There are two ways to look at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s twelve years in office. One is with the rose-colored glasses of those who think of him as our own version of France’s Louis XIV; the other is with the clarity of everyday New Yorkers who are well acquainted with his record. I consider myself the latter, but the former constitutes a significant number of supporters who saw this “Sun King” as a stave, a rung on the ladder to wealth and success, if not comparable to his own exorbitant heights, at least in a stratosphere above the plebian crowd. Based on their view of things, Bloomberg was a very good stave indeed.
Of course, when Bloomberg took office, this city was in shambles. There was the physical wreckage of the 9-11 attacks, undeniably and irrevocably changing the city landscape and emotional psyche. Bloomberg walked into that shattered cityscape with great challenges, and followed in the footsteps of Rudy Giuliani, who due to his leadership during and after the 9-11 attacks, became suddenly proclaimed “America’s Mayor.” It goes without saying he had big shoes to fill, but little did we know that he had a pair of feet the size of Herman Munster’s, bloated by an incredible sense of self-importance.
When he took office I recall Bloomberg saying that he was going to rebuild New York, which was a given, but he also promised to make the city “The capital of the free world.” Considering we just got walloped by 9-11, crushing our spirits as well as knocking down two of our city’s most iconic landmarks, this was either a bold case of hubris or someone as determined as Joe Namath heading into the Super Bowl and almost certain annihilation at the hands of the Baltimore Colts.
His supporters will talk the talk all day long about his accomplishments – more buildings being built, One World Trade Center rising from the ashes of Ground Zero, a lower crime rate, more tourists than ever (just try walking down the street without bumping into someone with a map), film crews seemingly everywhere, and even a budget surplus that probably will be forever unthinkable for the federal government. All these things sound wonderful, but they came at an extraordinarily high price – one that only the exceeding wealthy were willing and able to bankroll to get Bloomberg’s vision realized.
Let’s look at the other Bloomberg, who can be compared to the bad Captain Kirk from a parallel time in the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror.” This is the Bloomberg who thought he could take his own personal agenda and make it your own. The most notable fiasco was the “stop-and-frisk” police policy that was obviously unconstitutional even before being declared so. This one thing alone tarnishes his legacy because it not only violated people’s rights (notably blacks and Hispanics who were the most frequent targets of the practice) but it also alienated people the policy supposedly was meant to protect.
Besides that debacle, there seemed to be a growing gap between the haves and have-nots on his watch. This includes the homeless, those who can barely make ends meet (read everyone from the middle class and lower), those who find prices too high and rewards too minimal. As a friend of mine visiting from Nevada asked, “How can any regular folks afford to live here?” We could ask our rich beyond Richie Rich mayor, but I doubt he cares much about constituents who are not part of his core group of 1% supporters.
That is why Bloomberg has so alienated “average” New Yorkers. He has also taken every opportunity to undermine teachers and attack their union. He closed an unprecedented number of public schools to open smaller charter schools – with teachers being paid less, with less benefits, and basically no job security. He orchestrated the ridiculous soda pop ban of big cups (like a customer couldn’t just buy two smaller ones to get the same volume), only to be shot down by a court. He achieved getting “calorie count menus” in restaurants, is probably single-handedly responsible for those hordes of smokers cluttering city sidewalks because they cannot smoke in buildings or restaurants or bars, and hired a school’s chancellor with zero education experience.
Again and again, he proved to be the “nanny” mayor, telling people what to do because it was “good” for them. Like an old grandma trying to shove castor oil down your throat, Bloomberg felt he knew what was better for you and he wanted to make sure, just like Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984, to keep an eye on you. Think of the all the traffic cameras installed, and in general all the security cameras in Midtown especially, and you can just imagine how we are all like the targets of that person Sting once sang about – “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.”
The election of Bill de Blasio is welcome news for most New Yorkers. The people spoke and the landslide results prove that we New Yorkers want someone who can relate to us. Mr. de Blasio and his family ( his wife is black and children biracial) reflects a city that is diverse, and his common touch, his desire to hear everyday people, and willingness to undo many of Bloomberg’s unreasonable practices are welcome news for a city that after 12 years has had more than enough of being governed by a Louis XIV type, whose mantra “Apres moi, le deluge” more than accurately foreshadowed the fate of the French monarchy.
Fortunately, Mr. de Blasio comes in at a time when we need him most. It’s about time New York City had a mayor who cares and is more interested in the people on the city’s streets rather than those in its ivory towers. As Bloomberg departs, we can only say “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.” I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of him, but at least he can be a windbag on his own dime now.
Yes, Mr. de Blasio inherits a healthier and more robust city than Bloomberg did, but he also gets all the detritus of Bloomberg’s policies. We can believe that he will be breaking out the broom and pan and getting to it on day one. That is the kind of mayor we not only want now but desperately need in the “capital of the free world.” Thankfully, under de Blasio, it actually will be a “free” place to live again.
Photo credits: soda jerk-village voice; nanny-abcnews.com; de blasio family-wikipedia