Irish legends suggest that a leprechaun is a mischievous elf, who resembles a little old man. He possesses gold-which he hides away- and is very very lucky. Sometimes, he even touches things and they turn into gold, literally or figuratively. So looking back at Mayor Bloomberg’s personal life, his business and political career, I now posit the question: Is Mayor Bloomberg a leprechaun?
By his own admission he got lucky in business. He even admitted to skirting around the peripheries of ethics and public-safety (my words), while conducting business in the early days. This can be extrapolated from the many things written about his business conduct. Some say that brilliant people make their own luck, so maybe the guy is brilliant. And as such, he should be admired.
Somewhere near the turn of the last century, he decided to run for mayor of NYC. The rationale behind this decision is nebulous at best. It’s not like we had heard him articulate some passionate conviction(s), or expound on some powerful ideals or ideas. We never knew of him getting deeply involved in real nitty-gritty issues, beyond (maybe) those that touched the elites and their upper-east-side latte-lifestyles. Sure he was philanthropic, but did he march when Abner Louima got the plunger shoved up his ass? Did he speak out when Amadou Diallo got 41 bullets pumped into him? Likewise Dorismond. Likewise Anthony Baez. Where was his moral outrage over all this, and how was it channeled in protest? Okay, so he once dated Diana Ross, do we now make him an honorary black man? Where did he stand on issues salient to the communities-of-color? Being black, I was obviously curious about finding out. I am still waiting for an answer, and it’s only about six years ago the speculation first started up, that he was interested in becoming New York’s one hundred and eighth mayor. Been there now, done that.
But doesn’t it take luck to avoid intense media scrutiny for so long. Do we now know what drives this mayor? Do we now know what moves him? And what about that thin skin that they say he has (behind his back of course)?
Answers to the question who is Michael Bloomberg, ARE as mysterious as leprechaun lore. After 53 months in office, do we really know?
Is it really the dilapidated education system of NYC that he so badly wanted to fix? Or maybe, the economy (stupid), or the fiscal irresponsibility of lawmakers? Was it the incommodious health-care system? Could it be the environment? What was it?
He surely didn’t come up the ranks of those elected (and many of us liked this, by the way), so he surely wasn’t spewing bile from voraciously overfeeding at the public trough; nor was he a spendthrift from overusing taxpayer’s money so much. Thus it had to be something else, maybe something good even.
We knew it wasn’t the obscene profits being made by Exxon and other multi-national corporations (MNCs), which were driving him to want to do something about fixing this lopsided and dysfunctional economic system of ours. Nah! No way Jose. There are no such animals around anywhere in the corporate sector. We also knew that it wasn’t the fact that Manhattan was slowly becoming a lil enclave for the rich and famous. Nah! After all he was one. We also knew it wasn’t about turning around Rudy Giuliani’s policies, not after the way he had pandered for Rudy’s endorsement. Anyway, since every citizen has a right to pursue public office for whatever the reason, Bloomy couldn’t be held to any different a standard. And he wasn’t.
When it was time to run, he surrounded himself with some of the best advisors/consultants that his money could buy. He even tapped into the ivy-league (Esther Fuchs/ Barnard-Columbia University). He hired almost anyone who said that he/she had done some political consulting, at some time or the other. If you had called his cadre of consultants “bloated”, you would have been understating. Anyway, what’s to be expected from a man willing to spend 100 million dollars if need be? And what’s to be expected from a society that sees no obscenity in multi-zillionaires running, and using their personal wealth to do an end–run around public-financing? After all, didn’t John F. Kennedy say that “life was unfair”?
Still, things never do go smoothly do they? And, as they say at NASA:” Houston, we’ve got a problem!” Bloomberg’s problem was that he was a lifelong Democrat- relative to his voter’s registration. And in the year 2001, the Dem. Primary was former Public-(s)advocate Mark Green’s to lose, within an already crowded field. And Mark did lose. But he rebounded by winning the runoff against Fernando Ferrer. In retrospect, this was the luckiest thing that happened to Michael Bloomberg.
To avoid his registration problem, Bloomy simply changed to Republican and sailed on. Avoiding a near-impossible-to-win Dem. Primary. By then the Republicans were looking for someone to replace Giuliani on the mound, and finding nothing much in their bullpen to exhaust, they turned to this leprechaun-looking guy, who conveniently just happened to show up. With lots of gold in his pocket to booth. He had his own ball, bat, and mitt. It cost nothing to outfit him. He even bought along a campaign team that he was paying for. And maybe – if needed – he could probably purchase the umpires too. He was that rich. So what if he was a RINO (Republican in Name Only)? Wasn’t Ronald Reagan once a Democrat? Likewise Rudy Giuliani likewise? Ahh, the follies of youth! Even the mickey-mouse Conservative party offered token resistance to this new lil guy.
