Citizen Bloomberg

How our mayor has given us the business

Much as City Hall staffers dream of a Bloomberg job as the big payoff for their loyal labors, few reporters will go out of their way to tweak a potential employer, let alone one who frequently lunches with their current boss. And especially one whose long-rumored ambition is to buy the Times one of these days—a buzz that the mayor's camp hasn't discouraged, Berlusconi comparisons be damned. (The Italian prime minister and Ross Perot are two of Bloomberg's neighbors when he weekends in Bermuda).

Along with Berlusconi, other comparisons heard in various conversations about Bloomberg included his Trump-like leveraging of his name ("It would be me and my name at risk. I would become the Colonel Sanders of financial information services.... I was Bloomberg—Bloomberg was money—and money talked"), his Hearst-like seduction of legislators with private jet rides and self-serving party-jumping, and his Rockefeller-like use of his private fortune on behalf of the state GOP, though for very different reasons.

The lifelong Democrat who became a Republican to dodge the mayoral primary has also given millions to the state GOP (as well as $250,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2002, and $7 million in support of the 2004 Republican convention in Manhattan). The cash shipments continued even after the mayor left the party in 2007 to hitch his star to the misleadingly named "Independence Party"—run in the city by crackpot cultist Lenora Fulani.

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.

While Bloomberg's support for the GOP dwarfed the money he channeled to the Independence Party, both received just a drop from his enormous bucket of cash—which still made Bloomberg easily the state Republicans' biggest patron, his table scraps their feast. The party repaid that support in part with their ballot line in 2009, two years after he'd left the party, to go along with his "Independence" line, which proved crucial to his 2001 and 2009 wins, and would have been key had his presidential plans moved forward.

His Albany cash, though, has often failed to pay off. Perhaps that's because Bloomberg hasn't been willing or able to salt the state's interest groups and leadership class as thoroughly as he has the city's—his political persuasiveness and popularity have always been coterminous with his cash. In each of his terms, major aims—Far West Side development, congestion pricing, and teacher hiring—have been simply abandoned in the capitol without so much as a vote. Those losses came despite dealing with three weak governors before Cuomo, whose dramatic ascent has left the mayor further diminished. (One of Bloomberg's rare wins in the state capitol, mayoral control of the city schools, was actually given to him by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the mayor's most frequent Albany foil—who had withheld the same gift from Mayor Giuliani.)

Given Citizen Bloomberg's success in buying off the city's opinion makers, cultural institutions, community groups, and organized protesters, it's no wonder the mayoralty began to feel too small for him, and he spent the bulk of his second term trying to leverage it into the presidency. While his signature congestion-pricing plan failed in the city, it succeeded in landing him on the cover of Time. He followed up by a nationwide victory tour with then-Chancellor Joel Klein and well-compensated occasional sidekick Sharpton to tout the school system's "amazing results."

The master salesman, who talked of transparency while keeping his own cards down, used his fortune to establish at City Hall the "benevolent dictatorship" he saw at Salomon and then employed in his private business: "Nor did so-called corporate democracy get in the way. 'Empowerment' wasn't a concept back then, nor was 'self-improvement' or 'consensus,' " Bloomberg writes in his business memoir. "The managing partner in those days made all the important decisions. I suspect that many times, he didn't even tell the executive committee after he'd decided something, much less consult them before. I'd bet they never had a committee vote. I know they never polled the rest of us on anything. This was a dictatorship, pure and simple. But a benevolent one."

But dictatorships never last. "Once Bloomberg leaves a room, it doesn't exist to him," said one source, skeptical that the mayor would care about maintaining his influence after he exits office. But given the value of his name, he is taking care to be sure that it isn't damaged in the exit process.

Campaign filings released last Friday show the lame duck nonetheless spent $5.6 million on TV and direct mail spots promoting himself in March and April. And after failing to groom a successor, the mayor has belatedly been trying to institutionalize parts of the Bloomberg way.


"The administration is finally trying to do systematic reform, that's what [Stephen] Goldsmith is here for," a source said, referring to the former Indianapolis mayor who emerged as a star of the 1990s "reinventing government" movement, and signed on for Bloomberg's third term as a deputy mayor. "I think he's really frustrated. He complains a lot about lawyers."


While Police Commissioner Ray Kelly reportedly mulls a Republican run, buzz has been building that Bloomberg will support City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, his Democratic partner in changing the term-limits law, as his successor. A slush-fund scandal left her damaged, but a third term she and the mayor pushed through bought her time to recover, along with a chip to cash with him. Mayor Koch last month outright said that Bloomberg had told him he was backing Quinn, before Koch dialed back his words later the same day.


But some of the Bloomberg-for-Quinn hype has come from operatives with reason to find a new patron once the billionaire exits office. The mayor, meanwhile, has reason to want a pliant speaker in his final years.


"Even if he does back her," a source noted, "he's not giving her $100 million for a campaign, or to wield as mayor. Once he's gone, it's done."


hsiegel@villagevoice.com
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