Monday, December 20, 2010

Mayor Knucklehead

A few years ago, the NY Daily News gave CM Joel Rivera its prized Knucklehead Award for suggesting that NYC should look at the possibility of restricting the proliferation of fast food outlets in low income neighborhoods-places where the obesity rates are highest. At the time, we commented on the fact that Fiscal Mike Bloomberg had been presiding over a profligate city administration-yet the News managed to allow the mayor to skate his responsibility-never even suggesting a hint of Bloomerg's knucklehead culpability:

"The NY Daily News opined yesterday-citing the CBC's report-about the ballooning personnel costs that threaten the solvency of city government: "Numbers just published by the Citizens Budget Commission reveal that the price tag for the average city worker has soared to $107,000 a year. That breaks down to $69,124 in pay and $37,619 in health insurance and pension costs.

Both sides of the ledger have gone off the charts since 2000, rising faster than inflation - with the expense of benefits skyrocketing by an astonishing 182%. At a time when the city is going broke, Mayor Bloomberg is contemplating deep service cuts and taxpayers face big hikes, the figures are indefensible."

Absolutely, the situation is intolerable, but the News writes as if the current indefensible state of affairs has arrived through some form of immaculate conception: "New Yorkers have every right to expect that in these tough times the city's labor force will recognize that the public no longer has the wherewithal to foot the bills. Sacrifice - reasonable sacrifice - is in order."
It was through whitewashes like this that Mike Bloomberg has been able to achieve some kind of iconic status as a superior manager and fiscal maven-and when reality began to intrude with dissonant information, it was deftly disregarded. This is why the CityTime scandal is such an eye opener-it punctures this mythical mayoral stature like nothing else could possibly do. After all, the mayor amassed his great wealth through innovations in information technology-exactly the purview of the entire CityTime outsourcing experiment.

Well, nine years later, the Daily News is finally giving up the sycophancy-in a Saturday editorial that will, however, be less read than one that should have been published in the more highly read Sunday edition: "Ten million filched here, ten million filched there - why, pretty soon you're into one of the biggest inside-job ripoffs in New York government history. Had to be tough to pull it off, no? Well, not exactly. Not when management of the civic enterprise - Michael Bloomberg, mayor - has taken a pass on any and all oversight of a hugely ambitious, high-tech overhaul of city personnel practices."

Yes, asleep at the wheel: "The work was assigned to the Office of Payroll Management, a hybrid agency overseen jointly by the mayor and controller. For the period in question, the latter was Bill Thompson. Then the question arose: Who should run the office? Who should be given responsibility for hiring computer experts and consultants to design and build such a complicated system? Forget the right answer. Without so much as a cursory interview, Bloomberg signed off on giving the job to a mope who had worked for the city's child protective agency, who had left that job to become a consultant to the payroll project, who set his sights on running the whole shebang - and who then hired a pal, another child protective agency mope, as a quality control consultant."

Enter Juan Gonzales: "One person got suspicious - and it wasn't the mayor or controller. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez began highlighting the scope of the boondoggle as well as taking note of what seemed enormous consulting fees. Bloomberg was, ahem, not pleased. But his irritation was misplaced. The target was Gonzalez, when it should have been mope No. 1, Joel Bondy, who held onto his job until after the Manhattan U.S. attorney and Department of Investigation blew the scandal wide open."

All of which should have led, but didn't, to Bloomberg pulling a Fiorello LaGuardia-the mayor who always used to say when a mishap occurred: "...but when I make a mistake, it's a beaut." Instead we got his hemming and hawing: "Said Bloomberg: "The issue is that here we had somebody that we trusted, or one of our contractors trusted and that trust was misplaced." Uh, uh. The issue was that Bloomberg blew it, big time."

For this, Mike Bloomberg deserves a Platinum Knucklehead Award. Let's see if Morticia has the integrity to award it to its most deserving recipient.