The Days Lengthen, The Term Shortens Mayor Mike, Show New Yorkers How Much You Care
Mayor Koch is fond of saying, “If you agree with me on nine issues out of 12, support me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12, see a psychiatrist.”
Mayor Bloomberg is an honest, intelligent man who developed a midlife interest in public affairs. A combination of his personal wealth, the competent staff he chose, endorsements by Mayors Koch and Giuliani, and widespread distaste for the Democratic nominee (for reasons personal and political) propelled Bloomberg into becoming New York City’s 108th mayor. He is the second to be term-limited, and he must leave by Dec. 31, 2009.
The mayor has usually acted in a “nonpolitical” manner, sometimes too nonpolitical for his own good. His circle is small, and consists mainly of employees, who are loyal and able, and sometimes imaginative. The mayor’s most important initiatives — the Board of Education takeover and the ban on indoor smoking at bars and restaurants — are very worthwhile. But since no good deed goes unpunished, he has taken a lot of flak over the cigarette bill and the consequences of his education initiatives.
The mayor did not take flack; that word is a mildly pejorative reference to a press agent, now called a public relations or communications person. Flak, on the other hand, comes from the German acronym: flieger (flyer) abwehr (defense) kanonen (cannons). It means anti-aircraft fire.
It is not widely known that it was the City Council that passed the anti-smoking bill, at the mayor’s request, by a vote of 42-7 in December 2002. The Council of rookies is not made of submissives — it has overridden 15 mayoral vetoes. The clean air bill is a significant advance in public health. It protects employees of restaurants and bars from second-hand smoke, mirroring a state law to similar effect. It has a salutary effect on other diners.
Yet it is the mayor who has borne the brunt of smokers’ rage, fanned by the tabloids. That is in part because his own remarks on the subject have been less than empathetic to nicotine addicts.
There are a number of issues on which I disagree with the mayor. I am pleased that he took over the school system, but believe that Chancellor Klein is too attached to conventional (Teachers College) wisdom on matters about which neither of us has ”professional” qualifications. But his devotion to the well-traveled Diana Lam, his awareness of some of her misjudgments and his accelerated anointment of her acolyte arouse anxiety. Ending social promotion was a good move, but for the kids who are rightfully not promoted, he needs what we now call an exit strategy.
When I served as a commissioner in the dark ages of Koch and Giuliani, I felt very fortunate that I was able to make generally reliable judgments on issues before me, based on history, personal experience, common sense and mother wit, without relying on unattainable or unreliable data or self-serving studies. People who are very bright are sometimes misled by dubious or deniable documents, or misrepresentations by the credentialista. Sadly, this is one area in which testing is so far imperfect. Tests measure knowledge and reasoning skills, but not judgment, a quality that can only be proven by experience or discerned by insight.
Other problems out there include the Christo intrusion in Central Park in 2005; the MTA’s $450 million reconstruction of a reasonably adequate South Ferry subway station underneath historic Battery Park; the refusal of the city’s unions to change work rules and generate productivity savings; the apparent harassment of merchants, drivers and homeowners by newly increased fines and zealous enforcement; and our feckless City Council, which receives Zimbabwe’s dictator Mugabe (today’s Idi Amin), but cannot pass a resolution attacking anti-Semitism because that is too controversial for some of its members.
Nonetheless, for New York City the cup is half full and not half empty. Spring has sprung; the crocuses are out.
Homicides and cigarette deaths are down, employment is slightly up, we have not been attacked for 31 months, and we have a decent, honorable, relatively moderate mayor. To strengthen the case for an additional 48 months, he should make the most of the next 21.
Henry Stern was NYC Parks Commissioner for 15 years and a Councilmember for nine. He is founder and director of NYCivic, a good government group. He can be reached at email@example.com