The 'Two Bloombergs' of New York's Three-Term Mayor
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The New York Times took a deep dive into Mayor Michael Bloomberg's legacy on Saturday, after a week of scrutiny over the city's "stop-and-frisk" law enforcement policies. And it looks like there's something for everyone there: even as a (totally great) infographic from the paper sweeps through the impressive physical changes to the city in the mayor's three terms, the paper also took a critical look at the Mayor's relationship to Wall Street.
Jim Dwyer summed up the Mayor's time in New York as a time of "two Bloombergs," one impossibly unreconcilable with the other, digging into one of the words that will likely stay pinned to Bloomberg's time as mayor for awhile: "transformative." He gives the case for the mayor's legacy in the broadest context:
Elected to lead a city that was the grieving, wounded site of an atrocity, he will depart as mayor of a city where artists have been able to decorate a mighty park with thousands of sheets of saffron, for no reason other than the simple joy of it; where engineers figured out how to turn sewage gas into electricity; where people are safer from violent crime than at any time in modern history.
But if you really want to see transformative, go straight to the infographic. In 12 years, the city has 40,000 more buildings, 170,000 more housing units, totally changed skylines, and a new basketball team in Brooklyn. New bike lanes cover the city, while places like Times Square have new areas for pedestrian and bike traffic that seemed unimaginable before.
And a third (!) of the city was rezoned:
But the paper also spent time dissecting why many in the city feel that the very things that made the Mayor's tenure so transformative also helped to hurt the city. Anyone even half following the Occupy Wall Street protests in the fall of 2011 would have picked up on the Mayor's opposition to the protests. His criticism, at the time, was that "this isn’t an occupation of Wall Street, it’s an occupation of a growing, vibrant residential neighborhood in lower Manhattan," a dismissal symbolic intent of a protest staged in a park surrounded by the city's most powerful financial institutions — or, that to the mayor, that symbolism didn't speak as loudly as the narrative of another rising, affluent, residential community cropping up in his city. The Times, however, goes further: "Mr. Bloomberg seems to imagine that any impulse short of adulation will shoo Wall Street away," adding:
Several weeks ago he publicly denounced Eliot Spitzer, not for his domestic failings but for his wish to curtail the worst instincts of the banks and to maximize their utilitarian value. (“This is our industry,” the mayor said. “We’d appreciate it if someone recognized that this is our tax base.”) Presumably, in Mayor Bloomberg’s most terrified imagination, the true agenda of someone like Mr. Spitzer is to bundle up Wall Street in Bubble Wrap and send it to Connecticut, leaving in its place only a bottomless container of Pepsi.
On that note, let's look at what's happened to the 1 percent over the mayor's tenure, via the Times:
— In 1985, the top 1 percent of city residents made 15 percent of the city income, which the Times notes is more or less in line with the national figures.
— In 2002, the beginning of Bloomberg's term, the top 1 percent of city residents made 27 percent of the income.
— In 2013, the income share for the top one percent is 40 percent. And while income inequality is a national problem, the Times notes that New York's figures are almost twice the national average.
— In the city's most affluent neighborhoods, including the financial district, family incomes rose by 55 percent on average over the past decade, the real median income less remained the same. Meanwhile, the poverty rate in the city reached a 10-year high in 2011.
In a poll, published as part of the Times's package, just 3 percent of the city population thought the mayor's policies favored poor people. Most said that the mayor favored the rich, while 70 percent thought he spent too much time worrying about Manhattan, as opposed to the other four boroughs of the city. There's also the matter of his $13,000 custom bathtub.
It's not quite clear exactly how much credit or demerits the mayor should get for any of the two Bloombergs outlined here — he neither built the 2013 New York singlehanded, nor catalyzed the income inequality endemic in the city, but the Times is convincingly making that case that, no matter what, Bloomberg's name is branded onto much of what changed in the city over the past decade.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire.