What to Like About Mike
Life was going very well for Michael Bloomberg at the millennium. As the founder of one of the great media companies, Bloomberg News, he was ridiculously wealthy, highly regarded, extraordinarily philanthropic, and, it seemed, fully engaged. Then, in 2001, he decided to compete for one of the most challenging jobs in the world-the mayoralty of New York. That would be hard enough in the best of times, but in 2001, just after 9/11, New Yorkers were depressed and fearful. Under the shadow of terrorism, the city faced an exodus of businesses, a collapsing tax base, a decline of city services, and huge budget deficits. Six years on, we barely remember the gloom. Six years of Bloomberg have been like a wonder drug, the city so revived that the man who made it happen is now talked of as a serious candidate for the presidency.
His hat is not in the ring, but the many New Yorkers who think it should be point out that Bloomberg practices the bipartisanship others talk about. He is the Republican mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, but you would never know it. He has governed in a common-sense, adult, nonideological manner. He has never used his office for partisan advantage. He clearly has an aversion to confrontation and histrionics. His style is pragmatic. He speaks directly but builds a consensus around an ideologically neutral management style, appreciated by an electorate less interested in rhetoric than results. He differs from his predecessor Rudy Giuliani in his management style. Appointing cabinet members on the basis of their expertise, he took a chance on giving them the freedom to act, and it paid off. Virtually all have remained in their posts over six years. Symbolically, Bloomberg placed his own desk in the middle of an open office section and seated his deputies and staff members around him, with other aides at cubicles nearby, ensuring unity of focus, ease of access, ready accountability, and the understanding of lower ranking managers.
Performance measures. Into that coherent frame he injected the lifeblood of data analysis, not as a sterile tracking of numbers but as a key to driving policy forwardrather like the celebrated Compstat system, whereby the police identify dangerous hot spots and move to make them cool. He created the 311 help line to provide one-stop shopping about everything in the cityfrom parking rules to trash pickupsand, most important, channel residents' grievances. The result has been improved performance, from filling potholes to reducing traffic accidents. The detailed score card tells how it all works:
The economy. Bloomberg inherited a recession and a $6.4 billion deficit. He correctly assessed that a decline in public safety and quality services would hurt the city more than raising taxes. A lesser mayor would have drifted. Bloomberg was decisive. He bumped taxes on income, sales, and real estate, then persuaded the state to restructure some of the city's debt. He cut costs by reducing city employment by 18,000 people. None of these moves were popular, but he got the city of New York out of the literal and metaphorical pothole. Many of the big corporations returned their headquarters to Manhattan, and the number of visitors has increased from some 30 million a year to about 45 million, buoying the leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors.