Bill Keller: The Bloomberg Legacy!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the past several months, the media have been following closely New York City’s mayoral candidates in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested election for the office that Michael Bloomberg has held for twelve years.  Bill Keller takes a look at Bloomberg’s legacy in his New York Times column today.

Keller admits that he favored Bloomberg for mayor when he first ran in 2001. However, he also comments that:

“The mayor’s third term, which began with a broken term-limits promise that many New Yorkers have not forgiven, was less successful than his first two, and it felt less successful than it actually was because the city has developed a bit of Bloomberg fatigue. By now, many New Yorkers are ready for a little more consensus, a little less lecturing, a little more attention to those at the bottom.”

Regardless Keller’s position it that the positives have outweighed the negatives.  He [Bloomberg] understands that cities have overtaken national governments as engines of growth and innovation, and that New York competes for talent and investment not just with other American metropolises but with London and Singapore. He has made the city a world leader in sustainability with his devotion to green development and a campaign to get New out of their cars.  To bolster New York’s claim on the future:

“…he has invested in our intellectual infrastructure, too. The planned Cornell applied sciences and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island should strengthen New York’s appeal to the tech industry.

Bloomberg’s father-knows-best approach has paid off with saved lives in the realm of public health. We take for granted now that our restaurants and bars and parks are smoke-free, but at one time Bloomberg was demonized as the Smoke Nazi who was going to put every saloon out of business…

…The city made it through a brutal recession thanks in large part to federal aid after 9/11 and Sandy, the bailout of the financial industries and a surging stock market. But any fair judge would say that Bloomberg played a significant part in the rebound. A believer in the wisdom of balancing revenue sources, he raised property taxes early on; when the recession shrank income-tax revenues, property taxes kept us afloat. He has bequeathed his successor a potential fiscal crisis in the surging cost of public-sector benefits, but he has also left a city better positioned to cope than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.”

While much of the above is true, there have also been several scandalous no-bid and runaway contracts that have cost the city billions of dollars.  Regardless:

“He was a very prudent custodian of the city’s finances,” said John Mollenkopf, director of the CUNY Center for Urban Research. “He didn’t just luck out.”

On education, Keller serves up a softball for Bloomberg and cops out by stating that:

“Bloomberg’s most consequential and controversial unfinished business is the public school system. He set the schools on a hopeful course: stabilizing the system under mayoral control, raising and enforcing standards, giving parents more options, among them charter schools that actually work. There is much more to do. Schools are the work of a generation, not an administration. Bloomberg’s great achievement was taking on the prevailing defeatist view that urban schools were unfixable.”

Those looking at the schools with a more critical eye paint a different picture.  Student achievement has barely budged in twelve years so while the school system may be better managed, it has not improved education very much at all for those who matter most – the students and their families.  Bloomberg’s greatest failings were his chancellor appointments of Joel Klein who polarized everyone and accomplished nothing and then Kathy Black who had never been inside a public school and was completely unqualified for the position.

We will see more of these Bloomberg legacy articles in the three-plus months left in this election year.  Keller has started the ball rolling.



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