Then came 9-11-2001. But before we go there: the Republican Primary. For once- in a few blue and purple moons – the Republicans held a primary. A primary which apologized for itself. And coming to think of it, most Republican primaries in NYC does that nowadays. After 9-11, both Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki, received generous outpourings of affection from the public. This came because of the positive way that many perceived their handling of the WTC tragedy. This was not surprising, but probably undeserved. To me, they were simply doing their jobs. However, their endorsements of Bloomberg were serendipitous to say the least. The top two elected Republican officials in New York now supported this republicrat. Que suerte!
On the morning of the general election, Michael Bloomberg told his octogenarian mother, not to expect a victory that night. Then he went off to pray that Mark Green’s slide was worse than the late polls were picking up, hoping of course that Green will be picked off at home plate. Unbeknownst to him, there were countless blacks and Hispanics who weren’t coming out to vote democratic that day, like they normally do. They were turned–off. Imagine a life-long democrat like myself even voted for this leprechaun, only the second time I have ever voted republican.
So there we were in the bottom of the ninth inning, and by the time Mark Green mishandled the late-breaking Sharpton/Ferrer smear play, we in NYC had ourselves a new mayor. If Bloomy wasn’t so rich, I would have told him to buy a lotto ticket that day.
So now it’s January 2002 and Bloomberg (Giuliani-Lite) swears in, but not before Giuliani makes a play for an extension of his term in office. You see, in Rudy’s head, he believed he was indispensable. And after all, his ego had told him that the city badly needed him to handle the post- 9-11 recovery. Funny thing was, some people almost fell for this crap. Anyway, Bloomy luckily dodges that bullet, or else today, he would have been still waiting for Rudy to leave the batter’s box. So now we have a man who would finally have a record- beyond his business successes- on which he could be judged. Good.
In his inaugural speech, he asks to be judged by his success or failure in the area of education. He then promptly requests and gets (from the state legislature) control of this domain, and school boards the way we had known them, were gone. Even luck can’t fully explain this one. He names a new Chancellor for education, Joel Klein. And although Mr. Klein deserves at least a”B” for effort, fact is he never had the credentials for the job (waived by the way). So for nearly five years what do we get; smoke and mirrors. Now there go two lucky people. They restructure things a bit, and the press is duped into thinking that happy days are here again. But are they? Of course not.
No sooner had he pulled off this miracle, he then exposed insensitivity to people of color, with a statement which was Giulianiesque at the core. He said something to the extent that “minority parents” didn’t fully understand the problems in education. Now, now, in a failing system, where almost 90% of the kids are of color! Surprisingly enough, even Charles Barron called his remark racist.
Let me emphatically state, that there is nothing that Bloomberg has done during his tenure so far, that could lead me to conclude that he is racist. He has handled race issues and race relations well enough. He far surpasses Giuliani in this area. When police-abuse-type situations arose, he has been swift in responding. He has had an open-door policy to leaders of color. He either has sharp instincts in this regard, or he gets tremendous advice in this area. But then, maybe he is just plain lucky. Lucky that another “Dorismond”or”Baez” hasn’t surfaced. And of course, so too is the city. What is troubling though is that the extended circle around him is not rainbow in its colors. Not enough color to suit many of us and our hopes for inclusion, respect, empowerment and power-sharing.
If you believe that Bloomberg and Klein are succeeding in their education endeavor, then ask yourself why it is that morale amongst educators and support staff -in city schools- is at an all time low? The UFT knows this. It’s not really about salaries anymore. It’s about the drop-out rate, overcrowding, crime, drugs, weapons, violence, sexual-abuse/misconduct, disrespect, bad behavior, safety and the like. Sorry to burst your bubble people, it’s not even about test-scores. We are sending out youngsters who are functionally illiterate, into a real tough world. The high school drop-out rate hovers around 50 %. Do we wonder why unemployment rates amongst blacks and Hispanics average higher than 33 %.
In 2004, when confronted by NYC council-members Tish James and Charles Barron, about the high rate of minority unemployment, Bloomberg accused Barron of “seeing race in every issue”. To this Barron retorted, “And you Mr. Mayor, never see race at any point”. Eventually, these two council-members, along with some others, successfully lobbied Gifford Miller/Speaker, to include $10 million in the budget, in order to fund an initiative addressing structural unemployment amongst minorities. It still remains an issue that the mayor has yet to forcefully address, though that funding was increased to $20 million in the second year of the initiative.
When it comes to minority-owned businesses getting contracts from the city, Bloomberg has turned a blind eye. After all, over 75% of the city contracts go to firms owned by white males, and he has known this for years. Around 2% go to firms owned by blacks (male or female). Where is the initiative to remedy this situation? Look, in this article, I really don’t want to delve into the many issues facing communities of color in NYC, but whether they are in the areas of Aids/HIV, housing, economic development, crime, drug use/abuse, health, business, youth, whatever, I still find that Bloomberg lacks the requisite passion, in order to address minority concerns. He is not vocal enough, nor is he demonstrating through his policies, that these issues are being prioritized in his administration. Is it any wonder that blacks have been leaving New York, at the rate of 30,000 per year? But then whites are leaving too. The state has lost / and continues to lose congressional seats every census, for the past half-century.
