Mayor Bloomberg officially left office yesterday after 12 years as NYC’s head honcho. His tenure as mayor was a mixed bag, from my point of view. On the one hand, he appointed a Dept. of Transportation head halfway through his second term who rode her bike to work from Brooklyn every day and who is largely responsible for the explosion of bike lanes and pedestrian zones in the city over the last six years. (I voted for Mayor Bloomberg in his third campaign because of her. She’s awesome.)
On the other hand, the police department under Ray Kelly employed surveillance and stop & frisk tactics that probably (definitely) crossed the line when it came to what is allowable by law. He was fortunate that most, if not all, of his targets were people unequipped to take their cases to the higher courts. And all Kelly had to do was mention that NYC had not been attacked (despite several attempts) since 9/11 to have most people looking the other way.
In the year following 9/11 Mayor Bloomberg tried to shut down a large number of firehouses, citing budget difficulties but backed off that plan in short order, possibly fearing he’d be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. We New Yorkers love our firemen, and you mess with them at your peril.
Then there was the “soda ban” fiasco.
Bloomberg’s education policies also get a thumbs down from me, but I can’t think of any politician offhand who gets a thumbs up from me in that regard, so it’s kind of a wash.
On the upside, his views on gun control and his staunch defense of the so-called “ground zero mosque” are to be admired.
Overall I thought of Mayor Bloomberg as someone who did some good things but was out of touch with the everyday New Yorker. As a billionaire businessman, being out of touch is not that surprising.
However, an article in this past Sunday’s NY Times makes me wonder if maybe Mayor Bloomberg was not quite as elitist and out of touch as we all thought (or were led to believe). The fact that he did not take a salary from the city during his time in office was no secret (he was officially paid $1/year), but other items mentioned might well have been. Is it elitist and out of touch to donate 100K a year to a struggling public theater company in Queens? Or to give 30 million dollars to create a program for underprivileged black and Latino men?
Apparently Mayor Bloomberg did care for the every day New Yorker, even though he wasn’t very good at talking about it.
Of course, simply throwing money at a problem does not mean its automatic solution, as anyone familiar with our compulsory schooling system can attest. So perhaps all that money didn’t make much of a difference. Perhaps we’d have been better off with a mayor like our newly inaugurated Bill DeBlasio. He absolutely oozes “man of the people” and he says his mission is to lessen the ever-widening gap in the city between the rich and the poor. He plans to do it with, among other things, sweeping changes in policy, and I hope that he succeeds. Time will tell.
For now I just wonder if perhaps we didn’t really know Mayor Bloomberg at all. Though far from perfect, maybe we were better off than we realized with him at the helm. His wealth put him out of reach of personal interest groups and he needed answer to no one. He began a Republican but ended an Independent and I think independent is most definitely a fitting description for him.
On SNL’s last show before Christmas, Bloomberg made an appearance on Weekend Update, and when asked what his plans were once out of office, he said, “I’d like to fulfill a lifelong dream of sitting on a non-smoking beach sipping a small sized soda.”
We might wind up missing him after all.