Occasionally it strikes me as odd that I'm probably going to vote for Mike Bloomberg in New York's mayoral election this year despite the fact that I'm 100 percent opposed to two of his major development priorities, the west side Jets stadium and the 2012 Olympic bid, and am ambivalent about several other aspects of his governance includes the schools reforms. I guess it boils down to the sense I get that this guy truly does serve the public interest as he sees it, and that as an independently wealthy politician he is free to be a reformer rather than a man beholden to contributors and fellow partisans. (And thank God for that; Bloomberg is, at least nominally, a Republican.)
At a recent event hosted by the Gotham Gazette, Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker talked about the mayor, and his prospects for re-election this fall. Longtime Parks Commissioner (and bigoted nicknamer) Henry Stern engaged her in this back-and-forth:
GG: What are your thoughts on the mayor's race?
EK: Bloomberg has so much money and he's done a reasonable job. There's not a tremendous animosity toward him that someone could marshal—even if people don't love him, he's fine.
Henry Stern: Bloomberg is really an honest mayor. Every generation forgets how hard it is to get honest mayors, someone who is not accommodating people’s hanky-panky because of their communal connections. We had many mayors doing that. Koch was an exception. So were Giuliani and Bloomberg. Young people have no idea of the "good old days" when jobs were filled by political patronage.
EK: A lot of people would take exception to the particular history that you just offered but your basic point is that reform administrations run into a lot of trouble. This one may well have too except that Michael Bloomberg happens to have $4 billion to his name. If he didn't, he would be in a very different situation because he too would be reliant on the interests that finance campaigns. To his credit, he availed himself of that independence but that means that for electoral purposes he is—I don't want to say unbeatable—but very, very, hard to beat.
GG: What parts of that history would you revise?
EK: I don't consider myself an expert on this at all but obviously people would take issue with the characterization of the Koch administration. People would also take issue with the characterization of the Giuliani administration.
Henry Stern: The people Koch appointed turned out to be exceptionally honest and hard working. But there were people he held over from the Abe Beame administration. Those involved in corruption, Koch didn't appoint them, they were the preexisting clumps and previous county leaders who were an entirely different power structure.
EK: I don't want to demean his administration in any way but it ended in the graft scandal, so I don't think that many people would call it a reform administration. I personally don't think of Giuliani as a reform mayor. There was a tremendous political patronage operation so I don't think you can call that a reform administration.
I'm no expert but I think if you asked most historians, in New York City politics, reform administrations come once in a blue moon, and I think that Mike Bloomberg may indeed be one of them.
I tend to agree. Whereas if most any other contemporary New York politician (cough*Giuliani*Pataki*cough) proposed a $1.4 billion stadium for the Jets, I'd suspect dirty dealings, I have to believe that Bloomberg just thinks it's the right thing to do. While it's frustrating to see an official put so much time and credibility on the line for a project I find misguided, it's refreshing to believe that he's sincere in the effort, rather than just carrying water for some interest or constituency.
The Olympics, on the other hand... to me, that somewhat speaks to a failure to understand what the Olympics are about, and what the City is about. It was important for Atlanta, a wanna-be city, to get the Games. New York, however, needs no additional attention or credibility. (Neither does Paris or London, but those towns aren't my problem.) It's almost unfair to have them here, and not even close to worth the aggravation it would cause all of us. So I hope the bid comes up short, even as I (again) admire the lengths to which Bloomberg has gone in support of it.