Mayor Michael Bloomberg: A depreciation

An ISR Web exclusive:
Michael Bloomberg’s twelve-year reign as New York City mayor is not ending well. Danny Katch tells us why.


Michael Bloomberg’s twelve-year reign as New York City mayor is not ending well.

A summer that began with a federal judge ruling that the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" policing strategy was racially biased has ended with Bill de Blasio, the city's elected Public Advocate, surging to victory in the Democratic mayoral primary on the strength of his anti-Bloomberg slogan that New York has become a "tale of two cities." De Blasio will be the single Democratic candidate and is expected to trounce Republican Joe Lhota in the general election.  

De Blasio’s surge in the polls punctured the aura of invincibility surrounding the billionaire mayor, who has fallen from kingmaker to lame duck—and now down to laughingstock after giving an interview to New York Magazine in which he accuses de Blasio of "racism" for featuring his interracial family in a campaign ad. Bloomberg claimed that low-income New Yorkers aren't really poor because the subways have air conditioning, and that he wants "all the Russian billionaires to move here."      

Bloomberg’s stumble across the finish line is gratifying for many of us on the left, but it shouldn’t blind us to the fact that his term in office has been a smashing success for rich people, both financially and ideologically.             

Bloomberg ran New York City during a decade in which income inequality dramatically increased, and yet somehow this man with a nasal voice, poor public speaking skills, and the emotional register of a debit card managed to sell a majority of the city on his businessman’s vision of urban government.

Specifically, Bloomberg has scored two ideological wins: First, that the philosophy of enriching the already rich so their wealth will "trickle down" is the only realistic path for cities if they want to avoid becoming the next Detroit; and second, that a business model of urban government not only benefits the wealthy but also produces better performance in city services—especially schools and policing.

New Yorkers have grown wary of these promises, which created an underground pool of dissatisfaction that de Blasio tapped into more than his Democratic rivals. But it remains to be seen how many New Yorkers have come to reject not just Michael Bloomberg but the Bloomberg model, particularly when the likely next mayor’s vague promises and modest reforms prove insufficient to lead the city in a different direction.            

If we have learned anything over the past twelve years, it is that Michael Bloomberg has a history of making comebacks, even if the comeback in question is his legacy rather than yet another term in office. (Everybody, knock on wood, right now!) Remember that it was only three years ago when a string of Bloomberg gaffes led many commentators to declare his final term dead on arrival.        

Bloomberg’s problems began with his hasty decision to bully and bribe the City Council into breaking a term-limits law that he had previously supported in order to allow him to extend his mayoralty, an act which alienated even the mayor’s most ardent supporters. His arrogance continued the following year when he outraged public school parents by appointing Cathie Black, a wealthy social acquaintance with no education experience, to replace the outgoing schools chief. By that time, Bloomberg was already in hot water over his negligent response to the blizzard of 2010: Most Manhattan streets were quickly cleared while the rest of the city—where most working-class and poor New Yorkers live—was snowed under for days. Many outer borough residents stuck in their apartments angrily posted pictures of the perfectly plowed streets around the mayor’s ritzy Upper East Side townhouse.

Columnist Paul Krugman called the snowstorm “Bloomberg’s Katrina” —it was a ridiculous overstatement but at the time it did seem like Bloomberg was toast. “Snowgate” and Cathie Black demonstrated not merely incompetence but ruling-class neglect. Bloomberg was living up to every caricature of the absentee billionaire-in-chief.

And then, suddenly, Bloomberg snapped out of his malaise and stopped colossally screwing up; within months his popularity went back up to around fifty percent. Not only did the snowstorm not turn out to be Bloomberg’s Katrina, but when New York later did meet its actual Katrina in the form of Hurricane Sandy, the mayor was roundly praised, even as residents and volunteers in the hardest hit areas fumed over the city’s weak response.

The post–Sandy disconnect between the anger toward Bloomberg emanating from the streets and the kudos that bathed him from the political class crystallized a phenomenon that has existed throughout the Bloomberg years: the suffocation of the resistance of an isolated and politically novice working class by a united and confident city elite.

It takes time for history to determine the legacy of important political figures, but when it comes to Michael Bloomberg, we already know the terms of the debate. On the one hand, he has successfully realized his vision of making New York City a “luxury product” —a high status habitat of waterfront playgrounds and neo-artisan style designed to attract the international elite and keep the local middle class wanting to stay despite the sticker shock. On the other, this program of urban renewal for the rich has barely touched the majority of the city’s people who have fallen deeper into poverty and near-poverty.

Up until recently, the first point has been viewed as the far more important of the two. For most of his three terms, Bloomberg’s skill set of wealth, creativity, boldness, and more wealth were celebrated across the mainstream political spectrum. Conservatives liked a politician unafraid to praise bankers. Liberals liked smoking bans and a politician who proved that sometimes government initiatives actually work.

From time to time the mayor caught heat from progressives for his indifference toward poverty or his blatantly racist policing policies. But these criticisms often sounded obligatory rather than forceful, a reflection of how these critics may have found Bloomberg’s vision of the city as a luxury product to be distasteful, they didn’t have an alternative vision of their own that they still believed in. 

In this way, Michael Bloomberg’s political triumph is intertwined with the larger triumph of neoliberalism. Throwing around complex words like "neoliberalism" has often unnecessarily isolated the Left, so allow me to explain the jargon.

Neoliberalism refers to both a set of ideas and the era of the past four decades in which those ideas have shaped the world. If that weren’t confusing enough, it implies an obscure definition of the word "liberalism," which most people today associate with progressive ideas like social welfare policies and opposition to wars. But neoliberalism actually refers to the modern revival (thus neo) of the nineteenth century classical or liberal economic belief of philosophers like Adam Smith that unregulated capitalism was the key to human freedom. You know, that whole idea that we should replace mindlessly obeying church and king in the name of "God’s will" with mindlessly obeying factory owners in the name of "the invisible hand of the market." 

In Smith’s defense, the free market was in fact more free than the slavery and feudalism that came before it, and eighteenth century philosophers cannot be blamed for failing to foresee a century of economic depressions and horrifying slums. On the other hand, there is no excuse for today’s neoliberals who do know that history and nonetheless have been working for decades to take the world backward to the horrors of the pre-welfare state era.

