Hero or Villain? Champion of the Public Interest Or of the One Percent? How to Properly Honor or Vilify Mayor Bloomberg?



Crazy me. I was going to write an article about Mayor Michael Bloomburg, New York City's three-term mayor, thick with praise for his efforts to promote the public interest, public health, public respect for bold leadership and so on. The only problem - I lacked standing. Not only do I not live in the famed Big Apple but I have not made a habit of looking for evidence of a possible dark side to all the seemingly positive things the good mayor seems to have done. From far-away Florida, it almost seems as if he's part Superman - able to leap tall barriers and get good things done faster than a speeding bullet that render his beloved city healthier, safer and, I presume, more conducive to REAL wellness.

But then again, my impressions lacked depth or even what could be called evidence.

This, I decided, was no reason to be discouraged from doing what I had set out to do. Ignorance can always be rectified by knowledge gained from unearthing the facts and the truth. A little digging, I concluded, would do the trick.

The Legacy of Mayor Bloomberg

Now I have enough information about the mayor's performance to assess his impact on the health and good fortunes of Gotham's citizenry. Still not so much to guarantee that I'll get it right, but at least enough to satisfy myself that I capturing things (i.e., reality) with some measure of sensibility. To not write or to fail to pass REAL wellness judgment on his twelve years would be a dereliction. He has, after all, led one of if not the greatest city on Earth with eye-catching, bold actions. His legacy includes attempts to restrict dietary cretins from committing self-ruin by soda pop, convincing rich corporations (e.g. Citibank) to contribute bicycles, standing up to the Christian Right by safeguarding the separation of church and state on numerous occasions and much else that invites commentary and assessment.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of investigating the mayor's tenure was exposure to the opinions of actual New Yorkers about Bloomberg's wholesome, virtuous and health-friendly policies, such as: 

  • Calorie counts on menus.
  • No smoking in public parks.
  • Adding about 800 acres of new parkland in the city.
  • His walk the stairs campaign, backed by supportive building code requirements.
  • Limits on the size of sugary soda pop drinks (though struck down by a court order).
  • Aggressive promotion of bike trails and other exercise outlets.

For more on these and related policies, see Jenny Xie, The Real Genius of Bloomberg's Plan to Convince You to Take the Stairs, The Atlantic Cities, July 25, 2013.

Who would object to such sensible initiatives? Well, as happens on nearly every topic, opinions vary. Not everyone in New York, it seems, is likely to celebrate if a reputable newsletter, such as the AWR, names Mayor Bloomberg America's REAL Wellness Mayor of the Year.

What a Few Renowned New Yorkers Think About Him

A sampling of opinions about the mayor's service and impact are widely available. I was particularly interested in Talking Bloomberg: Notable New Yorkers weigh in on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's legacy. This lengthy feature appeared in the New York Times on August 16, 2013.

The first commentary was contributed by essayist Fran Lebowitz's, who clearly has managed to curb her enthusiasm for the mayor. She said one of the worst things about him being mayor is that he's so rich. This meant he never had to appeal to what he calls the special interest groups. From the mayor's perspective, special interest groups are the citizens of New York. Unlike Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Lebowitz does not think of public school teachers, cops or tenants as special interest groups. Rather, she thinks billionaires are a special interest group. Nor was she impressed by the soda pop campaign: ... someone showed me the size soda that you couldn't have. I didn't know those existed. My first apartment was smaller than that. I think maybe in Abu Ghraib they make you drink that soda. It seems like a crazy amount of soda; it doesn't mean I think it should be against the law.

Ms. Lebowitz also voiced skepticism about the mayor's self-image as a green mayor. (He flies hither and yon nearly every weekend in this highly polluting 1% style.) Finally, she disses the exercise promotion campaigns, especially the donated Citi Bikes. These bikes are a continuous, omnipresent ad for Citibank. Finally, Ms. Lebowitz says never forget that he used his power to overturn two voter term-limit referendums. Doing so was,  in effect, a coup d 'etat.

But wait. Michael Van Valkenburgh, architect, extolled the parklands, declaring that under Mayor Mike's tenure, New York became a better place to live.

Marcus Samuelsson, a chef and owner of a Harlem restaurant, praised the mayor's  commitment to the economic development of Harlem, as well as the rest of the city.

Gary Shteyngart, a writer, mildly assessed his tenure as just OK - I haven't been mugged or trans-fatted in a while.

However, Steve Koonin, head of NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress, showered the mayor with praise, declaring that NYC is now safer, cleaner and works better while remaining one of the world's most exciting cities. This mayor's legacy is that he positioned New York to continue to thrive for the next 50 years.

Actress and education activist Rosie Perez singled out as radical the bold changes he advanced for the public school system. (He championed a small schools movement, established 656 small units and closed 164 large schools that were failing.)

Author Caleb Carr, however, shares the darker, Lebowitzian view of the mayor. Leaving the city cleaner, safer, more attractive to business and a hive of new development may be heard in the testimonials, he noted, but what about the cost of all this improvement to the soul of the city? This was a reference to the influx of the wealthy and the exodus of the less manageable types, presumably possessed of more soul. His analysis, and all other notables cited for that matter, are worth reading in their entirety.  

Diplomat Felix Rohatyn called Bloomberg a futurist, able to see where things were headed more clearly than most of us could and a global mayor of the most global of cities.

What a Few Not Yet Renowned New Yorkers Think About Him

There followed the above noted article a nearly endless comment section in the New York Times. Here are some interesting assessments from that source:

  • He took the heat to ban the smoke.
  • He represents what the rest of us see and fear from afar, the 1% running roughshod over the other 99%.
  • The legacy: carbon emission reductions, data driven management, green city planning, transportation alternatives, congestion pricing, bans on unhealthy, gluttonous food/drink items, (no) cancer sticks in public, secondary education accountability - what sane person wouldn't support such progressive policies?
  • The money mob will destroy new York as surely as Genghis Khan would have. Koch and Giuliani cracked open the door for them, but Bloomberg rode in at their head.

I invited a few friends who live in New York to comment. Ms. Iris Vander Pluym, Grand Duchess of Perry Street Palace, offered this:

... it's hard for me to hold him out as the healthcare mayor when he's presided over a record number of hospital closures in the city, mainly for the benefit of the old-money real estate developers who finance his campaigns. I and the entire lower west side of Manhattan have not one single emergency room, trauma unit or hospital bed, and the observable increase in ambulance transport times are kept under wraps despite FOIA requests.

Steve Jonas also weighted in:

Why not write about Mayor Bloomberg? He is a national figure (e.g., Mayors Against Illegal Guns). My summary take? If you have money, he was good for New York. If not, not so much. Indeed, he did good things for the health of the public, but for the health of the medical system, not much at all.

Our green spaces (parks and trees, etc.) have certainly been vastly improved under his stewardship. But he tried to tear down the public school system and the Teachers Union in the process. NYC is still ranked as one of the dirtiest cities in the world. And then there is stop-and-frisk. This practice offers few to no benefits that outweigh the infamy of racial profiling. 

Your Publisher Rules


Well, what is it then? It depends. It depends on your values and interests, your ideas about urbanity and the relative attachments you place on the arts, diversity, competence, personal freedoms and dozens of other qualities.

As ruling potentate of the ARDELL WELLNESS REPORT, I'm hereby using the power vested in me by my own imagination to declare Michael R. Bloomberg Wellness Mayor of the Year.

A suitable award, perhaps an Ingersoll T-shirt or the High Level Wellness Card Game, will be dispatched to the mayor's office post haste.

If you see him proudly sporting around town in the Ingersoll shirt, be sure to offer congratulates on this prestigious honor.