Monday, July 07, 2008

Bloomberg's Business Accolades

In the NY Times this morning, there's a fascinating article about how the city's "titans" are on the look out for someone to replace Mike Bloomberg; someone who, just like Mayor Mike, is above the "special interests:"At charity balls and board meetings, on putting greens and in telephone conversations, New York’s corporate titans are on the hunt: Michael R. Bloomberg will end his reign as mayor in 18 months, and they are desperate to find someone from their ranks to take his place."

In the view of the corporate elite, the mayor has broken the mold, an indication that they feel he has done a remarkably good job at reflecting their own class interests: "They have told colleagues that Mr. Bloomberg’s financial independence, his lack of party affiliation and his corporate, by-the-numbers approach to management have created a golden age of New York City government that none of his would-be successors seem poised to reproduce, according to people familiar with the conversations."

All of this rhapsody, however, is a mask for the way in which Mike Bloomberg has embodied the corporate interests to the extent that he has almost made lobbying on behalf of real estate goals to be superfluous: "Business leaders, of course, have a vested interested in recruiting one of their own, like Mr. Bloomberg, to run for mayor. The Bloomberg administration is considered an ally to many corporations, especially developers. Rezoning projects under his watch have opened large swaths of the city to new construction. And Mr. Bloomberg, especially, travels in the same orbit as many of the city’s elite; he goes to their functions and they to his; he gives to their causes and they reciprocate."

Make no mistake about this. The chattering among the permanent government types is not a reflection of any disinterested concern for the public good. When they talk about "special interests," they're referring to those that counteract their own self-interest. What they like about the mayor is that he's not beholden to these countervailing forces, and has allowed their interests to flourish.

In our comments about campaign finance reform we have pointed out that the city's law aggrandizes labor interests and hurts business. In this case, however, it is more so for smaller business concerns that lack the resources of larger firms-companies with legions of lawyers and consultants that can still bundle large sums. Still, the mantra surrounding the law's passage was that it was taking politics away from those dreaded special interests. Nonsense!

In both cases, whether we have corporate toadies crooning about Mayor Mike, or council speakers rapping about reform, the picture is the same: certain interests are elevated while others are held back-stymieing the democratic rough and tumble of politics. And as the Times piece highlights, all's not rosy in Bloomberg land: "Of course, Mr. Bloomberg’s model as the chief executive-mayor has proved problematic at times. Many attribute Mr. Bloomberg’s high-profile failures — a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan and congestion pricing in Midtown — to his blunt, my-way-or-the-highway style, which is better suited to the boardroom than, say, the State Assembly."

In the Times piece, the paper also highlights the potential candidacy of our client John Catsimatiidis. Our less than disinterested perspective is that what separates him from Mike Bloomberg is a genuine concern for people-he's a product of the streets of New York and, while comfortable in the suites, has never lost his perspective about where he comes from. On the contrary, Mike Bloomberg is an unabashed elitest.

It is also, in our view, way too soon to bestow garlands on the mayor's accomplishments, and the benefits of the corporate model. We take issue with the following: "He hired top-flight managers, regardless of party, and judged them on rigid measurements. He took control of the school system and instituted a blunt new A through F rating system that judges schools on performance and on students’ progress. He pushed forcefully for a smoking ban, embracing an unpopular political fight that few career politicians would dare to take on."

An examination of the Bloomberg hires would yield a less than bipartisan picture since he recruited heavily from Ed Koch's old stable of retreads-and we're hard pressed to pinpoint the Republicans that have been chosen to lead city agencies. In addition, the mayor's educational achievements are less than meets the eye.

As far as the idea that no career politician would have taken on the smoking ban, the Times forgets that it was Speaker Peter Vallone who initiated this fight, and there's little doubt that he would have successfully finished it if he were elected mayor in 2001. Bloomberg, however, never even campaigned on the issue, so busy was he blowing $80 million worth of smoke on the voters of the city.

The Times piece is a useful depiction of some of the important questions facing voters in 2009. What kind of person is most qualified to run the city? Should business success be considered as a qualification? If so, is this the sine qua non of requirements? In our view, we need to look for someone who not only has a resume of success, but who also has the ability to empathize with the plight of the average New Yorker and see their perspectives and interests as important. Mike Bloomberg never has or will.