One of the ironies of neoliberalism is that despite its small-government ideology, it is fundamentally, as David Harvey has written, “a political project” to shift power from workers to bosses through busting unions, privatizing public services, and encouraging the “financialization” of the economy.[1] In cities in particular, the role of government has shifted under neoliberalism, from being a more passive mediator of “conflicts among various racial, economic, and political constituencies” to being an activist body geared toward the “stimulation of corporate investment and real estate development.”[2]

Bloomberg put this idea in simpler language in his New York interview: "The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills."           

The logic at work here, that you help poor people by helping rich people, is nonsensical, and yet it is almost conventional wisdom in New York City—and thanks to the city's supposedly successful model, in cities across the country.

Neoliberalism is a one-sided class war that presents itself as a cold simple truth: society should be run like a business and all competing ideas are romantic sentiments destined to harm those they purport to help. Michael Bloomberg has been one of neoliberalism’s finest salespeople. He is clever, energetic, and talented, and he manages to simultaneously flaunt his obscene wealth and come across as a regular person. His success as mayor has rested on the same qualities that made neoliberalism successful: the promise to shake up lame government institutions with the invigorating medicine of free market competition, and the cocky willingness to challenge the status quo and to dress up like an outsider despite being one of society’s ultimate insiders. 

Bloomberg’s political success is built on the fact that New York City, like the rest of the country, had already experienced more than twenty-five years of neoliberalism by the time he took office. After decades of retreat from the ideal of creating a more egalitarian society, most New Yorkers haven’t held Michael Bloomberg responsible for the inequality that by now is considered inevitable, even if many of them resent him for embodying it so smugly.

But Bloomberg hasn’t just ridden the coattails of neoliberalism; he has developed and sharpened it as both a set of policies, and a coherent and comprehensive vision of urban government, as Julian Brash argues in Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City.[3]

Brash sharply observes that whereas previous neoliberals like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Rudy Giuliani relied on “misdirection, using the demonization of some set of actors (unions, welfare mothers, squeegee men, and others) to push for policies more to the liking of elite economic interests,” Bloomberg “made more direct claims to class power” by presenting a positive vision of why the entire city would benefit from the rule of the business class.[4]

In addition, Bloomberg has demonstrated how the office of big city mayor, which used to be seen as a relatively powerless position, can be an excellent position for the ongoing neoliberal war on public services. While Congress members and governors have to deal with the never-ending pissing match of partisan politics, most cities are one-party towns run by once-powerful Democratic machines that can be easily overwhelmed by charismatic politicians with deep pockets and powerful friends, such as Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and Newark’s Cory Booker. Bloomberg’s recent freefall should serve as a warning to Emanuel, Booker, and others that the people of their cities will also eventually see through the neoliberal hype. But his success for the previous eleven and a half years indicates that his reign deserves serious attention if we want to understand the strange world we find ourselves living in after decades of neoliberal rule.

Timing is everything
On top of all his other good fortune, Bloomberg has had the luck of great timing—and horrible opponents. He probably would have lost his first election in 2001 had his Democratic opponent Mark Green not alienated Black voters by tolerating race-baiting tactics (including distributing a grotesque New York Post cartoon of Al Sharpton) in his primary victory over Fernando Ferrer.

Four years later, Ferrer won the primary but the main lesson he seemed to have learned from 2001 was that the Democratic candidate should alienate Black voters. I don’t know how else to explain why Ferrer decided to proclaim that the police did not commit a crime in their infamous 1999 police murder of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant shot forty-one times in his doorway as he reached for his wallet to show the cops his ID.

Finally, in 2009 Democrats tried to rectify past mistakes by nominating the African American Bill Thompson. By this point, however, Bloomberg’s power play of ramming through his third term had thoroughly intimidated the political establishment. Thompson had a hard time even finding experienced staff, much less endorsements, and he only came close to Bloomberg’s vote tally because of the historically low turnout of a disgusted electorate.

While Democrats were taking turns disappointing their Black and Latino constituencies, Bloomberg merely had to display more racial sensitivity than his Republican predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who actually had a policy of not meeting with any African Americans—including major elected officials. After Giuliani, the tolerance bar was set so low for Bloomberg that it could only be installed with a backhoe. Thus, after members of Bloomberg’s police department recklessly provoked and then murdered Sean Bell, an unarmed Black man who was out partying the night before his wedding, the normally empathy-challenged mayor was widely praised for simply expressing a degree of regret. 

Race relations aren’t the only arena in which Bloomberg has been granted by history the opportunity to play the good cop. Whatever economic and political power was held by some of New York City’s working class organizations and communities had been shifting to the elites for more than two decades before Bloomberg took office, beginning with the massive labor concessions and service cuts carried out under the threat of the city’s bankruptcy in 1975. For most of that time, this process had been mostly focused on destruction—slashing budgets, demonizing poor neighborhoods, and weakening the power of unions and community groups who the banking and real estate tsars leading the attack, ironically referred to as powerful interest groups.

By 2001, this deed was largely done. Rent control, free higher education, and combative unions were all either a thing of the past or close to it. For the new mayor, the main task was no longer destruction but the reconstruction of whole swaths of the city. Previous mayors had already begun the process of wooing the wealthy with tax breaks and strategic rezoning even as their main job was pounding the poor.

But Bloomberg was able to give almost undivided attention to his vision for a remade city—a vision mostly catering to the One Percent, but also including bike lanes and urban plazas with broader appeal. Almost as soon as he settled into office, he hired investment banker Daniel Doctoroff to pursue a multiyear plan to land the Summer Olympics, an effort that ultimately failed but played a key role in fast-tracking zoning changes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens that have resulted in a wave of luxury residential development.

Sports columnist Dave Zirin has referred to the Olympics as a “neoliberal Trojan horse” because in city after city the apparent gift of hosting the world’s most prestigious athletic tournament has turned out to be an effective way to sneak entire platoons of shady real estate and construction deals past a distracted public that then ends up paying for them for years to come. Or, as one of Doctoroff’s allies put it, “[The Olympic bid] creates an emergency control board for public projects not financed, that gets everybody galvanized….”[5]

In 2003, Bloomberg convened an economic conference at Rockefeller University, an invitation-only affair for business leaders and power brokers organized around the theme of New York City as a product to be developed, marketed, and sold to high-end business and residential customers—both locally and globally:

I've spent my career thinking about the strategies that institutions in the private sector should pursue, and the more I learn about this institution called New York City, the more I see the ways in which it needs to think like a private company.

If New York City is a business, it isn't Wal-Mart—it isn't trying to be the lowest-priced product in the market. It’s a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product. New York offers tremendous value, but only for those companies able to capitalize on it.

The concept of the Big Apple as luxury product emerged from a study that Bloomberg had commissioned from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to evaluate New York’s “market position.”[6] McKinsey assessed the city’s strengths (large, educated “talent pool” and cosmopolitan culture) and weaknesses (high costs) to arrive at the conclusion that the city should market itself to those customers who valued the former and could live with the latter.

The luxury city campaign was an example of Bloomberg’s creative and pragmatic style that has been widely celebrated by his admirers. Here is how New York Times columnist and former executive editor Bill Keller put it in a summer column entitled “The Bloomberg Legacy”: "Before he became associated with Wall Street, Bloomberg studied to be an engineer. Engineering is not just a set of skills. It is an approach to the world, a strategic sensibility different from a politician’s. It favors innovative solutions over incremental fixes, calculation over consensus."

(I should warn you that I am going to cite “The Bloomberg Legacy” throughout this article because it well represents elite liberal opinion and because Keller himself played a major role in shaping that opinion as executive editor of the New York Times for most the Bloomberg years. Under Keller, the Times not only endorsed Bloomberg for re-election in 2005 and 2009, but it helped make the latter run possible by backing Bloomberg’s widely unpopular bid to undo term limits with a pious editorial declaring that term limits “infringe a basic American right….to choose who [voters] want in office” even while noting that a vast majority of New Yorkers wanted to keep them.)

Like most politicians who are misleadingly labeled pragmatists, Bloomberg approaches the world with a set of solutions that are only practical for the One Percent. The philosophy of pragmatism, generally known as utilitarianism, is premised on the goal of seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number” in the words of noted pragmatist Jeremy Bentham, and yet it often seems to produce precisely the opposite. Such as telling a city full of poor people to celebrate living in a luxury product.

As Hispanic Federation president Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez noted in response to the mayor’s presentation: ''If that approach [of the city as a high-end product] is used to attract new businesses, then that's fine, but that approach cannot be used to solve the social and human problems of the city.''

And yet many New Yorkers had been so beaten down by the decades of attacks and neglect that they welcomed Bloomberg’s development priorities even as they could clearly see that they were squarely skewed toward the wealthy. “The Brooklyn waterfront has been abused, misused, and not used,” retired clergyman Joseph Sullivan told Bloomberg biographer Joyce Purnick. “This man comes in with a very different orientation toward the role of mayor. He’s trying to develop the city, not just maintain it.”[7]

For most of his time in office, Bloomberg benefited greatly from the fact that something is usually considered better than nothing, at least until enough people figure out the nature of that something.

Building shiny new luxury towers might not be the best use of the waterfront, but it’s nicer to look at than the rusting old docks which make you feel like the city’s best days are in the past. Besides, at least you can dream your daughter will one day be able to afford to live in those towers, whereas the docks just remind you of your father’s old manufacturing job that you know is never coming back.

An image of substance
Michael Bloomberg is an able mayor who has launched a number of successful initiatives, from the 311 information program to the expansion of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. But even some of his most widely admired acts of supposedly class-neutral problem solving are in fact anything but.

Bloomberg is almost universally praised, for example, for balancing the city's budget in the aftermath of the September 11 attack and by raising property taxes by 18 percent in 2003, angering millions of middle-class homeowners across the city. It was bold, unpopular, and it worked. That doesn’t mean it was fair or logical. According to Kim Moody, that same year tax expenditures (a fancy term for tax breaks) amounted to $2.4 billion, exactly half of the budget deficit. Rather than reduce these tax breaks, most of which go to the wealthiest property holders in the city, Bloomberg increased them to $3.1 billion in 2004 and $3.3 billion in 2005.[8] By 2012, they were up to $6.4 billion.[9] This hardly seems like an engineer’s approach to a budget.

Then there are Bloomberg’s public health mandates. New York City has less cigarette smoke and trans fats than it did twelve years ago and it’s hard to argue against their social benefits, which has undoubtedly served the utilitarian goal of lengthening lives and reducing disease.

Yet much of the mayor’s public health progress has been undone by the fact that nineteen hospitals in the city have closed during this time in office. In the face of a growing uproar over Brooklyn hospital closures, Bloomberg announced that the city would not get involved because “the reality is you can’t have a hospital on every corner.” It was a strange comment for a renowned public health expert, given that if Brooklyn loses three more hospitals as expected, the borough of two and a half million people will be left with only five emergency rooms. If you’re wondering what that will look like, the answer is Queens, which lost 30 percent of its hospital beds per resident from 2006 to 2008, resulting in an average wait time of seventeen hours to be given a bed in one major hospital.

The contrast between Bloomberg’s two divergent public health positions couldn’t be greater. When it comes to policing individual behavior, Bloomberg is willing to be an autocrat in the name of getting results. When it comes to interfering with the workings of the market, even if that market is dysfunctionally choking off the city’s supply of emergency medical care, Bloomberg is religiously devoted to leaving his residents' health care to God’s will. It’s an immoral hypocrisy that tarnishes the legacy of even his most successful public health initiatives.

Finally, there are Bloomberg’s school policies which, like those of the “education reform” movement in general, are an implementation not of pragmatism but neoliberal dogmatism. Creating hundreds of unproven charter schools, closing hundreds of schools, firing thousands of experienced teachers, and forcing students to travel hours each day across the city to get to school simply cannot be considered “practical.”

As with Bloomberg’s other plans, there was initial enthusiasm for his school reforms among parents who were grateful that public schools were finally receiving some sustained attention. For a number of years, Bloomberg’s placing of the school system under “mayoral control” was considered one of his top achievements. These days, admirers like Bill Keller use words like "controversial" and "unfinished" in “The Bloomberg Legacy” and caution that “schools are the work of a generation, not an administration.” (What a patient and fair-minded standard for judging a mayor who pushed for teachers to be fired within two years for bad ratings.)

The reason for this change in tune is that public-school parents have turned on Bloomberg—polls show that they trust the much-demonized teachers’ union over the mayor by a twenty-point margin.[10] Many factors contributed to the bursting of the education reform bubble in New York, including the growth of a grass-roots opposition movement inside the teachers union and the Cathie Black fiasco. But more than anything else, Bloomberg’s education policies were destined to disappoint because they were based on lies.

Thousands of parents and students have had the experience by now of testifying against their schools’ closures at meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy, which Bloomberg created to replace the old neighborhood school boards in the name of delivering “school choice,” and being literally ignored by the mayor-appointed representatives who play with their smartphones throughout the meetings until they invariably end by voting for the closures.

But the biggest lie of all was the steadily rising scores on state tests, which seemed to provide the hard data—much prized by the Bloomberg administration—that mayoral control was a success. But in 2010, the state education commissioner revealed that the tests had been graded on an increasingly generous curve and test scores had in fact not improved at all over the decade, which is worse than no progress if you consider how much more classroom time is now spent on test preparation.

It turns out that the initial popularity of Bloomberg’s education initiatives had less to do with innovations than desperation (of parents), manipulation (of test scores), and finally, public relations: under Bloomberg the Department of Education went from having four PR employees to twenty-three.[11]

It’s important to appreciate how much of Bloomberg’s political method in general rests on public relations. (New Yorkers invariably credit Bloomberg for creating 311, for example, even though the information system was first developed in Baltimore and Chicago.) New Yorkers don’t think of Bloomberg as an image-over-substance guy—because Bloomberg’s image is that he is a substance-over-image guy.  

But the reality is that in his second and third terms he didn’t actually do much but keep his name in local and national headlines by fueling rumors about his presidential ambitions, launch high-publicity, low-impact initiatives such as creating a pedestrian plaza in Times Square, and loudly intervene in national policy debates.

Bloomberg’s stances on issues like gun control, rising sea levels, and religious tolerance have won him support from liberals desperate for a vertebrate politician. But, as with so many issues, he has offered little action to back up his words.

New Yorkers can appreciate the mayor’s warnings about global warming, but should call into question why he has championed so much waterfront development—even his well-regarded $20 billion post–Sandy flood-prevention plan illogically calls for a “Seaport City” to be built right into the East River.

And Bloomberg did a good deed when he eloquently defended the creation of the Park 51 Community Center (otherwise known by its Islamophobic opponents as the “Ground Zero Mosque"). But his approval and defense of his police department’s horrific spying operation against the city’s Muslims have made a mockery of his lofty words in defense of religious freedom and left many wondering if he hasn’t been defending Muslim gathering places just so his police can more easily infiltrate them.

Perhaps the most puzzling, or revealing, of Bloomberg’s liberal inconsistencies involves gun control, the issue about which he has spoken out more than any other through his organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Most people would be surprised to learn that when the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System Board of Trustees voted to divest their pension fund from investing in five gun companies, the mayor’s representative voted against it. Afterward, Bloomberg’s appointee offered this explanation: “Pension decisions should rarely, if ever, be based on other criteria except what’s best for pensioners, which should benefit taxpayers as well.”

In other words, gun violence is important enough to violate New Yorkers’ constitutional rights with the stop-and-frisk policy, but it’s not so critical that we should violate the principle of seeking the maximum possible return on investment. After all, that’s the highest law in the Luxury City.

Money makes the man
Bloomberg’s biggest political strength, of course, is money. He has the means to buy political support to a degree that might be unprecedented in modern US history. But even that doesn’t fully capture what makes him unique. It’s not just that Michael Bloomberg has money but that in the minds of many New Yorkers, Michael Bloomberg is money itself. The only personality he displays in public appearances is an eye-rolling impatience with those who ignorantly protest or question the notion that all aspects of the city must be run according to market forces. If a pile of money could take human form, it might bear a striking resemblance to Michael Bloomberg, a coldly rational figure who inspires little affection but near universal deference and a deflating sense that resistance is futile.  

It’s also a testament to Bloomberg’s natural political skill that he makes no effort to hide any aspect of his outlandishly decadent island-hopping lifestyle and yet still comes across as a more everyday guy than relatively impoverished mere millionaires like Mitt Romney and John Kerry. Bloomberg has done a major service for the rich by having a personality that can embody and normalize the horrendous inequality of US society. 

On second thought, it doesn’t really make sense to call any of Bloomberg’s political skills “natural,” because in politics money is the ultimate performance-enhancing drug. It’s hard for most of us to fathom the meaning of a billion dollars. Think about it like this: the typical adult in the United States has a total net worth of $50,000.[12] That’s 1/20,000 of a billion dollars. This means that for a billionaire, $20,000—a life-altering sum of money for most of us—is what $1 means to the typical American. Imagine a world in which other people are so desperately poor that a dollar could change their lives. You could walk down the street like a savior handing out Washingtons. Perhaps you would soon grow tired of this and instead come up with better ways for the super-poor to live their lives and only give dollars to those who comply.

Billionaires can have superhuman powers. Bill Gates, for example, has used a small fraction of his vast fortune to convince school systems across the country to dramatically transform themselves based on unproven models and incomplete research. Ten years ago his big idea was to close big schools and open small ones: over two thousand school districts rearranged themselves accordingly, despite the disruptive impact for millions of students. Five years later, Gates was told that his own data showed no improvement in smaller schools, so he moved on to his next educational crusade: judging teachers by test scores. Thousands of schools are rearranging themselves accordingly, even as Gates seems to be realizing that this idea doesn’t work either. In schools across the country, Bill Gates seems less like a mild-mannered philanthropist and more like a mischievous god of Greek mythology.

Bloomberg is also a philanthropist, but he has used his wealth to become a different type of god. As the billionaire politician, Bloomberg—who demonstrated few political passions before becoming mayor—has become the unlikeliest peoples’ champion, unafraid to speak the truth to power because he doesn’t owe anyone a thing.

In June 2013, Bloomberg sent a letter to liberal donors asking them not to contribute to Democrats who vote against gun control. Party leaders were furious and claimed that Bloomberg’s strategy would prevent Democrats from winning closely contested elections. Bloomberg’s response was refreshingly direct

If Democrats want to keep control of the Senate, what I would suggest is that they have all of their members vote for things that the public wants. And if they don’t do that, the voters should elect different senators who will listen to them. That’s what democracy is all about.

Regardless of one’s opinion about gun control, this response cut to the heart of the rottenness of Democratic compromises. Bloomberg has exploited the irony of our system. Billionaires have corrupted our democracy to the point that only billionaires have enough money to be incorruptible. And his vast fortune has given him the very thing our parents taught us money could never buy: integrity.

The neoliberal boss
Bloomberg’s reputation for integrity is ironic given that in the city that gave the world Tammany Hall he has presided over possibly the most corrupt administration in history. This statement will strike many as reckless slander. After all, corruption is an activity that we grubby mortals engage in precisely because we don’t live in the Olympian world of billionaires where self-interest is irrelevant. Right, Bill Keller?

