Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Belling the Bloomberg Cat

The NY Times has a long piece yesterday on the move to force the mayor to publicly acknowledge when he will be out of town-something we have commented on here, and here: "His poll numbers have slid. His first choice to lead the city schools turned him down. And the budget deficit? Don’t even ask. But of all the aggravations that have accompanied Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s final term, perhaps none is as unexpected, personal and stinging as this: Now people have the temerity to ask when he is leaving town."

Imagine that? The long winter of our discontent about the mayor's whereabouts-and the quiescence from the local press about it-may now be ending: "After shrugging off his globe-trotting, none-of-your-business disappearances for nine years, lawmakers are suddenly pestering City Hall aides about the mayor’s weekend whereabouts."

And the best sign that things are about to change around here is that ridicule has replaced indentured servitude: "Editorial writers have derisively compared him to the perpetually camouflaged Waldo, wondering how New Yorkers are supposed to find him. And a member of the City Council is exploring a bill that could — what’s this? — require Mr. Bloomberg to notify the public every time he, say, jets off to Bermuda for a round of golf."

Something that he has been doing with impunity for nine years-and the impunity immunity ended with the Christmas snowfu-an event that deconstructed the Bloomberg, "he doesn't have to be in town to be in charge," narrative: "A mandatory sign-out sheet for the billionaire mayor? City Hall seems apoplectic. But the clamor is unlikely to die down, largely because the mayor refuses to disclose where he and his top lieutenants were when his administration botched the cleanup of the Christmas weekend blizzard, creating confusion about who was in charge. During such a crisis, said Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., “No time should be wasted trying to figure out who is in power.” Mr. Vallone has made inquiries about legislation that would compel City Hall to disclose whenever a mayor leaves town, and who is in charge during his absence."

We'll let you in on a little secret about this-it was our suggestion to Peter V that set this snowball rolling down the side of a snow covered hill; and it's growing: "In the complicated marriage between Mr. Bloomberg and those he governs, there had always been an unspoken understanding: He ran the city well, and they resisted the urge to poke into his private life. His handling of the Dec. 26 snowstorm, however, appeared to change that. Now, New Yorkers are treating him like, well, an ordinary public official, demanding pesky information like whether he is on their continent during a disaster. “He is now being treated as mayors in New York City have historically been treated,” said Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, who under the City Charter would become mayor if Mr. Bloomberg were incapacitated (or, theoretically, stuck indefinitely in the Caribbean)."

It's about time that Mike Bloomberg is held to a standard that all other mayors have adhered to: "Still, the hyper-secrecy that surrounds Mr. Bloomberg’s comings and goings is highly unusual. Mayor Edward I. Koch not only shared his vacation itineraries with the world, but also held teleconferences with the news media from wherever he was visiting. New York governors have routinely disclosed where they will spend their day, whether or not public events are scheduled. At his most coy, Gov. David A. Paterson alerted constituents that he was in Suffolk County — clever code for the beachside villages of the Hamptons."

The fact remains that real leadership-especially in a crisis-demands the presence of a leader; and not some disembodies electronic presence: "For a decade, Mr. Bloomberg has steadfastly rejected calls for transparency in his personal travels, arguing that in an age of instant communication, nobody needs to know his exact location. The mayor, he argues, is mayor whether he is in City Hall, or Singapore, or somewhere in between. Pressed to explain how he can govern from abroad, his aides for the first time disclosed the high-tech apparatus he used to remain in communication. He has equipped his private planes with satellite phones and has access at all times to an emergency government communications system that was designed to operate even if the telecommunications system was sabotaged or became overloaded."

All this high tech gadgetry, however, got plowed under by the December blizzard-demonstrating that absence of the chief executive cannot be subject to the whimsy and arrogance of our billionaire mayor-hey, after all, even the president lets us know where he is when he jets out of town: "Even the president, whose job Mr. Bloomberg has at times compared to his own, does not try to hide his movements. On Christmas Day, for example, the public was told that Barack Obama skipped his morning workout, watched a basketball game on television and left his Hawaiian vacation home at 3:26 p.m. in a short-sleeve shirt and dark slacks. Reporters who inquired about how Mr. Bloomberg spent the day were told this: no comment."

Bloomberg exacerbated the situation by his failure to actually have anyone in charge while he was sinking his putts:

"Increasingly, that answer seems, even to his closest allies, insufficient. During hearings about the blizzard, held by the City Council, lawmakers struggled to determine who was in charge over the Christmas weekend. Under city law, when Mr. Bloomberg leaves the city, mayoral power falls to the public advocate, unless it is delegated to a deputy mayor. But the Bloomberg administration has tried to set up a blanket policy: Rather than delegate power each time he leaves New York, Mr. Bloomberg signed an executive order stipulating that his first deputy mayor, Patricia E. Harris, was in charge whenever he was away. Under the same order, if Ms. Harris was not in town, power then skipped to the deputy mayor for operations, a job now held by Stephen Goldsmith. As the storm rolled toward New York City on Dec. 25, Mr. Bloomberg was in Bermuda, where he has a waterfront vacation home, according to three people told of his travels. Mr. Goldsmith was in his Washington town house. As for Ms. Harris? Nobody would say."

Can anyone say nonfeasance? The mayor's folks are pushing back-but the clubs have all been left in a bag on the Bermuda golf course: "Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor, said such legislation was unnecessary because Mr. Bloomberg never fully ceded his authority, making it unimportant to disclose who was where. “Leadership and decision-making powers of the mayoralty,” Mr. Loeser said, “remain with the person who was elected mayor." He said Mr. Bloomberg had earned his privacy. “The mayor is at work by 7:15 most mornings, and entitled to hours off and a private life,” Mr. Loeser said. “And whether he’s in Bayside, Bay Ridge, or visiting his mom in the Bay State, he’s always reachable and always in charge.”

Except when he isn't, and is not. And we'll give the last word to a simple Bay Ridge resident who captured the esence of the mayor's arrogance: "And it seems likely to resonate with residents still upset about the problems caused by the holiday storm. “I completely support it,” said Marsha Zoback, 57, who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and struggled to navigate the snow-clogged streets with a bad hip. “If you don’t want to tell people where you are going,” she said, “don’t be in public office.”