The Unfair Rejection of Michael Bloomberg

My wife Jessica, having lived in New York City longer than I have (she had been in the city about two years before I moved there), has always wondered at my immense love of the town we once called home, at times even more than my birthplace of Baltimore, Maryland. She often reminds me of the level of new success I have enjoyed here since moving back nearly four years ago: returning to school, spent a year and a half with the University of Baltimore’s student newspaper; growing in my writing ability, and developing some of the most amazing connections with people here in Baltimore and abroad.

When she asked me after our most recent trip to New York why I wanted to move back there, I told her that to me, New York City is in many respects the world as it should be; an interconnected metropolis full of people from nearly every corner of the world, with vigorous devotion to the arts, to music, and to architecture. Never before in my life had I lived in such a walkable, easily accessible city, or enjoyed food from as many places as I did than when I was there.

So as I watched the scene at the inauguration of the City of New York’s 109th mayor, I was awed at what was possibly the most colorful ceremony in recent memory; a beautiful, seemingly endless cadre of the new faces of the Five Boroughs: the Star-Spangled Banner sung by the Celia Cruz Bronx High School Choir. The swearing in of Leticia James, New York’s first Black woman to hold the office of Public Advocate (or any other citywide office) with Dasani Coates, the young lady whose life was profiled by the New York Times, at her side.

What also had me amazed at that inauguration was how the entire ceremony from top to bottom seemed like a complete repudiation of the work, the legacy, and the record of Michael R. Bloomberg’s twelve years as mayor. Although seemingly inevitable given the 40-point blowout Bill de Blasio won over Republican Joe Lhota, the airing of grievances by Harry Belafonte, Rev. Fred Lucas Jr. and Imam Askia Muhammad were prolific, as if a great weight created by three terms of Bloomberg suddenly dropped off, and prosperity for poor people and people of color could now begin with Bloomberg gone.

The palpability of the frustration is understandable; after all, income inequality in New York is wider than it has ever been. Homelessness has increased, and half of the city’s residents live at or below the poverty line. Hospitals and schools have closed at an alarming rate, and all these things have happened with major successes taking place at the same time. As I and other people have written before, cognitive dissonance will be the order of the day for a very long time when dissecting Bloomberg’s legacy.

However, to dismiss Michael Bloomberg as a completely out-of-touch oligarch with no caring toward the poor is a bit disingenuous. In his article for New York magazine, entitled “Autocrat for the People”, Chris Smith explained it this way:

As Bloomberg leaves office, he can accurately be labeled a visionary. He pursued ambitious, difficult objectives, many of which were unpopular and had short-term political consequences. He pushed New York ahead of the curve on issues, drastically reducing crime and the carbon footprint, making the city a canvas for giant artworks, paying kids for good grades. Bloomberg enlarged the notion of what a city can and should do—partly because he’s a citizen of the world, inspecting commuter trains in Hong Kong and discussing ­greenhouse gases in Rio, partly because innovators and potentates seek him out.

It is important to remember that for every person we choose by way of elections, no one is ever going to get everything they want, even with a potentially transformational mayor like Bill de Blasio, who has already rankled those who wanted Stop-and-Frisk incinerated by selecting Bill Bratton as his head of the NYPD. The New Yorker’s George Packer, author of the prolific book The Unwinding said this today:

Anyone who’s disgusted with the politics and economics of inequality should wish Bill de Blasio well. He made it his theme and rode it to an overwhelming victory, in the process surprising opinionmakers who live on the winning side of the divide with the news that large numbers of other New Yorkers feel left out and discarded. It’s unclear how much the Mayor of New York can do about entrenched economic unfairness, beyond bringing to bear the power of rhetoric. It’s also unclear whether de Blasio is the mayor to do it. New York’s mayors are managers more than policymakers—that’s where they succeed or fail. It’s risky for de Blasio’s tenure to symbolize so much when his power to realize the vision is so limited. I admire him for aiming so high, but it’s like watching a man set out on a tightrope strung between skyscrapers.

So as we put our hopes on a more affordable, more opportunity-laden New York City, let us also give credit where it is due. Bloomberg was great for the city, and there is no reason to believe de Blasio will not be as well. As I stated earlier, time will tell.

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