[Bloomberg’s] billions… allowed him to self-finance his campaigns and remain largely unbeholden to the city’s clamoring interest groups. Freed from the obligations of retail politics, he could staff his government with top talent rather than people holding political chits. With a few conspicuous exceptions, he hired people of passion and competence. He invited them to experiment, a rare thing in the risk-averse culture of government, but he held them accountable with obsessive attention to metrics…. The great urban contraption that is New York City government has probably never been so well run.  

Keller wrote this column just three weeks after three former city consultants pled guilty as part of the fallout of the largest kickback scheme in the city’s history, the CityTime scandal.

CityTime is a payroll system that requires city employees to submit palm scans when they enter and leave work, thus arousing two Bloombergian passions: fancy technology and Taylorism-style control over the workplace. In classic neoliberal fashion, the private consultants brought in to impose harsher discipline on workers themselves demonstrated a degree of self-discipline generally witnessed in Cancún during Spring Break. By the time they were caught, the CityTime consultants had double billed and overcharged the city to the point that a project that was supposed to cost $60 million ended up costing the city more than $600 million. Apparently, no one had asked them to submit a palm scan.

CityTime was the largest corruption scandal of the Bloomberg administration but far from the only one. The Department of Education (DOE) in particular has been a den of thieves who put the “con” back in consulting:

  • Technology consultant William Lanham embezzled $3.6 million.
  • George Raab, a former executive at Bear Sterns, was the DOE’s chief financial officer until he was busted for using department money to hire a group of consultants with whom he spent department time making plans to launch a new financial company.
  • Future Technology Associates (FTA) scored almost $100 million in DOE contracts (despite company headquarters being a PO box in Jacksonville, Florida) until it turned out they were secretly outsourcing the work to India and pocketing the difference. Oh, and the owner of FTA was sleeping with the DOE official overseeing his contract.

Keep in mind that all three of these juicy DOE scandals took place at the same time the mayor was pushing for teacher firings in the name of “accountability.”

If Bloomberg has been able to emerge mostly unscathed from his scandals, it’s mostly because his crooked pals are from Corporate and IT and they come from elite educational backgrounds just like Bill Keller and company.  Their graft might be distasteful but surely, our media guardians believe, the city is better run in these business class hands than in those of the old-style machine politicians whose crooked pals are merely working-class guys from the neighborhood.

Actually, I think I’d rather have the old political machines, which at least had the Keynesian virtue of creating large numbers of patronage jobs. Bloomberg’s corruption is decidedly neoliberal, creating a few high-end jobs for consultants to slash the city workforce in the name of efficiency but end up costing taxpayers even more money with kickbacks so audacious that Boss Tweed himself would be impressed. 

Shake that money, mayor
In terms of the total amount of stolen money, nothing in New York City history adds up to these scandals—consider that Ed Koch’s third term in the late 1980s was seriously damaged by a $70,000 kickback scheme involving his ally Donald Manes, the Queens borough president who committed suicide over the scandal.

And yet, all of the combined illicitly pocketed funds of consultants is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the amount that’s been taken in by Boss Bloomberg himself. 

When Michael Bloomberg became mayor in 2001, he was worth $5 billion, making him the forty-second richest American. Today he’s at number 10, worth $27 billion. Billions may be incomprehensible numbers, but we can understand what this means: Bloomberg has more than quintupled his wealth during twelve years of “public service.”

I am not suggesting that he did anything illegal, unlike many of those he hired. So is it unfair to hold Bloomberg’s private wealth against him? Not at all, because when someone controls the budget of the city that is home to most of his company's customers, it’s not so accurate to call his personal fortune “private.” 

Here’s a brief explanation of where Bloomberg’s money comes from:

(Trigger warning for those who are nauseated by the megalomania that leads some tycoons to name everything in their lives after themselves.)

  • Michael Bloomberg owns a company called Bloomberg LP, the source of almost all of his wealth.
  • Bloomberg LP produces a financial-information terminal known as a “Bloomberg.” Each Bloomberg is leased annually at $24,000 a pop with few discounts.
  • “Bloombergs” are the primary revenue generator for Bloomberg LP, and thus for Michael Bloomberg.

It’s a pretty straightforward setup, which makes it easy to understand how Bloomberg’s wealth has gone up so dramatically in the twenty-first century: from 2001 to 2013, the number of “Bloomberg” subscriptions has almost doubled.

So the company has done well and it’s owner has benefited accordingly. No problem, right? Actually, there are two problems: First, Bloomberg’s subscription levels are directly tied to the number of employees in the financial industry.  In 2001, Bloomberg LP was already an industry leader with a major share of the financial information market.  There is no way a company like that could double its terminal sales in a single decade unless the entire financial sector were to grow at a massive rate through some sort of global fraudulent… oh.

The number of employees at Goldman Sachs rocketed up from 13,000 in 1999 to 30,000 on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. Most of those new hires probably found a Bloomberg on their desk when they arrived. In a just world, Goldman would have few or no employees (and Bloombergs) today—that’s what’s supposed to happen when you lose far more money than you have. Instead, thanks to government welfare, staff is above 32,000.

Multiply this phenomenon by the number of bailed-out banks and it’s clear that the good fortune over the past decade of Bloomberg (man and company) is due primarily to the propping up of Wall Street with taxpayer money.

If you think that is a conflict of interest for a public official, consider a second factor in Bloomberg’s wealth: keeping taxes low for his customers. Not only has Bloomberg expanded the already generous level of tax breaks given to the city’s elite, he has also used his bully pulpit to denounce any and all suggestions to raise taxes on Wall Street: “The first common sense rule of taxation is, 'Don't tax people that can leave.'" A New York Post reader drew out the unstated corollary to this common nonsense: “So, in effect, New York is sticking the little guys with higher taxes because they’re stuck paying them.”

It goes without saying that Bloomberg hasn’t campaigned for a return of the New York State Securities Transaction Tax, a direct tax on Wall Street trades that existed from 1932 to 1981 without causing the entire financial industry to flee to Connecticut.  (In fact, New York still collects this tax every year, approximately $14 billion annually, but then returns it to the traders.)

Is the mayor’s opposition to taxing Wall Street purely ideological? If banks and hedge funds had to pay taxes at the same rate normal people do, they might have to cut some of their $24,000-a-year terminals. In essence, each year he lays out a budget, Mayor Bloomberg has been making a choice between cutting thousands of city workers and losing thousands of Bloombergs. Guess which he’s picked?

