Commentary Magazine


Bloomberg’s Legacy

The mayoralty of New York’s Michael Bloomberg has been an uncommonly boring one, and primarily for that reason, it has been judged a smashing success. For those who felt exhausted by the constant battles between Rudy Giuliani and the city’s liberal elites in the eight years prior to his election, Bloomberg brought a surprising measure of peace — some of which he purchased, by the way, through personal gift- and grant-giving, which had the effect of quieting attacks from leftie and arts institutions that liked nothing more than to get into a scuffle with City Hall and thereby earn plaudits and attention from the New York Times. Given the size of Bloomberg’s personal fortune, the money he spent to buy himself social quiet was doubtless worth it. And for causing these intolerable loudmouths to shut themselves up and enjoy their financial goodies, Bloomberg deserves a pat on the back. And for keeping the city on the even keel on which Rudy had left it, he deserves credit as well. He didn’t upset the apple cart.

That said, however, Bloomberg’s mayoralty has been, at least to measure by his own ambitions, a horrific failure. This week brought the collapse of his grand design for a car-toll system in Manhattan. This followed the failure, two years and tens of millions of dollars in planning ago, to secure the Olympic games for New York City in 2012 — a loss that had every single person who lives in the city sighing with relief, as you could not find a single person here outside of the construction trade that did not dread the possibility of the city being turned inside out for three solid weeks so that a bunch of stoned volleyball players could vie for a medal on an invented East River beach in the very unpicturesque neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And that followed the failure, two years before that, of his plan to build a stadium in the West 30s only a few years after Rudy had tried and failed at the same thing.

Bloomberg’s signature accomplishments have been: an increase in the property tax, most of which he then returned to city folk in the form of a tax rebate; and a draconian smoking ban, which has caused jam-ups in front of every bar in the city, as drunken louts and lasses crowd the sidewalk, puffing madly away because they are no longer allowed to have a cig with their scotch. He also succeeded in taking control of the city’s elementary schools, a long-sought-after reform that has resulted in mostly nothing.

And now comes the hard part. The reduction in economic activity that inevitably accompanies a slowing or recessionary economy will hit New York City’s public coffers very hard. The city makes its money from transactions — stock trades, mergers and acquisitions, and the like — of which it takes a teeny tiny cut. When the number of those transactions falls from 100 billion a year to 50 billion in a year, the city instantly finds itself going from a surplus in its budget to a huge deficit that, by law, it must close. And it will fall to Bloomberg to close it. And close it he will, with his favorite method of closing it — raising taxes.

He is going to end his mayoralty vastly less popular than he has been through most of it. And that will reflect the true quality of the mayoralty, which has been mediocre.