Mayor Mike Makes His Case


Editor’s note: Last week the Voice printed its suggested core message speech for mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer. This week it’s Mike Bloomberg’s turn; this is what we think he ought to say. We have tried to make both speeches accurate and realistic. Since Bloomberg has yet to announce a second-term agenda, what’s said here is hunch, derived from his public statements.

I’ve come back here to the New School today because this is where I first said I would not deserve a second mayoral term unless I changed our schools. At a debate in October 2001, I told voters they should judge me by my performance on education, and dump me if I did not make progress.

Now, by just about every measure—reading and math scores, graduation rates, city investment, classroom construction, smaller schools, new books and materials, trained principals, reduced social promotion, and yes, even teacher salaries—we are moving forward.

I said I would be accountable then, when the common wisdom was that our schools were intractable, and I’ve returned today to vow that I will be accountable for the next four years, when most indicators suggest we’ve begun to reverse decades of decline. We have launched the most comprehensive and systemic changes in school management in modern history, and we cannot afford to lose this momentum. The third-grade class that shattered improvement records last year in reading and math will be in high school when the next mayoral term ends; I want to move through the next four grades with them. It took Rudy Giuliani eight years to forever alter our policing practices and crime rate expectations and my administration is building on his legacy. I want my successor to inherit graduation and reading improvement rates so regular they seem routine, just like the continued, gradual decline in crime.

By 2009, I believe we can end the culture of lower expectations that has dimmed the dreams of so many of our young. We can make our schools the engine that drives the work life of our city again, the supply line to Wall Street and corporate midtown, the great leveling source of opportunity and inspiration. We can put the children of our neighborhoods in the jobs of our towers, making the city an interconnected whole, a straight line of promise and possibility.

I am not asking to be socially promoted to a second term; November is no comfort-level review. I believe I have proven myself ready for another rigorous round of challenges and crises, in and out of the schools. It is time for the people I serve to speak—to renew, with your votes, the contract we signed two months after 9-11.

When I began in 2000 to think in a systematic way about running for mayor, I asked an array of advisers a single, sweeping question: “Can I make a difference?” For me, running for mayor was not just a career change, it was a career U-turn. My critics like to deride me for running the city as if I were still the CEO of a privately held, $20 billion fiefdom. So long as my new bottom line is better public education and public health, more New Yorkers employed than at any time in 25 years, the lowest murder rate since 1963, and a transformed racial and ethical climate, I don’t mind the corporate charge. If I am making a difference with the same skills that once earned me billions, I am better for it and so is my city.

On September 11, I remember voting in the early morning and, while walking to my campaign headquarters on Lexington Avenue, where my company was building its new, 15-story headquarters. The site was then nothing but an excavated hole in the ground. I remember watching the Trade Center collapse from my campaign headquarters and acting immediately to secure my company’s telecommunications site downtown and turn it over to city officials for emergency use. I remember my aide Bill Cunningham asking, late that afternoon as we climbed into our campaign Suburban, if I “still wanted to do this thing.”

“More than ever,” I responded. Bill says I almost whispered, but that I looked at him with a steely certainty. A determination gripped me that day and every day since. My old company, which I still own in trust, now occupies that new tower, abuzz with the work of thousands.

And our city, too, has risen. We triumphed over the largest budget deficit in the history of this or any other American city and now have our highest bond rating ever. When the opposition raises doubts about our property tax hike, ask them how else we could’ve closed that gap. Ask them what the alternative was to the surcharge I agreed to impose on the wealthiest. Ask them why a Democratic city council virtually unanimously approved the added burden. And the core revenue remedies we put in place did not merely temporarily plug a gap; they restructured the long-term finances of the city. If we can get hold of runaway pension and other state-mandated costs—which will be a centerpiece of my next term—we can end the annual rite of gap-closing fears.

We also made ourselves more prepared for calamity than we have ever been. We have 1,000 cops assigned to terrorism, 10 times as many on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force as we did on September 11. We have detectives in the Middle East, London, and Europe feeding intelligence to senior police officials who once ran the nation’s counter-terrorism operations. We know we have thwarted attacks and jailed jihadists. We now have a clear command and control protocol that, for the first time, leaves no doubt about which department is in charge at every conceivable emergency, and we have new emergency facilities that are both secure and technologically adept. I am determined to focus in a second term on preparation for climatic catastrophe, while continuing to build our defenses against those who wish us harm.

I have approached the issues of the city’s fiscal and physical security the same way I have approached great challenges all my life. I believe the only reason to talk about a problem is to find a way to fix it. I parked cars to put myself through college, got an undergraduate degree in engineering, was president of my college’s Slide Rule Club, and love to think of myself now as a municipal mechanic. My favorite word is “next.” All I want to know when faced with another tough problem is what can I do to help make it right. And when I focus on solutions, I know I do not have all the good ideas. I find a way to match good people with great challenges for meaningful results.

It is results, not polls or applause, that drive me. I like to go to the theater, not star myself. No drama, no posturing, no personal mayoralty, no public spleen. I figure the less I raise my voice or my profile, the less I incite others to raise theirs. My Democratic critics fault me for not getting in the face of Republicans with the power to hurt or help the city, but I don’t take on Democrats with the same power either. I am more interested in nurturing productive relationships with the powerful than exacting a public price for the latest snub or policy dispute.

