Citizen Bloomberg

How our mayor has given us the business

Despite the mayor's recruiting efforts, people with bachelor's degrees continue to leave the city in greater numbers than they arrive here, with Brooklyn alone declining by 12,933 such citizens in 2006, according to the Center for an Urban Future, with many of those leaving discouraged by New York's high costs, and the low quality of the public education available to their children.

Mike Bloomberg thinks everyone's dream is to come to the city with an MBA and find an inefficiency to exploit and become a billionaire, or at least get a good job with one, argued three unrelated sources who have worked with the mayor, all of whom asked not to be quoted directly on the mayor's view of himself. His idea that everyone's dream is to be on Park Avenue, say those sources, has alienated and insulted outer-borough "Koch Democrats." Their dream is a house, and Mike Bloomberg diminishes that dream because he thinks everyone wants to be him.

As Bloomberg memorably put it while floating his candidacy in early 2001: "What's a billionaire got to do with it? I mean, would you rather elect a poor person who didn't succeed? Look, I'm a great American dream."

Jesse Lenz
Bloomberg LP's headquarters, the Bloomberg Tower. Nicknamed "the Death Star" by fans and foes alike, the huge screens displaying data, the glass walls, and the open floor space in place of private offices or even cubicles are all meant to symbolize "transparency"—one of the many buzzwords from his business that Citizen Bloomberg brought with him to City Hall.
Celeste Sloman
Bloomberg LP's headquarters, the Bloomberg Tower. Nicknamed "the Death Star" by fans and foes alike, the huge screens displaying data, the glass walls, and the open floor space in place of private offices or even cubicles are all meant to symbolize "transparency"—one of the many buzzwords from his business that Citizen Bloomberg brought with him to City Hall.

Without an impressive public-school system, Bloomberg's vision for New York falls apart. But the public-school "miracle" the mayor touted for years has proven all pitch and no payoff.

Despite a massive 40 percent hike in per-pupil spending during Bloomberg's first two terms, along with a 43 percent boost in teacher pay, the "historic" gains the mayor trumpets failed to register at all on the gold-standard national tests taken by the same students. When new state leaders put an end to the state's easily gamed tests, what was left of the city's years of paper gains disappeared.

The ever-rising test scores Bloomberg had relentlessly promoted fell almost all the way back to the mundane levels that had prevailed when the mayor took control of the system in 2002. The incredible success he's claimed in closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers that's vexed generations of educators disappeared entirely by some measures.

Without high-quality schools to produce a cadre of well-educated citizens attractive to employers, Bloomberg's implicit social contract with New Yorkers—that courting big businesses will help the little guy—breaks down, and the city's appeal to those businesses is seriously tarnished, along with its long-term appeal to employees with children.

"Bloomberg yoked his education agenda to his ambitions for higher office," said Stern, who had initially backed both mayoral control of the schools and Bloomberg's education agenda. "He recognized that the way he was going to prove [to voters nationwide] that he'd given more bang for the buck was through test scores, while at the same time he was also introducing cash incentives to principals and teachers for getting the scores up." (That program was quietly shuttered this month after a city-commissioned study found the payments had no impact on student performance.)

"So he invited the corruption," Stern said, adding that he expects a numbers-juicing scandal to hit before Bloomberg leaves office. New Chancellor Dennis Walcott, responding to reports of grade-tampering in the city and a nationwide wave of such scandals, announced his own investigation this month, but it remains to be seen if the school system can fairly probe itself, and with the mayor's reputation hanging in the balance.

Asked in 2007 how New Yorkers could register their discontent with the schools now that he was presumably term-limited out of office, Bloomberg cracked, "Boo me at parades."

Some New Yorkers have taken him up on that, but more significantly they've also stopped caring enough to vote.

The mayor has indeed governed as the city CEO he promised to be in 2001, redefining public life so that businesses are "clients," citizens "customers," and Bloomberg the boss entrusted with the city's well-being, with no need to consult with the board before acting.

After 1.9 million New Yorkers took to the polls in the 1989 and 1993 contests between Dinkins and Giuliani, less than 1.5 million voted in 2001's nail-biter, and just 1.3 million turned out in 2005, when the outcome was never in doubt. Bloomberg nonetheless spent $84.6 million running up the score in a 19-point win intended to make him look "presidential." In 2009, the mayor, responding to internal polls showing most New Yorkers wanted him out, broke the $100 million mark to project inevitability and discourage voters from showing up at all. Despite perfect weather on election day, three out of every four voters didn't bother to participate. Just 1.2 million New Yorkers voted in an election that Bloomberg won by only 50,000 votes—collecting the fewest winning votes of any mayor since 1919, when there were 3 million fewer New Yorkers and women didn't have the franchise. For the first time, Bloomberg's spending failed to translate into popular support.

As the city's electorate shrank around him—even as its population grew by more than a million people between 1990 and 2010, Bloomberg's political stature swelled. The voters who just stayed home allowed the mayor to hold on to power despite an outnumbered base of the city's social and financial elites and the technocratic planners they often bankroll, a political and governing coalition last seen 40 years ago under fellow party-switcher John Lindsay.

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