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Purnick says "Bloomberg coolly makes his case based on facts," but Atlantic Yards is one clear exception

Joyce Purnick, the former New York Times reporter/columnist who wrote a notably gentle biography of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, today offers a New York Daily News op-ed headlined Mike’s a cold fish. Who really cares? We should know him by now.

Purnick writes:
The idea of reassuring the public, showing the people out there that he feels their pain — or will at least pretend to: not Bloomberg’s thing. He has never mastered, or even bought into, the idea of personally cajoling and persuading the public. Bloomberg coolly makes his case based on facts and expects people to accept his statistically inarguable logic: smoking kills, so stop smoking; illegal guns kill, so get rid of them.
If not the grand persuader, he has other strengths, many of them. I suspect that despite Bloomberg fatigue and the vastly oversimplified arguments about a tale of two cities, history will record him as one of the city’s most effective mayors. But somehow, we want our elected officials to conform to our view of who and what they should be, how they should behave, even what they should believe.
The counter-evidence

Bloomberg coolly makes his case based on facts? Purnick has some good evidence, but she ignores the big honking example of Atlantic Yards. (I'm sure evidence can be marshaled regarding other developments, as well.) Here are six quick AY examples.

1) Remember Bloomberg's posture toward the projects, as described by developer Bruce Ratner:
"As a matter of fact, I remember a day in 2003, in June, I went in to see the mayor to present our project, and he stood there, he looked at it"--Ratner waved his hand as if scanning the room--"he had all the deputies around, he just looked at it and he said, after a while"--Ratner waved decisively--"I want to get it done. And he used a certain extuperative [sic] and said, Get it done no matter what." 
(I think Ratner meant "expletive.")

2) Recall that, at a June 2005 ceremony, as captured in the documentary Battle for Brooklyn, Mayor Mike Bloomberg imperiously dismissed questions about promised housing and jobs in the questionable Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA): “I would add something else that’s even more important. You have Bruce Ratner’s word, and that should be enough."

Four years later, Bloomberg changed his tune. “I’m violently opposed to Community Benefits Agreements,” Bloomberg told The Brooklyn Paper in August 2009. 

3) When confronted with evidence from a New York City Independent Budget Office report that the Atlantic Yards arena would be a money-loser for the city, Bloomberg said, according to the Observer:
“I don’t know what the IBO studies would have shown back when they tried to establish the value of Central Park or Prospect Park or anything else,” he told reporters. “These are the kinds of projects you have to do because without that we don’t have a future, and we’re going to get this one done.”
4) In a January 2004 radio interview, Bloomberg claimed that "any city monies of any meaningful size will be debt issues financed by the extra tax revenues that come from this." At that point, there was a plan for tax-increment financing.

Then the city allotted $100 million in subsidies. Then, after the project was passed, the city added another $100 million, though it now says the direct subsidy total is $179.5 million.

5) In his effort to help developer Forest City Ratner gain access to low-cost capital from Chinese investors seeking green cards, Bloomberg appeared on a fund-raising video shown to such potential investors. His ambiguous statements confused the issue, suggesting to potential investors that the "project" they are asked to support is the same one about which he enthused.

6) When Ratner announced "2,000 jobs" at the Barclays Center, Bloomberg was there to endorse the figure, and the famously data-driven mayor was snippy and evasive (see video in Daily Intelligencer) when asked how many full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs that represented.


  1. Of course Mayor Bloomberg loves data, but his land planning decisions are driven by far more than data. He loves billionaire developers as much as he loves Wall Street bankers, and he thinks they are just as good for the city. He thinks they will build what's best for the city, and he thinks they will build it well. Therefore, he gives them public-private partnerships that allow them to cut through a lot of red tape and that allow his administration a lot of discretion in approving their plans and granting them subsidies and bonuses.Undoubtedly there is some data involved in these decisions, including a belief that Atlantic Yards will benefit the tax rolls. But his vision for what the should look like and whom it should serve are even more important when it comes to his support for projects like Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards.


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