And it’s not just presidents, governors, and Speakers that I prefer to deal with rather than deride. When environmentalists and community groups came to me with a solid-waste plan they preferred to my own, I adopted it. I appointed commissioners, including the head of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, who advised my 2001 Democratic opponent. I know that I do not select the leadership of any of New York’s ethnic communities, and I respect and respond to the elected and unelected leaders they choose. I believe it is part of the mayor’s job to include everyone in the governance of this city, not just supporters. It is also my job to bridge, not exacerbate, divisions, recognizing that a mayor’s temperament can become the city’s, making an even keel as much an obligation of office as open ears.

None of this means I’m an easy mark. I took such heat over the smoking ban that my political advisers wondered if it was worth it. Critics dubbed the huddled smokers on sidewalks outside bars “Bloomberg lounges.” Yet my health commissioner can now make the case that the ban and our dramatic, first-year hike in cigarette taxes have saved 60,000 lives. The city has 188,000 fewer smokers and 150,000 fewer people are being regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. When I learned that restaurant and bar workers were 50 percent more likely to get lung cancer, I made up my mind to act, and now even the pubs of Ireland are smoke-free imitations. The property tax hike and the new unified incident command protocols provoked similar protest in what some regard as my political base, but they were as necessary as the smoking ban. One of my favorite sayings during my corporate career was “take a gun to a knife fight,” and I do not shrink from battles that cannot morally be avoided.

I can take the heat because I have no ambitions beyond this job. I will do what it requires. I cannot be lobbied by insiders, seduced by donors, or pressured by special interests. I can only be reasoned with, by anyone with a compelling argument, and I will stand by the decisions we make, together, on the merits. My only job after this one is to sell my company and give my fortune away, hopefully one wise grant at a time. I was fired on Wall Street before I created my company. When I took office as mayor, I did not know if the Conflict of Interest Board would require me to sell my interest in that company, a risk I freely took. I’ve shunned the trappings of office—from living at Gracie Mansion to sounding a police siren every time I wend my way through traffic—because I am a citizen mayor. Once I made up my mind to seek this office, it became all that mattered to me in my life, besides family, friends, and my philanthropic causes.

Ideology is also a registered lobbyist to me. I will not be compromised by it. For example, it is precisely because I come from a lifetime in the private sector that I do not romanticize it, and that I respect prudent public management. Not only did I suspend efforts to privatize our airports and city hospitals, I pressed for public takeover of the dysfunctional and politically wired private bus lines, negotiating a gradual transfer to the MTA. Similarly, no mayor has put more resources and energy into reviving our hospitals—a $200 million operating subsidy, $1.2 billion in capital funds, a new Harlem Hospital. My opponent has repeatedly claimed that I said the poor get better health care than the wealthy when he knows that all I was celebrating was the fact that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now rate HHC hospitals ahead of many voluntaries, as do other professional rankings.

But it’s not just the privatization rhetoric that I’ve rebutted with actions. Ray Kelly and I have proven that you can cut crime 20 percent without alienating communities, that each deadly case of police force requires its own careful examination, and that where, as with Alberta Spruill and Timothy Stansbury, a wrong has occurred, an apology and a policy shift is due.

The same resistance to rigidity guided my core fiscal decisions. I became a student of the budget’s details, burrowing inside its nooks and crannies during 36-hour briefing sessions that occupied my first days in office, redesigning the graphs, studying the history, delivering two-hour assessments of it. The crushing consequences of the fiscal crisis of the ’70s convinced me that I could not allow the even larger budget crunch I faced to destroy services, the way the police, fire, teacher, and other layoffs did then and for years thereafter.

The right howled that my balance of measured service cuts and substantial tax increases would decimate the local economy, with predictions of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and dozens of fleeing companies. I said that my own experience as a corporate executive convinced me that location decisions were more influenced by the service health of a city than marginal hikes in taxes, and they laughed. The 62,000-job gain since new taxes is a stronger rebuttal of this conservative linkage than any think tank orthodoxy can manufacture.

A can-do flexibility has helped me launch the largest affordable housing program in nearly 20 years, double the number of families moved from homeless shelters to homes, double the number of people in health insurance programs, and start a new database disclosing the connections between campaign contributions and city business. In a second term, I will not only continue these initiatives, I will integrate our nation’s least diverse firefighting force, make principals the true managers of their schools, generate development in the neighborhoods we’ve already rezoned, and heighten the role that parents play in framing school policy.

This speech is an unusual statement for me. I prefer to get things done without anyone noticing I’m doing it, but elections require assessments and this is mine. You have a choice between a mayor and CEO who’s managed a government and a company with billions at stake versus a borough president who’s run a staff of 30 or 40. His grandmother and mother were members of a union that has endorsed me. His idea of working in the private sector is running a nonprofit think tank with a couple of researchers. He deplores the fact that I am spending my own money to overcome his party’s five-to-one registration advantage even while he declares daily that he should be elected because of his party. He never mentions that I’ve also given away $5 in charitable contributions since 2001 for every dollar I’m spending on my campaign, which might help put the political expenditures in perspective.

All I can promise in a second term is a steady hand. You will get more, much more, of the same. I turned 60 during the first term and I didn’t change girlfriends. Reporters stopped wailing about my private weekend schedules because I was almost always around. I have been a workaholic all my life and I pledge not to change. I became the chair of the Johns Hopkins board and they named the School of Public Health after me in part because no challenge discouraged me. We decided together to try to wipe out malaria through research and I put my money where the mosquitoes were. These are extraordinary times for our city and that makes them no time for an ordinary politician. I think it’s clear by now that I will never be that.

Research assistance: Jessica Bennett, K. Emily Bond, Ben James, Lee Norsworthy, Xana O’Neill, and Nicholas Powers

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 20, 2005

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