calling Speyer a "great landlord" and declaring, "I think the tenants will be well protected." News accounts later contrasted his hands-off policy on the Speyer deal with actions he'd taken in two other similar tenant fights, with the Times even suggesting that Speyer's unique role in the Manhattan elite may have insulated him.

In fact, hundreds of rent-stabilized tenants have been denied renewal, and Speyer is losing most of the legal cases that have been filed challenging the company's maneuvers. A recently uncovered financial document for Speyer states that the company expects to convert 6,397 units to market rents by 2011, yet Bloomberg insisted earlier this year that he stood by his earlier claim that tenants would be protected. What no one seemed to notice was that just days before the acquisition was completed, Merrill Lynch bought 49 percent of Speyer's partner in the deal, money manager BlackRock. The COIB had ruled when Bloomberg took office that he had to recuse himself on Merrill Lynch matters because of its partial ownership of Bloomberg L.P., suggesting that the mayor should have allowed others in his administration to determine the city's role in the sale.


I remember in the early Bloomberg days—seizing any opportunity to observe, with pleasure—that his money had bought us a leader that was finally free of the circle of donors, lobbyists, and powerbrokers that consumed earlier mayors and confounded the public good.

His message, and it once was true, was that he owed nothing to anybody. He began parceling himself out in the 2005 campaign, when he did five contracts with unions that endorsed him and spent more of our money to re-elect himself than his own. And since his re-election was never in doubt, he dipped into his money and ours, it turned out, for vanity: It merely increased his margin of victory. Imagine how many own a piece of him now.

If you believe it's worth all of this to get a savvy hand at the tiller in turbulent times, think back to what the Times wrote in 2001 when they endorsed his opponent: "Even within the annals of businessmen-candidates, he is ill-matched to the job he covets. His company has no stockholders and no unions. It is a brand-new business, its corporate culture and decision-making structure devised to suit his character. . . . Many of Mr. Bloomberg's greatest talents would turn out to be utterly beside the point." When the bursting collective bargaining, pension, and debt costs of the recent Bloomberg boom years are considered, the Times of old might have had a point. As it also had as recently as June 9, when it warned against a term-limits gambit and urged Bloomberg to seek another office: "We are wary of changing the rules just to suit the ambition of a particular politician."

Bloomberg is so set on writing his own story that he decided to produce a memoir, set for release just as he left City Hall. He asked Margaret Carlson, who is on Bloomberg L.P.'s payroll, to collaborate on it. But he recently put it off, the Times said, because he was worried about its "boastful tone" possibly turning off voters. The book might have had other, related problems: A tell-all is fine for someone walking away from the game, but not for someone about to begin a new campaign. The claimed successes might have been an irresistible target for reporters, and the petty side of Mike may have led him to dish on people he now needs to seduce one more time. Obviously, most candidates would think that a bestseller in a campaign year, with a 300,000 initial printing, would be an asset. But not Mike, who isn't ready yet to buy his own history. He's determined, regardless of the moral costs, to make history instead.

wbarrett@villagevoice.com

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