Citizen Bloomberg

How our mayor has given us the business

"My neighbors [in Manhattan] don't vote in city primaries," said a source. "They vote in presidential elections where their vote is useless. They've privatized their lives. Private schools, country houses, Kindles instead of libraries, cars instead of trains."

In exchange for Citizen Bloomberg's benighted leadership, we've accepted a staggering array of conflicts of interest. The mayor's fortune renders obsolete the "traditional" model of interest groups buying off politicians. He not only does the reverse, buying off interest groups to advance his political agenda but also uses his fortune to staff and support his business. At the same time, he builds the Bloomberg brand that supports it all: Bloomberg LP, the Bloomberg Family Foundation, Bloomberg Terminals, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg View, Bloomberg Government, Bloomberg Law, Bloomberg Markets—not to mention Mayor Bloomberg.

The mayor wrote his own rules in a remarkably deferential 2002 agreement with the city's toothless Conflict of Interest Board, and then ignored them when it was convenient, continuing to be regularly involved in his company's affairs and acting in city matters where Bloomberg LP or Merrill Lynch (which until recently owned 20 percent of Bloomberg LP) had a stake.

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.

Top-level City Hall workers, favored legislators, and others have moved freely between City Hall and the mayor's private interests, keeping it in the "Bloomberg Family." Bloomberg LP is now run by former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, while the Bloomberg Family Foundation's approximately $2 billion endowment is controlled, on a "volunteer" basis, by Deputy Mayor Patti Harris. The prospect of a private Bloomberg jackpot job is on a lot of minds around City Hall and throughout New York.

Craig Johnson, the former state senator who lost a re-election bid after bucking his party to back the mayor in supporting charter schools, was hired this month by Bloomberg Law. "I wasn't about to let him go to some other company," Bloomberg said, all but winking. "I was thrilled to see my company hired him. I didn't have anything to do with that."

Beyond the $267 million he spent in three mayoral runs, he documented nearly $200 million more in "anonymous" charitable contributions. And that cool half-billion is just the spending Bloomberg has chosen to disclose.

Harris, now City Hall's highest-paid official, came to the administration from Bloomberg LP. Through her control of Bloomberg's ostensibly anonymous donations passed through the Carnegie Foundation to local institutions, she's served as the Medici Mayor's chief courtier—working for the city while using his private fortune to rent the silence, and occasionally the active assent, of its cultural groups on his behalf. That city giving dropped precipitously when Carnegie was replaced by the new Bloomberg Family Foundation, also run by Harris, which is now spreading cash to potential Bloomberg constituencies nationwide.

As Bloomberg explained in 1997, when Harris worked for Bloomberg LP:  "Her sole job is to decide which philanthropic activities are appropriate for our company and to ensure we get our money's worth when we donate time, money, and jobs. One of Patti's questions is, 'When does helping others help us?'... Not only does Patti commit our dollars, she also follows, influences, and directs how our gifts are used, ensuring our objectives are met."

Elsewhere in his memoir, he adds: "Peer pressure: Its impact in the philanthropic world is hard to overstate."

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News, supported by income from his sophisticated "Bloomberg terminals," has grown to employ about 2,500 journalists, and at some of the best rates in the industry.

After offering up vague statements about avoiding conflicts of interests—no easy task when the boss is a potential presidential candidate, mayor of the nation's biggest city, and one of that city's wealthiest men—Bloomberg View debuted in May with a remarkable opening editorial. The editors conceded that they didn't know yet what their principles would be—"We hope that over time a general philosophy will emerge"—but they were confident they would end up aligned with the "values embodied by Mike Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg LP."

In June, brand-name Bloomberg pundit Jonathan Alter launched into an exceptionally vitriolic attack on charter school detractor and former Bloomberg education adviser-turned-foe Diane Ravitch. The piece ran with no acknowledgment of the evident conflict of interest in taking shots at perhaps the most prominent critic of Citizen Bloomberg's education policies, under the Bloomberg View banner.

Bloomberg seems to view himself as congenitally above such conflicts, explaining in Bloomberg on Bloomberg, "Our reporters periodically go before our sales force and justify their journalistic coverage to the people getting feedback from the news story readers.... In return, the reporters get the opportunity to press the salespeople to provide more access, get news stories better distribution and credibility, bring in more businesspeople, politicians, sports figures and entertainers to be interviewed.... Most news organizations never connect reporters and commerce. At Bloomberg, they're as close to seamless as it can get."

Speaking of seamless, in 2000 Bloomberg rolled out a new city section, just in time for the boss's run. Jonathan Capehart, brought in from Newsday, ended up doing double duty as candidate Bloomberg's policy tutor and his host in different corners of the city, according to former Times reporter Joyce Purnick's biography of the mayor, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics. When the mayor-elect reached out to Al Sharpton on election night to tell him "things will be different with me as mayor," it was Bloomberg News employee Capehart who placed the call.

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