Sunday, November 21, 2010

Columnist Lee Siegel on Mayor Mike Bloomberg: "Tammany Hall with a Carnegie Hall face"

Without mentioning Atlantic Yards, New York Observer columnist Lee Siegel, in a pungent column headlined Boss Pinstripes: Bloomberg Isn’t a Democrat, or a Republican, or an Independent. He’s 18 Billion Dollars., summarizes how Mayor Mike Bloomberg does his job:
The surprise that greeted Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement of the exceptionally unqualified Cathie Black, the former chairman of Hearst Magazines, as the city's new schools chancellor was par for the course. The very fact of Mr. Bloomberg as mayor is an ongoing surprise. His political ascension in New York is as unnatural an event as a typhoon in Ohio.

In a capital of the world that has always prided itself on a rich public life, Mr. Bloomberg is devoted to managing government like a private enterprise. To go from the hot banter of Lindsay's, or Koch's, or even Giuliani's news conferences to Mr. Bloomberg's petulantly ignoring a question by saying, "I have a city to run"—yes, well, that's what we want to talk to you about, if you have a minute—is to go from being a rambunctiously engaged citizen of New York to feeling like the frustrated client of a remote service provider. In a place that demands colorful candor from its mayors, he is secretive and peremptory, hiring Ms. Black without any kind of public discussion...

And in the city of the Draft riots, and the Columbia student protests, and Stonewall, and bohemian dissent, and bristling intellectuality, and Baldwin, and Mailer, and Steinem, and Hamill, and Kramer (Larry), and William F. Buckley, for heaven's sake—in this primordially independent and troublemaking place, Mayor Mike buys himself the right to run for an unprecedented third term, and then carpet-spends his way to an easy win.

Chutzpah? Try contempt. The chutzpah would be to defy him. But he gets his third term with no more than a hushed protest from his once-ferocious city-state. Under Mr. Bloomberg, the city that never has to sleep has become the city that doesn't make a peep.
Worth mentioning: a likely reason why mayoral rival Bill Thompson never took the gloves off: the mayor poured money into pet project of the Comptroller's wife.

The influence on media

Siegel writes:
Mr. Bloomberg's gravitational force affects everyone who might be in the business of consequentially criticizing him. (For example: Go after him, and you can forget about opining on the Bloomberg L.P.-funded Charlie Rose Show.) His enveloping wealth produces all the effects of corruption without, itself (as far as we know), being corrupt.
Well, the New York Times has produced some reasonably tough coverage of Bloomberg's appointment of Black. And the Daily News has reported civic concern.

But the editorial pages report to the publishers and, as with Atlantic Yards and term limits, they seem to be getting in line. Today the Daily News opines, Mayor Bloomberg must get Cathie Black as schools chancellor if mayoral control means anything:
The Daily News front page that reported the Black pick summed up the response with the word, "HUH?" over the question, "No education experience, kids went to private school - she's perfect to run our struggling schools! Right?"

Bloomberg is convinced she is. His opinion demands respect, given his track record in identifying talent and the fact that mayoral control of the schools means mayoral control of the schools.
The power of the (lack of) paycheck

Seigel writes about machine politics upended:
Machine politics derives its staying power from putting the "little people" on the payroll. Mr. Bloomberg doesn't need to do that. He puts business-executive friends like Robert Lieber, Daniel Doctoroff and Patricia Harris—many of whom shuttle back and forth between his media business and his mayoral administration—in charge of the payroll and centralizes the system so seamlessly that top-down management performs the ordering function of a political machine. The whole thing stinks of undemocracy. When Mr. Bloomberg's rich appointees boast that they are taking only one dollar as an annual salary, they want to demonstrate a public servant's self-sacrifice. But what they are really doing is displaying an investor's indifference to the relationship between money and work. They are redefining responsibility in government. If the public doesn't pay their salary, then they are not accountable to the public. The result is Tammany Hall with a Carnegie Hall face. Mr. Bloomberg is not Boss Tweed. He is Boss Pinstripes.
Such a business arrangement recalls somewhat the role of Susan Rahm, a volunteer helping the Empire State Development Corporation manage the Atlantic Yards project at the request of then-Governor Eliot Spitzer. To whom was she accountable?

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