In yesterday' NY Post, Fred Siegel and Sol Stern get to display their Bloomberg deconstruction project that appears in a fuller form in this month's Commentary-and the authors don't disappoint. First, the mythology: "In the narrative crafted by Michael Bloomberg’s public-relations team throughout the first nine years of his mayoralty, he was the fabulously successful businessman who saved New York’s economy after the 9/11 attacks and then went on to master urban governance without breaking a sweat. Along the way, we have been told relentlessly, Bloomberg became the nation’s leading education reformer, responsible for reducing by half the black-white achievement gap, while also launching lifesaving public-health and environmental initiatives."
For those of you who are frequent readers of this blog, the Siegal/Stern takedown is not anything new-we have been inveighing against the Myth of Mike for the past six years. But it's good to see some of what we have been pointing out get a wider dissemination-and we all agree that the snowfu of last Christmas was the turning point: "But all that was before the Christmas 2010 snowstorm, when this protean genius of 21st-century politics somehow forgot the first rule of New York City governance: The mayor must make sure the streets are cleared before he sets upon saving the world. As a powerful blizzard bore down on the city, Bloomberg, as was his weekend custom, was relaxing at his sunny Bermuda hideaway."
The emperor was finally be de-frocked: "The outrage surging up in the city’s neighborhoods was so palpable that even Bloomberg’s most reliable boosters began making fun of the great manager’s performance. The mayor’s approval rating plummeted to 34%, according to a Marist poll. The rumors planted in the media about his running for president finally, and mercifully, ceased."
In the authors' most trenchant analysis, they point out that this Fall from Grace was no Greek tragedy-precisely because, despite all of the myth making, there was no heroic prelude: "It is tempting to depict Michael Bloomberg’s reversal of fortune in his third term in office — a term he secured by muscling through a change in the city’s term-limits law before spending $150 million to win only 50.7% of the vote — with hubris metaphors drawn from classical tragedy. But this assumes there was glory before the fall. In reality, there never was greatness. There have been no lasting fiscal or education reforms. The story of Bloomberg’s mayoralty is this: There is no there there."
The article goes on to point out how Bloomberg initially went back on his no tax pledge to raise the commercial real estate levy in 2002-a point that we have emphasized because it placed a real hardship, an across the board rent increase, on all of the city's neighborhood retailers. Bloomberg, forgetting his faux fiscal integrity campaign promise, added insult to injury with his haughty response to the criticism of his about face: "This was fitting, he believed, for a metropolis that, he said in 2003, “isn’t Wal-Mart. It isn’t trying to be the lowest-priced product in the market. It’s a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product.” You want to live in and around a luxury product? You have to pay more."
Siegel and Stern also underscore Bloomberg's lost opportunity after 9/11 to rein in the cost of government-one of the reasons we have called the mayor, John Vliet Bloomberg: "The aftermath of 9/11 was an extraordinary lost opportunity for the city. It could have been a moment when, in the name of shared responsibility for bringing the city back to life, spiraling labor costs could have been addressed. Public-sector employees working for the city labored but 35 hours a week and contributed nothing to their own health-insurance premiums. Rather than take up the matter, Bloomberg simply retained the status quo when it came to negotiating with the city’s most important voting bloc. A routine was established: Bloomberg would start out by talking tough about how new contracts could be paid for only with increased productivity, and in response unions would reply in a patented and choreographed “anger” mode. This false confrontation would be followed by a renewal of the old contracts and their counterproductive work rules with a few cosmetic improvements. Thus the need for new borrowing."