Thursday, October 01, 2009

Is It a Republican, Is It a Democrat, Is It an Independent? It's Superwealthy Mayor!

Joyce Purnick. Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics. New York: Public Affairs, 2009.

Michael Bloomberg, the wealthiest person in New York, ran for Mayor by spending tens of millions of his own money to fund his campaign. As Jimmy Breslin declared, Bloomberg was buying the Mayor’s seat “like it’s a cup of coffee”.

Bloomberg was not known for giving stirring speeches or making convincing arguments when questioned. He did not appear to have empathy for others as he maintained his businesslike aura. The author describes Bloomberg as “the city’s first, and no doubt last, plutocrat.”

Bloomberg understood finances and he helped steer New York during the national economic crisis. He had the advantage of not owing any interests for his election or for reelection. He could act without needing help from contractors, unions, or other economic lobbies.

Bloomberg championed removing guns from the streets, banned smoking in more public places, and improved race relations. He attempted to reduce gridlock and improved the schools. He fought, and lost, to build a sports stadium in Manhattan and to ban private cars from MidTown.

Bloomberg grew up in Medford, Ma., was an Eagle Scout, faced anti-Semitism in an area where few Jews lived, enjoyed puzzles, science, and solving problems, received mostly As and Bs but with some Cs and Ds, was described as “argumentative” by classmates, attended Johns Hopkins, received a Harvard MBC, had flat feet that kept him out of military service, and went to work at Salomon Brothers & Hutzler bond traders as their first Harvard MBA. He observed the difficulty that existed in getting and information for work. After 15 years, he was eased out by a rival and received $10 million in severance.

Bloomerg used the money to start his own financial information company using computer terminals. It grew to a company with 2,300 journalists and editors in 140 bureaus, a 24 hour research phone line, and with 280,000 subscribes paying $1,590 a month. This phone line system would inspire Mayor Bloomberg to create 311, a number New Yorkers can call at any time to obtain government information.

Bloomberg’s company has no job titles, doesn’t advertise externally, gives no volume discounts, and Bloomberg himself has no assistance or secretary and handles his own business affairs.

Ronald Lauder used his own money to run for Mayor and outspent winner Rudy Guiliani by five to one in the 1989 Republican Primary. Bloomberg was more politically astute in entering his race as a candidate with no political background spending his own money in the race.

New York has a strong Mayor. The Mayor thus is more responsible for events than most other Mayors. Mayor Ed Koch used to say that “if a sparrow died of heart attack in Central Park that he would be held responsible.”

It is a tough job serving as Mayor. The public speaks loudly. Residents generally oppose building anything new except schools.

Once on the public eye, criticism arose of Bloomberg’s past behavior. News he faced sexual harassments charges became known. An old quote of his reemerged, where he stated “I like the theatre, dining, and chasing women. Met me put it this way: I am a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan. It’s like a wet dream.”

Bloomberg increased by double his charitable contributions before running for Mayor, giving $100.5 million to 200 additional organizations, 79 of which are in New York City.

Bloomberg entered the Republican Primary versus former Rep. Herman Badillo, who had few funds and as a former Democrat lacked a strong base. The primary on September 11, 2001 was postponed due to terrorist attacks. The Democrats required a run-off primary. Mayor Guiliani proposed moving the general election back due to the short time between that election and the second primary and also so Guiliani could continue directing post-attack recovery efforts. Bloomberg agreed with moving the election day, and swearing in, dates back. A leading Democratic candidate Mark Green at first was undecided and then agreed. This agreement caused Green to lose popularity amongst liberals (slipping from 70% approval to 50% approval) and African American voters (slipping from 80% to 65% approval). Green won the Democratic run-off primary with 52% to 48% for Fernando Ferrer, yet his electability had been reduced.

Bloomberg explained he wanted to be Mayor because he wanted to make a difference. The press dup up past Bloomberg quotes, such as his stating at a conference “I would like nothing more in life than to have Sharon Stone sit on my face” and if Jesus was a Jew, why does he have a Puerto Rican first name?” Voters were more concerned about the city’s finances and more voters choose Bloomberg, who received 48.9% of the vote to Green’s 46.6%,

Bloomberg took control of the Board of Education away from other city officials. He extended the city’s no smoking area in restaurants to banning smoking in all restaurants as well as bars.

Bloomberg used patronage only for a few former employees and two jobs for relatives. His sister and daughter received jobs for $1 a year, the same salary he took (although he never cashes the check.)

Bloomberg gave large campaign contributions to Republican legislators, especially ones voting on issues he supported.

Bloomberg was worried about reelection. He proposed a residential property tax cut of $250 million out of the city’s $1.8 million budget which would save each owners of a home, co-op, or condo about $400 a year. Large apartment buildings and nonresidential property owners were not included in this cut. The cuts passed City Council and Bloomberg’s approval rating increased from 44% to 50%. They had been as low as 24% two years prior.

Bloomberg sought to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York City. He wanted to build a sports stadium in a neglected neighborhood, Hudson Yards. He presumed State House Speaker Sheldon Silver would be convinced to support building the stadium only to discover he as against the idea all along. 58% of residents were against building a stadium and Bloomberg misjudged the public reaction. Ironically, killing the stadium may have deflected an uproar against Bloomberg that might have harmed his reelection chances.

Fernando Ferror won the Democratic Primary to face Bloomberg’s reelection efforts. Ferrer stated the police shooting of an unarmed Black was not a crime, a reversal from his pervious opinion. Before that statement in March 2005, Ferrer led Bloomberg in polls by 46% to 40%. In April 2005, after Ferrer’s statement, Bloomberg led by 51% to 38%.

Bloomberg tried to introduce congestion pricing to reduce midtown traffic. Speaker Silver supported this idea yet his potential opponent for the Speakership, Richard Brodsiy, opposed it. Silver then decided there weren’t enough votes to pass the legislation and he let the proposal die. While the proposal failed, it attracted national attention for Bloomberg.

Bloomberg switched from Republican to Independent in June 2008. Mike Bloomberg hired Symposia Group to create a Bloomberg for President website. Had the Republicans nominated a conservative, with Obama running as a liberal, some believed Bloomberg could have run as an Independent representing the political middle. McCain’s nomination as a centrist candidate ended talk of Bloomberg’s running.

Bloomberg decided to run for a third term. He had to first change, and convinced City Council to do so, a law limiting the Major to two terms.


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