This massive conflict of interest makes a mockery of Bill Keller’s claim that Bloomberg has made “a pretty good argument for noblesse oblige” (French for "nobility obliges’’ or honorable behavior considered appropriate of the elite). Keller’s premise is that the billionaires make better leaders because their wealth supposedly frees them from the provincial perspective that makes most of us unfit for leadership because we’re selfishly concerned about holding on to our jobs, our pensions, or our local hospitals. In fact, Bloomberg has $27 billion worth of self-interest at stake in the city. Any possible noblesse oblige has to wait until the peasantry has been good and robbed.

Even then it has generally taken the form not of well-run government but private charity. Bloomberg is well known as one of the world’s leading philanthropists. His foundation, unsurprisingly named Bloomberg Philanthropies, has quickly become a major funding source for hundreds of New York City cultural and social service organizations. By using his foundation’s money to fund city programs, he has created a nebulous zone of public/private partnerships in which the lines between public policy and private charity are blurry and the only thing that’s clear is that Michael Bloomberg is calling the shots.

The richest man in New York is also, for the first time, the mayor of the city and one of its grandest philanthropists, making it almost impossible for the rest of us to talk to him without wondering at some level of consciousness: "Can I get a slice of this guy?" His personal and public outlays have flooded the city's bloodstream for years now, and few are so uninterested in a possible transfusion of their own that they will take him on.

Wayne Barrett wrote these words in the Village Voice shortly after Bloomberg had rubbed the city’s face in the power of his philanthropy-patronage network by bullying and bribing the City Council into overturning its term-limits law. A disgusted populace, which opposed the term limit extension by a wide margin even as it favored many of Bloomberg’s policies, watched dozens of representatives from museums and charities, who just happened to be recipients of Bloomberg Philanthropies grants, parade before the council to testify in favor of giving the boss his extra term.

When the mayoral election took place a year later, anger still hadn’t died down, which resulted in a shockingly close final tally: Bloomberg only won by fifty thousand votes despite the fact that his nondescript opponent Bill Thomson was outspent twenty to one and was shunned by traditional Democratic institutions like the teachers' union. 

Even one hundred fifty thousand people who voted for Bloomberg, a quarter of his total, registered a degree of discontent with the political status quo by voting for him not as a Republican but on the ballot line of the obscure New York City Independence Party. Most of these voters were probably unaware that the Independence Party is a project of longtime pseudo-left cult leaders Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani.  It’s safe to assume, however, that Michael Bloomberg knew exactly what he was doing over the course of the last decade when he made donations of over a million dollars to individuals and nonprofit organizations associated with Fulani’s party in exchange for getting its ballot line. Without those Independence Party votes, the mayor would have lost in 2009 by a wide margin.  

Dr. Jekyll and Mayor Hyde
Of course, many of Bloomberg’s charitable donations have gone to much worthier causes both locally and globally. It’s just unclear if the help offered by Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist, matches the harm inflicted by Michael Bloomberg, mayor.

Warren Buffet’s son Peter recently wrote a scathing assessment of charitable foundations in which he noted that “inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”

No single person embodies this contradiction as starkly as Bloomberg, whose highly publicized charitable initiatives can only hope to mitigate a fraction of the daily impact of his harmful policies. The net result is Jekyll and Hyde.

In 2012, for instance, the city announced that in order to address the needs of Latinos and African-Americans, Bloomberg Philanthropies was funding the Young Men's Initiative to help those with criminal records find employment. After one year, the Initiative reported that it had placed more than 1,000 young men into jobs.[13]

Good work, Dr. Jekyll! Unfortunately, every single week Mr. Hyde’s police force create that many future-destroying criminal records—mostly to young men of color—just for possessing marijuana. Yikes. The hard-working people at Bloomberg Philanthropies are going to have to do fifty times better just to prevent any more harm being done by their boss.

Another Bloomberg charitable project is the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers, which aim to "refine new approaches to alleviating poverty" by providing financial counselors to help people deal with credit agencies, find unclaimed tax breaks, and plan their budgets.

It’s a nice little plan, although it should be obvious that real financial empowerment can only begin if one has job security. That’s what the city’s 8,800 school bus drivers used to have through something called the Employee Protection Provision until this past year when Mayor Bloomberg successfully pushed for the law to be abolished.

Coincidentally, that is a very similar number of people to what the Financial Empowerment Centers reported to have helped in their first three years to “reduce more than $3 million in debt and accumulate over $300,000 in savings."[14] Though $3.3 million sounds very impressive, when you do the division and realize it’s only a net gain of $388 for each person in a city where the average consumer has almost $6,000 in credit card debt alone. Meanwhile, in the bitter month-long school bus driver strike provoked by the mayor, the same number of people lost well over a $1,000 each.

Some readers may object that it is unfair to weigh philanthropic efforts against the more widespread effects of government policy, but charity is actually Bloomberg’s idea of public policy for the poor and working class (along with stop-and-frisk). A Bloomberg aide once told Richistan author Robert Frank, that "to the mayor, politics is seen as a highly effective form of philanthropy."

Take a step back to consider the entire money cycle picture: Bloomberg takes potential money from the city by pushing to keep Wall Street taxes low, Bloomberg LP pockets a portion of that potential money by selling Wall Street more terminal subscriptions, and Bloomberg Philanthropies returns a portion of that take to the city, but only to programs chosen by Bloomberg. 

It reminds me of a joke I was told once by a veteran union activist: Do you know why they call it "trickle-down economics?" Because we’re the pee-ons.

Whose city?
In his 2003 State of the City address, Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to “keep the good of our whole city ahead of any narrow ideological or political interests.” This idea of the city as its own independent entity with its own objective interests is central to how the billionaire mayor sold his business-centric vision. The neoliberal conventional wisdom about urban policy is that industrial jobs and federal funding are never coming back, so the successful cities will be the ones that outcompete their rivals in giving businesses whatever they want so they will grace us with their job-creating presence.

But, as the urban scholar Richard Shearmur has argued, cities are not the same as businesses:

A business…competes to stay in business and make money, and the prime beneficiaries of successful competition are business owners; employees may or may not benefit, depending on the strategy adopted… . However, a city does not produce a single item nor have a simple finality: it is a site of production for many different things, but also a place where people live and die, where social conflicts occur, and where many groups and coalitions express widely differing needs, aims, and ambitions. In a city, there can be no consensus on what the purpose of competition should be, or on who should benefit. Thus when a claim is made that a city should become more competitive, the first question should be “Who is making the claim?,” and the second one “Who would benefit?”[15]

It isn’t hard to see who has benefitted from Bloomberg’s time in office. According to census data, one-fifth of workers made less than $9,000 in 2011, while a very different fifth make over $220,000. I’m not sure which of those figures is more astonishing.