But we know what is being prioritized: Big Development with Big Developers. From the failed Jets stadium project, to Ratner/Nets, to Yankee stadium, and here comes the Mets. So, let’s meet the Mets. Let’s greet the Mets. How could Bloomberg essentially label Hiram Monseratte and others in the council, extortionists? All because they are looking for some community benefits agreement, before they sell their souls to a project that will cost taxpayers millions in the long run. We have peeped Bloomy’s hole card people, and it’s complexly-simple: use imminent domain if needed, or circumvent the ULURP process if necessary, give PILOT programs if you have too, sell tax-free bonds backed by the city where necessary, but in all you do, make sure that rich developers and/ or wealthy speculators get what they want. To hell with the ordinary people that John Legend sang about. Screw the everyday people that made Sly Stone famous. In the end the city budget takes the hit in terms of debt service. But that’s okay. The deed is done. Nice. On to the next project. Let’s see, the waterfronts now, right? And don’t forget the Snapple deal while we are here; well, let’s not go there.
The point is people; eventually we the working stiffs pick up the tabs for the orgies of the rich, famous and not so famous. And we have to clean up after them too. We subsidize their latte-lifestyles when we make bad choices at the polls.
On any summer day in the Village, you can see lots of people in Washington Square Park. You can also see marijuana-salesmen aggressively pushing nickel and dime bags of “weed”. They are so persistent; they eventually become an irritation, especially for people like me who has zero-tolerance for drug use. Especially now, since I am in the autumn of my youth. Well Bloomy pushed for hosting the 2012 Olympics in NYC, as aggressively as any park-dealer. He failed. Lucky guy. This failure has never come back to bite him. At least not yet. But maybe the media will one day assess the cost to the city of his failed effort. Then we’ll see.
And don’t forget his luck relative to the issue of crime. In fact Rudy was lucky here also. The decrease in NYC crime started in the last part of Mayor David Dinkins’ term. His police commissioner (Lee Brown) was responsible for designing the community-policing plans, which has served as the playbook and guidelines for all subsequent police commissioners. They have all elaborated on it, embellished it, and run plays off of it. They never give Dinkins and Brown the credit they deserve. How quickly they forget that it was Dinkins who hired the most policemen in the history of the department. Cops who back-stabbed him too. Remember how unpopular his tax- for-cops plan was.
Twice in Bloomberg’s tenure so far, he has had to deal with the possibility of a transit-workers strike. The first time around, Roger Toussaint (TWU), had to admonish Bloomy to shut up. Toussaint felt that Bloomy’s comments were not useful, in helping to reach an accord between the union and the MTA management. The second time around Bloomy did almost zilch to prevent the strike. Of course it happened. He even escalated the tensions by calling the strike leaders thugs. Saying this, despite knowing fully well, that the city and its negotiators have been hiding behind the provisions of the Taylor Law for years. Using these provisions (especially the no-strike clause) as a prophylactic at times, but as a handcuff in general. Engaging in unfair practices at the bargaining table, year after year after year, and union after union after union.
As luck will have it, Bloomberg came away from the strike, smelling like roses. But should he have? Here we are six months later, and still no contract with transit workers. But what’s his worry? They surely won’t strike now. He has dodged many bullets (potential-strikes), with teachers, cops, firemen, sanitation workers, and probably with most other unions representing other city workers also. Don’t tell me this wasn’t luck, since he did very little to alleviate these situations. Sometimes binding-arbitration saved the day and saved his ass.
If anyone doubts how lucky this guy is, just take a look at the fluctuations of his poll numbers over his tenure. From dismally low numbers-after giving us the largest increase in property taxes in NYC history- to insurmountable numbers on his way to re-election. In between, his main challenger (Ferrer) self-destructs (Diallo), just like Mark Green did. As Yogi Beara said, “de-ja-vu all over again”.
They say that green is the favorite color of leprechauns; well Bloomy sure has a lot of that. In fact, he used up a record amount of green (almost $100 million worth), purchasing for the most part, an obscene amount of media time, in order to indoctrinate city-residents with the notion that he is a great mayor. Most people bought into this. He won by a near landslide margin, despite a near record-low voter-turnout, and even though a majority of New Yorkers when surveyed, stated that they won’t want to have thanksgiving- dinner with him.
To this writer, mainstream media has dealt with Bloomberg with kid-gloves. I say this because I have compared his treatment to the way his three immediate predecessors were treated. We all know that New York’s media can be hard-hitting, but so far, all Bloomy has gotten has been some light jabs and some glancing blows. Is this luck? Or is it just coincidence? When it’s all said and done, Bloomy will leave office and NYC’s debt will be higher. So too will be property-taxes, and parking-tickets, and subway–fares, and tolls, and CUNY fees, and so on, and so on. And no, I am not ignoring inflation and other economics factors beyond his control. I am more concerned about “debt-service”. Wasn’t there an argument that with a businessman at the helm, the city will be better off in the post-9-11 era, and more fiscally responsible too? Is it?
Would someone do this writer a favor and ask Bloomy what his favorite color is? I bet you he says: green. I rest my case.