Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Voice's Barrett on Bloomberg's transformation (with a blind spot)

Wayne Barrett's Village Voice cover story, The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg, demolishes the claims that Bloomberg's decision to seek a third term was driven by a duty to confront the financial crisis and dissects the editorial arguments made in favor of Bloomberg's effort to extend term limits.

Best and worst mayor?

[Correction: an earlier version referred to Tom Robbins, who's also done good work on Bloomberg.]

Barrett's article begins:
Mike Bloomberg is the best mayor—in fact, the best state or city chief executive—I've covered in 31 years at the Voice. He's also the worst.

In his first term, he was able to close a gaping budget chasm without crippling city services by imposing the largest and bravest property-tax hike in history—and it sent his approval ratings plunging. When the city boomed again, this Nixon-to-China boldness by a businessman/mayor had forever refuted the knee-jerk right-wing orthodoxy that higher taxes invariably kill growth. His smoking ban proved that a mayor can literally change the air we breathe and was part of a lifesaving public-health commitment that pumped resources into city hospitals that his predecessor had stripped of city funding. While mayors before him had hidden behind the independent Board of Education to diffuse responsibility for the seemingly intractable dysfunction of the schools, Mike Bloomberg put himself in charge and staked his mayoralty on the slow but steady improvement that has occurred with him at the helm. The continuing decline in the murder rate under Bloomberg was a rebuke of the Giuliani years, when New Yorkers were led to believe that a polarized city was the price we had to pay to reduce crime.

As thankful as the city is for all Mayor Mike accomplished after 9/11, that was nearly a full term ago. Now, he's decided he wants a third term, even though he still owes us a second.


Bloomberg & AY

I think Barrett is a bit too generous about Bloomberg's first term. After all, there were already signs of the mayor's edifice complex and his unquestioning willingness to back a developer's plan.

Remember, this is the mayor who said, in a 1/23/04 radio interview six weeks after Atlantic Yards was announced:
Then, we’ve got to find a ways--Bruce Ratner’s got to find a ways--to build this complex in Brooklyn. Like everything else, it’s controversial, I’m sympathetic to people who don’t like something like this moving in to their neighborhood. People whose apartments are going to be replaced, or houses taken away, generally speaking, this guy Ratner is a very responsible developer. If you go back and look at his track record when he developed MetroTech, which made an enormous difference in the city, he treated people very well.

As I pointed out, Bloomberg essentially said that the city and the developer were on the same team, nearly a year and a half before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority put the Vanderbilt Yard--some 40% of the proposed site--out for bid.

Partnership for NYC

Barrett explains how politics works in the city, involving real estate developers and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:
Kathy Wylde, the president of the Partnership, says she learned "in July" that the mayor was "seriously thinking about it," after making inquiries for at least a year. Wylde's board of directors includes virtually everyone whose name has appeared in stories detailing the early lobbying for another term—Speyer, Rattner, Kravis, Rubenstein, Parsons, Murdoch, and even Lauder's nephew, William, who actually runs the cosmetics company (Speyer went to William Lauder's father, Leonard, to put pressure on brother Ron). Bloomberg was once on the Partnership board himself, and its 20-member executive committee voted unanimously to support the extension legislation.

Wylde also lobbied Quinn, who's been a friend since the two worked together in housing organizations more than a decade ago. Wylde introduced Quinn to the Partnership honchos at a luncheon at the Speyer-owned Rockefeller Center shortly after she became speaker in 2006. "The universal opinion of the CEO is that she has a bright political future," Wylde declared from the onset. Wylde got 30 bigwigs to sign a letter backing the bill, 25 of whom are on her board, and an ad featuring it soon appeared in the Times. The fact is that under Wylde and Speyer's leadership, the Partnership is the closest thing we now have in New York to a political club with the clout to make a mayor.


Here's the Partnership's testimony about Atlantic Yards, at the 5/4/04 City Council hearing and at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Draft Enviornmental Impact Statement.

"I am personally confident that Bruce will continue to work in good faith to resolve the concerns of immediate neighbors," Wylde testified at the latter hearing.

Does that include trying to get out of paying for demolished trees?

How far Brooklyn has come

Wylde reflected:
I cut my teeth in community organizing by leading opposition to the relocation of the old Fort Green Meat Market from Atlantic Avenue to the Sunset Park waterfront in 1971. Our community lost that battle, and so did the City, which has lost money on the failed meat market almost since the day it opened. I mention that community struggle as a reminder of the many years—not very long ago—when the only development happening in Brooklyn was the construction of public projects that were unwanted in other places. Atlantic Yards is a symbol of how far Brooklyn has come since those days.

Isn't Atlantic Yards also a symbol of public officials not trying to figure out what valuable public land might be worth?

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