During his disastrous initial response to the blizzard of 2010, the mayor added fuel to the fire by cheerfully suggesting that people take advantage of their unexpected free time by going to a Broadway show.

It was a moment, and there have been many, that revealed Bloomberg’s provincial view of New York City as a much smaller, wealthier, and whiter community: the mayor honestly didn’t consider that most people in his city lived too far from the theater district to walk there and that four tickets to a Broadway show cost more than the weekly salary of most New Yorkers.

This Royal Tenenbaums-style image of the city seems to be shared by many of the mayor’s supporters, who rattle off the city’s improvements in the Bloomberg era—the High Line elevated walkway, waterfront development with parks and luxury buildings, greenways, and farmers markets—as if these have had more than a glancing impact on the majority of New Yorkers. All it would take to improve their accuracy would be to include words like "some" and "parts": Bloomberg has improved parts of the city. New York has become a better place to live for some.

Bloomberg supporters acknowledge inequality but tend to see it as something that only affects “the neediest cases,” to borrow the title of the New York Times annual series of charity profiles. In reality, living near or below the poverty line in New York City is far from an exceptional circumstance. The median household income in the city is $49,500, which is barely half of the $94,000 that the Economic Policy Institute estimates a two-parent, two-child family needs to bring home in order to “attain a secure yet modest living standard.” Thus the majority experience of life in the Bloomberg years is not taking the family out kayaking in New York harbor but scratching and stressing to stay above water.

Almost every major accomplishment of the Bloomberg administration takes on a different cast when considered from the perspective of the majority of the city’s residents. The low crime rate, for example, is one of Bloomberg’s most celebrated achievements, although it’s doubtful how much credit he should get given that crime is almost universally down across the country and that violent crime dropped most sharply in New York after the NYPD reduced the “stop-and-frisk” policy that Bloomberg claims is necessary to stop violent crime.

More importantly, only certain types of crime have actually decreased under Bloomberg, namely street crimes like assault and robbery that, even though their main victims are poor people of color, can also strike out at the city’s tourists and wealthy neighborhoods, the “Broadway in a blizzard” crowd, if you will.

Meanwhile, other forms of criminality have only gotten worse in the past decade. According to a 2008 study by the New York City Community and Labor Advisory Board, more than 50 percent of low-wage workers told researchers that they had been illegally shortchanged by their employer the previous workweek.[16] These employer violations, which range from minimum wage and overtime violations to unpaid extra work and numerous other scams are known as wage theft, and the study found that victims lost an average of 15 percent of their total income.

The researchers estimate that there are almost six-hundred thousand low-wage workers in the city. So while it’s good news that only around 2 percent of all New Yorkers report a crime to the police over the course of an entire year, more than 3 percent of New Yorkers are getting mugged at work every single week.

In a situation where workers are so vulnerable we can only assume that there is a parallel workplace crime wave of sexual harassment and violence against women. Unfortunately there has been no widespread attempt to map the scope of this illegal activity. Given the mayor’s own history of sexist comments and toleration of workplace harassment, it seems likely that he’s not losing any sleep over it.

Then there’s the lawlessness of Bloomberg’s police force. The stop-and-frisk policy, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, has almost exclusively targeted the city’s “minorities” who are of course its majority: Blacks and Latinos make up more than half the city’s population. And the NYPD has worked with CIA agents to create a “Demographics Unit” that explicitly monitors the city’s 800,000-strong Muslim community by spying on mosques, bookstores, and student organizations. The department has gone so far as to monitor some kids in its own youth soccer league because their team was sponsored by the Arab American Association of New York.

If you’re keeping track, that’s almost one-tenth of the city’s population being illegally spied on and over one-half the population being illegally detained and interrogated based on the color of their skin. So it’s hard to say that most New Yorkers have experienced a drop in crime in the Bloomberg years.

Urban free agency
Beyond these horrific injustices and double standards, there is something fundamentally absurd about the notion of the city as a business. David Roderick, former chairman of U.S. Steel, once said, “U.S. Steel is not in the business of making steel. It is in the business of making money.”

It doesn’t make sense to take a similar approach toward a city or country, but that’s exactly what neoliberalism has set out to do, replacing public schools with charters and forcing nonprofit community hospitals to turn a profit or be shut down.

These “reforms” are sold on the basis that market-based competition will lead to better service. The flaw in this model is that, just as with U.S. Steel, the ultimate logic of capitalist competition is not the product but the profit. Thus, charter schools are not designed to educate all children but to attract those easiest to educate and discard the rest. Hospitals are furiously merging and closing to shed themselves of unprofitable patients and departments.

Jerry Seinfeld once famously noted that following a sports franchise is essentially “rooting for laundry” given how often players change teams in the era of free agency.  Neoliberalism views cities in the same dehumanizing way. Like its schools and hospitals, the neoliberal city seeks to improve itself not by improving its people but by selecting them. If you don’t want to end up like Detroit, where the wealthy moved outside city boundaries, then you make yourself a beacon to upwardly mobile strivers from Chicago to China, and don’t worry about those who can’t afford the rising price of admission. 

Here’s the cheery way Bill Keller describes what is in essence a process of social and ethnic cleansing:

Critics complain that Bloomberg gilded Manhattan to the point where nobody but the affluent can afford it, that the service class was pushed to remote neighborhoods with laborious commutes. There is some truth in that. But as Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University who has been an informal adviser to the mayor, points out, “New York City needs wealthy people, because we tax them.” In turn, the people priced out of Manhattan (including young creative types) have brought new life — and new amenities — to parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Of eight million New Yorkers, Moss said, “1.6 million people live on Manhattan. The rest live elsewhere. And we’ve made elsewhere more attractive.

There was a time not too long ago when the United States took pride in its (always exaggerated) claim to be a land of social mobility, but Keller and Moss are not trying to pretend that Manhattan’s increased wealth is the result of members of the “service class” moving into the ranks of “the affluent.” It’s too obvious that they have simply been replaced with hedge fund children, global elites investing in Manhattan property as real estate developments and new hotels, which reached 90,000 rooms in 2011.

Instead, the neoliberal version of the American Dream for service class workers is apparently gentrification; one day the near-affluent who have been priced out of Manhattan will arrive to bring new life and attractiveness to your dreary proletarian existence. Of course, Moss and Keller don’t even bother to consider the fate of those forced out of Brooklyn and Queens.

