Monday, January 10, 2011

Bruised Bloomberg Brand

The WSJ has an interesting piece on the mayor's fall from grace-but perhaps he really didn't have all that far to fall since the state of grace he had obtained was achieved, in our view, through the purchase of indulgences: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg has started the new year with his reputation as a first-class manager suddenly in question after a post-Christmas snowstorm left New York paralyzed for days. Critics of Mr. Bloomberg say his administration's sluggish response to the Dec. 26-27 blizzard—coming on the heels of a scandal involving the theft of $80 million from the city's long-delayed computerized payroll system—may have damaged the mayor's legacy."

Which gets us to the central question of whether the mayor's previous state of grace was, " or was it Memorex? The Journal points out the following: "In his nine years as chief executive of the nation's largest city, the mayor has earned plaudits for solving multibillion dollar budget deficits, taking control of the city's school system and spearheading a number of ambitious public-health initiatives, including a popular citywide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars."

But, as we have been saying-ad nauseum in all probability-is that the plaudits are less than deserved given the reality of the mayor's accomplishments-particularly in the area of fiscal management, where he has drastically increased the size and scope of government while precipitously raising NYC's debt. In addition, his school governance achievements were way over hyped-and were built on both fraudulent test scores and a massive increase in expenditures for education.

So, in our view, the mayor's collapsing reputation resembles a falling house of cards-and Wayne Barrett makes a similar point in his NY Post essay yesterday; but adds an important observation about the role played by the mayor's haughty personality: "We have found with the CityTime scandal and the blizzard bungle that Bloomberg has brought less of the corporate management style that made him a billionaire to government than we thought. But he does appear to have transferred to the public sphere the imperiousness of the corporate personality, a resolute and awkward distancing designed to insulate the boss from charges of soft-touch favoritism."

This is underscored by the mayor's need to play the public health scold-and when his management acumen gets snowed under, his schoolmarm personality over such ephemera as salt in our diet and sugar in our soda grates even more harshly on a public that thinks he is neglecting core government responsibilities. But let's be honest, there is a certain schadenfreude watching the billionaire know-it-all fall flat on his face in the snow-hoisted on his own imperious petard, if you will.

On top of this is the fact that it was a snowstorm that did the mayor in. Why is this so significant? Because for nine years he has prattled on about carbon foot prints, sustainability, and global warming. Bloomberg, who was likely jetting to a warmer clime while the folks of Bensonhurst and Throggs Neck were salting their drive ways, was skewered by a snow storm that his elite cohort of climate alarmists said was a diminishing phenomenon. One wag captures this elite-mass divide:

"You couldn’t have asked for a better snapshot of the chasm that divides today’s so-called expert classes from the mass of humanity than the snow crisis of Christmas 2010. They warn us endlessly about the warming of our planet; we struggle through knee-deep snow to visit loved ones. They host million-dollar conferences on how we’ll cope with our Mediterranean future; we sleep for days in airport lounges waiting for runways to be de-iced. They pester the authorities for more funding for global-warming research; we keep an eye on our elderly neighbours who don’t have enough cash to heat their homes."

The fact that Blooomberg bungled the clean up simply dramatized this elite separation-especially in Brooklyn, as Tom Robbins points out: "Mayor Bloomberg clearly will need a big shovel if he wants to dig himself out of this political storm, and it looks like the next opportunity is heading his way," says Lee Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. The mayor's support is weakest in the most populous borough: More than one out of three Brooklynites questioned in the 600-person survey marked Bloomberg as doing a "poor" job in office (34 percent)."

In the end, even while trying to give the impression of contrition, the mayor is simply not up to the task-and the lingering question of his whereabouts, and his refusal to come clean, will roil the investigatory aftermath for some time: "The mayor is beginning the dig out today with what the Times calls a "blizzard level" attack on an expected five-inch snowfall. But he's drawn the line at fessing up where he was in the hours before the real blizzard hit on Christmas weekend. "Why don't you say when you're out of town?" was the not unreasonable question from a reporter at the mayor's press conference yesterday. "There's no reason to," sniffed the mayor."

Michael Goodwin dramatizes this point-and we'll give him the last word on the slow and steady devolution of the Bloomberg brand into a NYC knock-off:

"Hoping to fix the blizzard screw-ups and his own reputation, Mayor Bloomberg made a belated admission last week. "We did not know where all of our trucks were," he said. "We did not know how many stuck cars and buses there were. We did not have the kind of information we needed to respond." It was a mayor culpa -- up to a point. For as a friend adds to the list of unknowns, "And New Yorkers didn't know where their mayor was." Bloomberg won't admit it, but it's a safe bet he was out of town when the blizzard hit New York. He insists on a right to privacy, and I don't begrudge him that.

But no right is absolute, and his privacy rights end when they conflict with his job of providing public safety. That conflict came during the blizzard, and at least two deaths probably can be attributed to the woeful city response. Things might have been different if the mayor had been on scene instead of "in touch" with those aides who were. It's still a guess which aide was nominally in charge in his absence because, of the seven deputy mayors, not a single one seemed to be on hand in the crucial hours. Guessing about city leadership in an emergency is not something New Yorkers should have to do. After all, the next time could involve something far, far worse than snow. Nearly 10 years after 9/11, it is shocking and frightful that City Hall doesn't have its emergency-response act together."