King of New York

Say what you will about Mike Bloomberg, but this fact is indisputable: he is the most powerful mayor in the history of New York City. Unlike some of his more flamboyant predecessors—LaGuardia, Koch, and Giuliani—Bloomberg’s power is not simply confined to City Hall. He is a kingpin of two of the city’s leading business sectors, finance and media, which he turned into one real powerhouse, financial media; and, as a result of obvious success, he is the leading philanthropist in the city, a sector of nearly unlimited, if undiscussed, power. In my view, because Bloomberg has such an iron grip over New York City, the recurring talk of his national political ambitions makes no sense: After all, why would the King of New York want to wade into the cesspool of corruption on the Potomac?

The Gotham Center’s Mike Wallace, the leading historian of New York City, agrees that Bloomberg will stay put. However, “It’s not just that he possesses power” here, says Wallace, “but having it gives him an opportunity to really make a positive impact on the city and leave a significant legacy, a chance I doubt he would want to pass up. Certainly not so he could spend the next four years shoveling out from under the mess that the current crowd has made of national and world affairs.” Most of the insiders say that the push for Bloomberg to run for president is mainly coming from some of his key staffers. They no doubt want to move up to the next level themselves—as well as know where they’ll be working after the mayor’s current term expires. Even so, Bloomberg has fueled the talk with high-profile trips across the country, most recently buddying up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Cally. And, just as his predecessor used the mayor’s office as a (big) bully pulpit, making a national and international showcase of his war on crime, Bloomberg has taken on various urban ills—smoking, handguns, trans-fat—with equal fanfare.

Since men of unlimited means rarely have limited ambitions, there remains a chance that Bloomberg may indeed test the swampy waters of national politics. But I think that both the mayor and the local political media would be better off assessing his impact and legacy on the city he currently controls. Over the last few years, for example, the city has been undergoing a frenzy of over-development, with many more million-dollar condos on the way. Now that the real estate market is cooling off considerably, who will occupy the high rises? Bloomberg’s legacy for Brooklyn may well be massive, block-busting development projects surrounded by ghost towers. Rather than pursue the White House, would that the king attend to his own backyard.

Contributor

Theodore Hamm

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