During Bloomberg’s term the African-American population of New York City dropped 5 percent, the first decline in the city’s Black population since the start of the Civil War. This trend extends to other major cities and could be a result of African Americans being pulled by better opportunities in the suburbs and Sun Belt as they're being pushed by rising rents and police harassment. But it’s useful to keep that in mind when listening to those who champion how much the city has changed for the better.

For the vast majority of African Americans and other people of color who still live in New York, Bloomberg’s policing policy has been to swipe the city right out from under their feet.

“They might live there, but we own the block, alright? We own the streets.” Those secretly recorded words from a Brooklyn precinct meeting were played at the recent federal trial in which the city’s use of stop-and-frisk was ruled to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law regardless of race. The court also heard testimony that police chief Ray Kelly told legislators in a private meeting that “he wanted to instill fear in [minority youth], every time they leave their home they could be stopped by the police.”

Cops have patrolled Black neighborhoods like occupying armies for decades, but there is something noteworthy about Bloomberg’s escalating use of the stop-and-frisk, which rose almost 700 percent during his tenure, reaching an incredible high of 685,000 in 2011.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that “as cities have becoming increasingly inhospitable to poor and working class Black and Latino communities, the police have been used to reinforce the boundary between distressed neighborhoods and the gentrified and economically vibrant areas where they are perceived not to belong.”

Just as Bloomberg used the power of eminent domain to force out homeowners standing in the way of the new Brooklyn basketball arena, he has used stop-and-frisk as a form of constitutional eminent domain, a message to poor people of color that their rights have been evicted from the city for the not-so-greater number of rich people and tourists who want to feel safe in “their” city.

Our city!
In “The Bloomberg Legacy,” Bill Keller concludes his fourteen paragraphs of almost straight praise with a mild critique. Even more than the praise, this criticism reveals the thin exoskeleton that is all that remains of elite urban liberalism. After twelve years of Bloomberg, Keller writes, “many New Yorkers are ready for a little more consensus, a little less lecturing, a little more attention to those at the bottom.”

Presumably, by “those as the bottom,” Keller is referring to the fifty thousand New Yorkers who are homeless each night and the one and a half million who are food insecure each year, numbers that have both reached an all-time high under Bloomberg. How condescending to approach these New Yorkers as if they were children in need of “attention” (although far too many of them are children). What they need is quite obvious: stable and decent housing, food, and income. But those simple demands have become a socialist utopia; Keller’s vague euphemisms are instead the outer limits of neoliberal liberalism.

We’re going to need a far more robust type of opposition in the coming years, regardless of who is the next occupant in City Hall. Bloomberg’s successor is going to face a wave of bankrupt community hospitals and the tremendous cost of defending an archipelago city from rising ocean waters. Perhaps the biggest battle is going to be over the backlog of wage increases and benefits contributions for unionized city workers, the heart of what remains of the city’s stable working class.

Local elites can be counted on to urge the need for collective sacrifice for “our city” and to threaten to move to the suburbs when we suggest they pay higher taxes. Despite the immense wealth of Wall Street, they will use the specter of bankruptcy as a sword over the heads of local unions in negotiations. (The title of another Bill Keller column this summer was “ “New York is not Detroit. But….”) 

Whatever his inner intentions, Bill de Blasio will find himself under immense pressure to carry out the ruling-class offensive. After years of neoliberal construction under Bloomberg, the city is likely heading for another round of destruction. Are we prepared to fight for our city? 

A poll taken this spring, before de Blasio’s surge indicated that the main trait New Yorkers want in the next mayor is empathy. That’s not nearly enough. What we need from the Michael Bloombergs of this city is not their empathy or attention but their money. Or rather it’s our money—our city’s money—and we need it back to preserve and improve our schools, hospitals, and public transportation.

That’s going to take more than campaign promises from mayoral candidates. It’s going to take a social movement rooted in the many grass-roots struggles against stop-and-frisk, wage theft, and school and hospital closures that have emerged in the latter years of the Bloomberg administration. These campaigns helped create the environment that has led to de Blasio’s triumph, but they haven’t yet coalesced into a larger vision that offers an alternative urban model to Bloomberg’s city-as-a-business.

Perhaps the movement of fast food workers demanding $15 an hour can play a particularly important role in involving large numbers of people in a campaign that explicitly challenges the neoliberal framework that cities need to be low-wage havens in order to “stay competitive.” This would give radicals the opportunity to counter the cynical neoliberal ideal of the luxury city with Martin Luther King’s vision of a shift from a “thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

In the short term this may not be an easy task. Around the world, movements from Occupy to Egypt to Brazil have struggled to move beyond anger at the status quo to articulation of an alternative.

In the long run, however, it is likely that Michael Bloomberg will be judged more harshly than he is by most of his contemporaries. Historians may admire his boundless energy and his willingness to risk his political career on bold projects that sometimes seemed impossible to accomplish. But they will struggle to understand how someone with so many resources could have such a narrow vision, why he was motivated to end hotel shortages rather than homelessness.

From the vantage point of a post-neoliberal world, Michael Bloomberg will reveal himself to be a problem solver who ignored society’s deepest problems, and an innovator who merely accelerated the pace at which New York City transformed itself into more of the same.

[1] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 19.

[2] Julian Brash, Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2011), 5.

[3] Ibid, 17.

[4] Ibid, 274.

[5] Jay Kriegel, “New York’s Olympic Plan,” Speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. New York. July 10, 2002. Cited in Brash, 50.

[6] Brash, 107.

[7] Joyce Purnick, Mike Bloomberg (New York: Public Affairs, 2009), 209.

[8] Kim Moody, From Welfare State to Real Estate: Regime Change in New York City, 1974 to the Present (New York: The New Press, 2007), 171.

[9] City of New York, Annual Report on Tax Expenditures Fiscal Year 2012,

[10] Quinnipiac University Poll, January 17, 2013,

[11] Purnick, 217.

[12] Different studies produce different results for median individual wealth. $50,000 is both in the middle of those estimates and a nice round number. If you’ve jumped right to this note, get back to the main text because you’ll soon realize that I could have made up practically any number and my point will still stand.

[13] Young Men’s Initiative Annual Report 2012,

[14] “Mayor Bloomberg Announced Funding for Financial Empowerment Centers,” FEC Public Funding 1.11.pdf.

[15] Richard Shearmur, “Of Urban Competitiveness and Business Homelessness," Urban Georgraphy, 29:7, October 1–November 15, 2008, cited in Brash, 138.

[16] Annette Bernhardt, Diana Polson, and James DeFillipis, “Working Without Laws: A Survey of Employment and Labor Law Violations in New York City,” 2010,


Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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