A Fordham-sponsored conference on New York’s Michael Bloomberg era delivered an overall tone of appreciation for the former mayor’s innovations, tempered by the reality of seemingly intractable problems of urban poverty.
“Bloomberg’s New York: A Retrospective,” a conference held at Fordham Law School on Nov. 14, attracted many of the billionaire mayor’s administration officials, who positively put into perspective the post-Bloomberg New York.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, called his tenure, “something in the realm of miracles, it was miraculous.” He said that the mayor was an “outcomes and data driven guy” who took the helm shortly after the September 11 attacks.
“The city had not been as distressed and disturbed, since the Draft Riots of 1863,” said Father McShane, “But Bloomberg led with a creative verve that transformed the city from devastation back into one of the world’s great metropolises.”
Even one of the mayor’s biggest defeats, the failed 2012 Olympic bid, was recast as one of his greatest accomplishments. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Trades Council of Greater New York, said rezoning for the bid allowed for some of the city’s biggest developments, including Hudson Yards, the new Mets Stadium, and the new Yankee Stadium, to name a few.
“The ancillary effects are still being felt,” said LaBarbera.
Seth Pinsky, former president of NYC Economic Development Authority, which oversaw many of the developments, said that while the larger projects garnered most of the attention, the less glamorous infrastructure projects in outer boroughs made the city livable for the working and middle classes. Casting the mayor as Manhattan-centric was unfair.
“Because of improved infrastructure and public safety, our middle class and younger people can move to areas that weren’t an option before,” he said.
Public safety was the focus one panel featuring Loretta Preska, LAW ’73, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for New York’s Southern District; Robert Keating, former vice-chairman of Mayor Bloomberg’s judiciary committee; and Cyrus Vance, district attorney of New York County.
Preska said crime dropped 32 percent under Bloomberg, “despite the added demands of terrorism.” Vance noted that Bloomberg and former police chief Ray Kelly created a world-class antiterrorism force, which Daily News’s Arthur Browne dubbed “equal to the FBI or the CIA.”
“The news here is not what happed, but what didn’t happen,” said Vance.
The panel’s moderator, Richard Aborn, of the Citizens Crime Commission, said that it would be remiss for the panel not to mention the stop and frisk policy.
Vance called stop and frisk “an essential police tactic.”
“You have to have the officer be able to stop and frisk and that shouldn’t be taken away,” said Vance. “Under Mike and Ray the tactic was sound, but it began to work against police and community relations.”
Keating said that the mayor took a multipronged approach toward crime, including his judicial appointments, hoping to help alleviate the constant recidivism of those committing crimes. Bloomberg viewed judges as “thinkers and change agents” and thought they could help reform aspects of the justice system.
And yet the mayor’s connection to the poor was perceived as distant, panelists said.
“The flipside of his uber-rationality, social standing, and money was that there was a lack of connection to regular New Yorkers,” said Browne.
Many of the panelists took issue with the perception, including Father McShane, who said that the mayor’s work with the poor was the administration’s great-unsung accomplishment. Two educators—CUNY Emeritus Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch—agreed.
“Bloomberg’s antipoverty program was education,” said Tisch.
While Bloomberg may best be known for the many charter schools he supported, he was also responsible for opening several public schools, she said. Such changes should have implications for the entire state.
“You cannot proceed into a world economy without our people, and New York City cannot be the lone engine in New York,” said Tisch. “We have to leverage the changes that took place under Bloomberg for the entire state.”
Panelists repeatedly returned to the mayor’s management style.
“Mike didn’t operate at the detail level, he was macro,” said Peter Madonia, former City Hall chief of staff.
Several speakers said that the mayor picked talented people and handed over the reigns with the dictum, “Don’t mess it up.”
Though all agreed the language was a bit more direct.