When an artist prepares to capture the essence of an extreme personality — a genius, say, or a dictator, or a lunatic — he looks for the telling detail. In this spirit, we think, the New York Times notes the use of countdown clocks in the Bloomberg Administration. The Mayor’s 2005 relection campaign had employed them, which is not unusual for projects of that sort. But now the Times reveals that the Mayor has installed several such clocks in City offices (and in three offices of his own), each counting down to the end of his term, each bearing the legend, “Make Every Day Count.”
A deputy mayor told the paper “the clocks are useful for ‘keeping the heat on people.'”
The mayor famously prefers a briskly businesslike style of governance, as shown by his “bullpen,” an open-cubicle command center that encouraged quick communication. But the clocks, though digital, remind us more of High Noon or The Bedford Incident than of Wall Street. Toward what is the Mayor’s sense of urgency directed? More legislation aimed at preventing private businesses from letting cool air out of their stores? Putting up more multilingual signs? Whatever you think of these efforts, they hardly seem urgent.
Maybe the Times and their sources misunderstand Bloomberg. Maybe he is more philosophical than we recognize, and the clocks are meant as the political equivalent of a momento mori. Bloomberg has plenty of his own money to pay people to do his bidding for the rest of his life, but when his own clock runs out, all the pomp and panoply of his office, and the fealty of eight million souls, passes out of his grasp forever, will-he nill-he. It may be that he has stoically covered his bailiwick with ticking reminders that glory is fleeting, so they will ever be in his sight.