Amidst the rightful popular outrage against the continued handouts to Wall Street, one man has stood defiant—the mayor of New York City. In Michael Bloomberg’s estimation, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s crackdown on bonuses for the executives of A.I.G. and other recipients of bailout money somehow amounts to “snooping around” in “private lives.” In general, Mike finds all the “yelling and screaming about the rich” to be wrong, because “we want rich from around this country to move here. We love the rich people.” Even more misguided, in his view, are those who think that our economy would be stronger if “income were redistributed throughout the system more fairly.” There’s little reason to doubt his sincerity when the mayor, the wealthiest person in the city, declares that “I don’t know what fair means. You can argue that if you make more money, you deserve more money.” At last we may have found someone ready to go to bat for A-Rod.
My point is not to attack Mike for being an “out-of-touch billionaire” (as consultant Howard Wolfson, now on the mayor’s reelection campaign payroll, famously stated just four years ago). It’s rather to suggest that his current notion of victims—the rich in general, and more specifically the executives of failed companies seeking taxpayer rewards—provides further illustration of how he thinks the city should plan its future. Bonuses, whatever the source, mean down payments on the condos that have now irrevocably altered many neighborhoods across the city. Already flush outfits like the Yankees and Mets have received $1.2 billion in combined public subsidies to build new stadiums; and if the Atlantic Yards project goes forward, it will cost at least another $700 million (or more) in taxpayer support. In the mayor’s eyes, heavily subsidized private development is a good thing. Meanwhile, increasing taxes on the highest earners is wrong, because it may cause them to flee to Connecticut.
It’s a decidedly elitist vision coming from a determinedly anti-populist figure. Even so, most would say that Bloomberg’s reelection chances are pretty good—mainly because his threats to spend whatever it takes to get reelected have already knocked a leading contender out of the race, and also because his approval rating remains high. Yet the boom years are over, and the consequences of the frenzy of overdevelopment are only just beginning to sink in. So stay tuned.