By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
The list of the unaccountable extends far beyond Deutsche Bank. Department of Aging commissioner Edwin Méndez-Santiago lasted two and a half years after the first of two sexual harassment complaints were filed against him. The city eventually settled both cases, but Méndez-Santiago wasn't dumped until the mayor extended term limits and readied himself for a re-election run. Giuliani's cousin, Ray Casey, installed by Bloomberg as a favor to Giuliani, took a profitable Off-Track Betting Corporation into such a financial tailspin that, six and a half years later, Bloomberg finally prevailed on the state to take the nearly bankrupt bookie over. Robert Walsh, the Small Business Services commissioner, was put in charge of the two great minority initiatives ballyhooed by Bloomberg during the 2005 campaign, and when his agency's mishandling of both was revealed, the mayor said "nobody read" the damning critique.
Aside from Lancaster, who resigned after conceding that her buildings department had mistakenly granted an improper permit to a project in which a crane collapse killed seven, the only other forced departure was finance chief Martha Stark, an election-year fatality. Though a federal probation report, and other government findings, laid the failings that led to the Staten Island ferry crash at the feet of transportationcommissioner Iris Weinshall, Bloomberg retained her for years afterward and celebrated her elevation to a top City University post. Weinshall was an accomplished commissioner in many other ways, but the mayor never held her accountable "for placing an unqualified person in charge of a large municipal ferry service," as the probation report found (also concluding that the top executives of her agency had "a share of responsibility for the accident" that killed seven).
Rudy Giuliani famously said he wanted to "blow up" the independent Board of Education. Bloomberg instead made it his own—persuading the state legislature to disband the board and turn this $18 billion bureaucracy into a mayoral agency. Mike might be hyping the grades, but there's no doubt he has a right to boast.
Let's examine a statistic that neither Bloomberg nor the Department of Exaggeration compiled. The City University Office of Institutional Research & Assessment says that between 2002—when Bloomberg became mayor—and 2008, there was a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of city high school grads who became freshmen at CUNY institutions. There are 8,000 more freshmen matriculating today than when Bloomberg took office.
Audits by Comptroller Bill Thompson have raised legitimate questions about the controls the Department of Education has in place to assure that high school diplomas are being granted only to those who earn them. But it's inarguable that the graduation rate has substantially improved, even if you believe that the 10- to 15-point boost by city standards (and nine points by state standards) can't be trusted. Any comparison with the flat grad rate before Bloomberg—moving only between 48 percent and 51 percent for a solid decade—confirms the reality that this mayor has changed schools for the better. The hike in reading and math scores is certainly a by-product of teaching to tests that are easier than ever, but that only diminishes the level of claimed improvement, not the fact of it.
No other modern mayor has ever said, "Judge me by the schools," and no mayor has been more hands-on, meeting weekly with his chancellor, engaging in the minutiae of operational decision making. His chancellor, Joel Klein, left a guaranteed, five-year, $2.5 million-a-year contract with Bertelsmann to take on the city's toughest, and once thought intractable, public challenge, at a tenth of the salary. He now appears primed to do the bulk of a 12-year term if Bloomberg is re-elected, in sharp contrast with the instability of the eight Giuliani years, when four chancellors played musical chairs.
More than any chancellor in my lifetime, Klein has stood up to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which prefers to micromanage the schools in service of its members. Bloomberg has undercut Klein to negotiate politically inspired contracts with the union, granting giant pay and benefit boosts while failing to win Klein-backed contract changes that would rid the system of bad teachers. The two have combined, however, to create an alternate universe of nearly a hundred charter schools, almost all of which operate outside the confines of the UFT's 165-page contract, and Bloomberg recently announced his determination to double that number. By every standard, these charters, clustered in the city's poorest neighborhoods, are destroying the whispered narrative over the years that "these kids can't learn," narrowing what's called the "Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap."
Bloomberg gave us eight years of bully pulpit on the city's need for pension reform, but let himself be bullied by the labor barons. City contributions to pensions leaped from $1.4 billion to $6.3 billion. Paying the bill for Mike's union alliances will cost New Yorkers thousands of layoffs and diminished services in the third term.
The Independent Budget Office (IBO) offers the following statistical critique of the Bloomberg years: The city budget went from $41 billion to a $59.5 billion projected total for the current fiscal year. Salaries and benefits for city workers went from $22.8 billion to $35.9 billion. Pension, health, and other benefits grew from $5.7 billion to $13.4 billion. The full-time workforce went from 247,681 to 274,696. Debt rose from $43 billion to $60 billion. If a liberal Democrat presided over such soaring numbers, Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman would put a tabloid bull's-eye on his back (for evidence of that, look what they've done to David Paterson, with a record of less imprudence).