One Police Plaza

Mayor Mike: Leading With Ego

November 5, 2012

Poor Mayor Mike. He is trying to lead the city in its recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Alas, his billionaire ego keeps getting in his way.

Look at what he did last week.

BulletHe worked like a beaver at City Hall, trying to bring New York back from the brink of disaster.

BulletHe told President Obama to stay away from the city.

BulletHe declared the New York City Marathon would go on as scheduled.

BulletHe endorsed President Obama for re-election.

BulletHe cancelled the Marathon.

OK, let’s say right up front that in his decade as mayor, Michael Bloomberg has made New York City a kinder, gentler place than existed under his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

People who have worked for him say the mayor is generous both personally and professionally.

Black New Yorkers don’t hate him as they did Giuliani — or, for that matter, Ed Koch. People forget that, back in the day, even the avuncular Koch had a brutal time of it. He couldn’t walk into a black church without being booed.

Not so Mayor Mike. Maybe it was a reaction to Rudy, but the mayor has somehow tamed Al Sharpton, once the city’s bête noire of incendiary racial politics and the nemesis of both Giuliani and Koch [who famously dubbed him Al Charlatan].

How Bloomberg managed to defang the Rev is something of a mystery. Maybe some of his generosity planted the seed money for Sharpton’s new television life at MSNBC. Whatever it was, the Rev no longer leads month-long demonstrations outside Police Plaza as he did during Giuliani’s days. The city owes Mayor Mike its gratitude.

Similarly, Bloomberg showed his decency when it came to the city’s Muslims. He supported their attempt to build a mosque near Ground Zero, which such supposedly forward-thinking groups as the Anti-Defamation League not only opposed but mocked.

On the other hand, there was Bloomberg and the police department.

At the same time as he was making nice to Muslims, he abdicated his mayoral responsibilities to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

He allowed the NYPD to engage in widespread, systemic spying on the city’s Muslims and beyond while he looked away.

At the same time as he was making nice to Sharpton and other black pols, he allowed the department to expand its Stop-and-Frisk policy so that cops made millions of random stops-and-frisks, many without legal cause, of black teenagers and black men.

Perhaps his most egregious act was breaking his pledge to serve only two terms as mayor. In 2009, he spent millions to cajole/ pressure/ bribe [choose your verb] City Council members to overturn the city’s two-term-limit law so that he could serve a third term.

Now let’s return to Hurricane Sandy.

Yes, Mayor Mike has been hands-on, working night and day, as though to make amends for his absence in Bermuda when that 2010 winter storm hit. With Hurricane Sandy, he resembles John Lindsay, who after an embarrassing presidential attempt in 1972 spent the next year at his desk, thinking small and just doing his job.

Then, there’s the Obama issue. First, Bloomberg rebuffed his attempt to visit to New York, saying he, Bloomberg, was working too hard helping the city to recover to host the President. In short, his self-importance occluded his better judgment.

It apparently never occurred to him that an Obama/Bloomberg appearance might have meant plenty to Sandy’s traumatized victims in ravaged sections of the Rockaways or Staten Island.

The media allowed the incident to pass without comment. But consider this: what would people have thought if Giuliani had told President George W. Bush to stay away from the city after 9/11?

Contrast Bloomberg’s spurning of Obama with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s embrace of him. Obama gained, but Christie gained more. A fervent Romney supporter, he placed the interests of his state’s beleaguered storm victims before his party — and his ego.

And then, a day or later, Bloomberg endorsed Obama for President. His endorsement was a backhanded one, citing Obama’s acceptance of climate change while criticizing him for a host of failings.

Again, Mayor Mike’s ego was running rampant. Given the timing, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, it’s hard to see how he was supporting Obama. Rather, Bloomberg seemed to be using the endorsement to burnish his own credentials for his dream of someday running for President as an independent third-party candidate.

Finally, let’s turn to the Marathon.

With his insistence that the race proceed, Bloomberg seemed to be emulating Giuliani, who shortly after 9/11 insisted on opening the New York Stock Exchange.

“There's an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people,” Bloomberg said of the Marathon last week. “It's a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you've got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind.”

But opening the New York Stock Exchange was a symbolic gesture. It showed the world that the city would not be deterred by terrorists.

Running the Marathon literally in the face of people’s suffering seemed both insensitive and insulting. Mayor Mike didn’t see the difference.

In short he seemed to lack a quality that both Koch and Giuliani possess. It’s called the common touch.

The New York Post got on his case. Big time.

The police officers’ union issued a press release that read: “Parts of our city are completely devastated. And our members have left their own families and problems to help the city work through this disaster. …These valuable resources should not be redeployed to cover what is essentially a city-wide party.”

The mayor was said to be furious over that last phrase. Although one cannot say the PBA was the straw that broke his back, an hour later he cancelled the Marathon.

The following day, the Post ran a front-page picture of Bloomberg with his head as a light-bulb [Get it?].


Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt