On The Record With A Couple Of Mikes
Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Trib Publisher Mike Schenkler
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Mike Bloomberg came to the Tribune the other day. We shared coffee, bagels and lox in my office as I peppered him with questions. In a relaxed, incisive manner he responded.
Well, it wasn’t quite peppering - because the mayor was knowledgeable, confident and in command of every subject we touched upon - he effectively took control of much of the discussion. His ability to go into depth on any subject raised was impressive and not typical of the elected officials that regularly stop by my office.
Mike is bright and a quick study. He knows his stuff.
He was certainly much more relaxed and self confident than he was in August 2001 when he last visited the Trib.
I’ve been doing this for almost a quarter of a century. I’ve interviewed a whole lot of impressive public figures. I’ve met all the mayors back to John Lindsay and have had the chance to go a round or two - of questions, that is - with just about every major player in the City for the past couple of decades.
There are some who have wowed me with their sheer magnetism; others with their intellect. Some with their compassion; some with their sense of timing. There were the hard workers, the humorous and others who I’d just like to hang with.
But when it comes to just plain solid judgment and decision making, I’ll take Mike.
He is not political; he’s not counting votes. He’s just doing his job - and as far as I am concerned, doing it damn well.
I like Mike.
I’ve had the privilege and challenge of running several businesses including a publicly traded company. I know the essentials of quick, accurate, analytical decision-making.
Mike Bloomberg is a natural. He is a natural when it comes to looking at the problem, telling it like it is, and drawing the logical conclusion. He possesses a rare gift that I hope his media makers don’t obscure.
He clearly is a gifted CEO and it appears he runs the City as he would run a giant corporation. And isn’t it about time?
He arrived before our 9:30 a.m. breakfast appointment and started off complaining about possibly coming down with the flu - that was the last mention or sign that he might be off his game.
He, like I, thrives on coffee, but while I watched my carbs, he claimed the bagel was for medicinal purposes.
Was he familiar with my column, Not For Publication?
“Chris [Press Secretary Chris Coffee] makes sure I read it; he points it out to me,” the mayor explained.
Since we had time constraints, I apologized for ignoring the niceties and got down to business.
“Any New Year’s Resolutions this year?” I asked.
“It’s a campaign year. I think, to get re-elected, but it’s going to be a lot of work. We are at a turning point in the city. We can get to the point where there are a lot of things that will happen or nothing will happen. It would be a great tragedy if it were the latter.”
The Mayor didn’t stop there, acknowledging the need to attack environmental, security, and financial problems.
“We have to create jobs for the people who live here today . . . We need to prepare our children for the jobs for tomorrow. . . A phenomenal number of kids get out of school and can’t read, and can’t write,” Bloomberg strung together challenge after challenge faced by our city.
How will he rise to the challenges?
“I do know how to run a big organization. . . I do know what business people think about in terms of deciding where to locate . . . I do know why some people get ahead and some don’t. I would argue that it’s not just the ‘Three Rs’ that we’re not teaching. It’s the ability to deal with the real world.”
Citing the lack of sufficient training in the home, and the number of dysfunctional families, the mayor highlighted root causes of today’s failure in school and life, noting that so many children “don’t see that you have to work every day and get along with people.”
For the moment, I paused and took the successful businessman outside the role of city super-chief and back into the world of business. I asked him, “What is the single most important trait for success?”
Without hesitation, he shot back, “Hard work!”
The response revealed much about this extremely bright man’s approach to business, running the city and to life.
He continued with a brief but relevant story: “There is a kid with long dreadlocks who is a caddy at a club I play golf at. He tried to make the Jamaica long jump team. He worked hard all week, flew overnight to get to the trials and ended up [not in peak condition] missing his chance to get on the team.
A week later at a competition he made a jump that would have given him a sliver medal at Athens, but he didn’t make the team because he was working.
I called my company, told them, about him, and asked if we had a place for him. They hired him.”
And how does that apply to improving the job market in our city?
“Prepare the kids. . .create jobs for people today . . .low crime . . .clean streets . . .and lots of advertising with things like the Republican Convention,” according to the Mayor, “those are the reasons that people come to New York.”
“We have got to get the kind of jobs that we have the skills to fill. We have those jobs where intellectual content is the key - accounting, finance, journalism, media . . . All these industries are located here. As long as the quality of life is great these people will want to work here.
Employees are the only asset that matters.
The other kind of job is where intellect is not the key factor - sweat labor, if you will. [Where] immigrants, without the command of language, seek the great traditional American dream - a Jew gets off the boat, lives on the Lower East Side and make something out of his life [for himself] and for his children.
It’s [also] these other jobs - tourism jobs, driving busses, restaurants, hotels.
It would be a great tragedy for the people of Queens if we lost that.”
QUALITY OF LIFE
The mayor’s message was clear: “Keep quality of life higher than it is anywhere else. Crime is down 20 percent in Queens in the three years I’m in office. So the number 1 thing is crime; number 2 is having clean streets. We also need to make sure our cultural institutions and parks are good. These are the reasons why people want to live here.”
Echoing the thoughts of many readers, I asked, “Overdevelopment?”
“If we don’t want the big stores here, then you can’t complain that the money is going over the border. If you don’t want any traffic, then have no economic activity.
What happens when there is a World Series? Should I ask George Steinbrenner to not have the Yankees win because of traffic?
Traffic and housing shortages are the problems of success.
Go to upstate [there are] deserted buildings and empty fields.
Our problems are traffic, overdevelopment and [the need for] affordable housing.”
As we rambled onto education, this writer, a former educator turned newspaperman, was taken with the improvement in teacher recruitment and retention that has marked the past year, as well as the mayor’s identification of other problems requiring reform in the educational system.
Clearly there has been progress and just as clearly, Bloomberg’s management skills are focused on even greater improvement.
The mayor pointed to finances as the biggest obstacle in solving many of the city’s problems. To succeed he explained, “You need to grow your way out of it.” Citing things like the West Side Stadium, rebuilding downtown, and bringing 100 new companies into city, Bloomberg aims to improve the economic situation.
THE MAYOR’S FUTURE
His future? I asked.
“I’d like to win [re-election], continue, and give four more years of my life. After that I won’t go back to the company. I’ll run a foundation. And I will never criticize whoever follows me. I will not hold another press conference.”
This uncommon Republican explained, “I’m not a political guy. Both parties have the spectrum of members from left to right, from great human beings to people I don’t have anything in common with . . . I’m Pro Choice. I donate money [to socially liberal causes] . . . There is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage. I don’t have a partisan job.”
“Under the present conditions and the need to fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity,” I asked, “How does quality of life get preserved with fiscal responsibility?”
“We would have to cut back other programs. The public does not want to raise taxes”
“Look at the last three years,” Bloomberg proudly proclaimed, “we have had enormous deficits, but we have improved the quality of life. And that’s going to be better in the next four years. I believe the best days of this city are yet to come.”
We rambled on.
We revisited politics, talked Olympics and campaign finance. We rambled some more.
It is clear that Mike Bloomberg is focused on re-election. Mike Bloomberg is focused on the future of our city. Mike Bloomberg is committed to hard work and those values that have helped to build our great city. Mike Bloomberg has no political agenda.
It seems to me, New York City is in pretty good hands.
I like Mike.