When Michael R. Bloomberg’s three term mayoralty ended in 2013, he left behind a city that had been remarkably transformed during his 12 years in office. He had taken over in 2002, when New York was on its knees economically and spiritually, reeling from the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. He set about rebuilding the city.
By the time he had left office, New York’s population was greater than it had ever been, but there were fewer murders than ever. His personal wealth and Wall Street résumé predisposed him to economic development, and his administration created an atmosphere for the redevelopment of large swaths of the city. New York seemed newer, cleaner and more efficient.
I remember when the calorie count was first posted on foods during Bloomberg’s term. Standing in Starbucks on the Upper West Side, I listened to a father tell his young son it was best to split the pastry because it was too many calories for one person in the morning. Like it or not, Bloomberg’s policies like this one created awareness, while not forcing you to make one choice over another. —
He brought a C.E.O.’s touch to the school system, abolishing the old Board of Education, bringing in outsiders to run things and providing city space to charter schools.
As a former New York City teacher during the Bloomberg mayoralty, I was aware of his attempts to have public education run like a business, with the emphasis on efficiency, as if teachers were factory workers and the students their market produce. His choices of school chancellors, Joel Klein and Cathie Black, were poor and revealed an anti-union bias.
Wall Street crashed during his second term in office, clearing the way for him to secure a third term. Mr. Bloomberg liked his job so much he did not want to leave, and he was viewed by many as the only person who could clean up the mess. Others saw his extension of New York City’s term limits as a step too far.
His machinations to have a third term showed he felt that he was above the law. It was his third term that changed my opinion of him.
It all came with a cost. Dating back to the Gilded Age, New York had been characterized by gaps between the rich and poor. These gaps widened undeniably during Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure. When he left office, nearly half of New Yorkers were living at or near the poverty line, and many of them felt pushed to the margins, searching for affordable places to live in a city where rent was growing more and more expensive. New York had become a place that seemed Disneyfied with its high-rise condos and shopping centers.
He smothered the bohemian creative heartbeat of New York City, trading it for luxury housing by giving luxury developers huge tax incentives.
Many believed that Mr. Bloomberg, with his vast personal wealth, seemed imperious, and tone deaf to their plight, and they pointed to his decision in 2011 to evict protesters at an Occupy Wall Street encampment in Lower Manhattan.
For some, particularly black and Latino men, the city’s emphasis on crime-fighting came with a down side, as well. The Bloomberg administration not only increased surveillance — an effort to combat terrorism — it employed a so-called stop-and-frisk strategy that critics said discriminated against hundreds of thousands of innocent people simply walking down the street.
As a Puerto Rican teen raised in the city, here’s what serves as his legacy to me: an N.Y.P.D. officer shoving me against a fence searching me for drugs that I didn’t possess because it was suspicious for me to be out late on New Year’s Eve. The spirit of the city receded as I grew older, and I blame Bloomberg’s reign.
By the end of his administration, the city also was bitterly divided over schools. And some bristled at his health initiatives, calling Mr. Bloomberg’s New York a Nanny State.
Overall, his critics felt, New York had given up a piece of its heart and soul during Mr. Bloomberg’s years, losing an intangible uniqueness once described by E.B. White.
A businessman at the reins
Mr. Bloomberg is, in a word, a fixer. He took a city riddled with problems and made it great again.
I was working in New York City government for much of the time that Michael Bloomberg was mayor. He did some very good things, particularly in the area of public health.
However, he could have accomplished far more if he had any respect for collaboration and consensus building. He governed as a technocrat and, quite frankly, a bully, alienating many people and intimidating others.
I was a midlevel manager at a city agency during Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. Most managers found him to be a good mayor.
He was smart, great at managing the city budget, selecting commissioners for their skills rather than political connections, open to new ideas and very tech savvy.
He said at one point that, like many businessmen outside of government, he initially thought the quality of government employees was low. But since working with them, he learned that was not true and he was impressed with their abilities to get the job done under difficult circumstances.
I owned a condo in Battery Park when Mayor Bloomberg took office. Living in what was essentially a war zone, and with major corporations leaving the city in droves, I thought he had taken on an impossible job.
He did an amazing job bringing the city back to life and making it financially solvent.
A high cost for some
Maybe he didn’t storm Tompkins Square Park with a riot squad, but he locked up a whole lot of black and brown men for nothing at all.
I remember when so many of my high school students would return to class with notes from parole officers for petty marijuana violations. Sixteen-year-olds were regularly stood up against walls and searched just for walking down a street.
The good old Bloomberg days were not so good.
As a public-school teacher in New York City with an Ivy League degree, my work life under Bloomberg was hell. I barely survived because, after all, anyone teaching poor children who didn’t achieve the academic scores of doctors’ children had to be incompetent.
My spouse with four degrees including a Ph.D. from Columbia University was drummed out of public school teaching. He was too active in the teacher’s union for Bloomberg’s people to accept.
Bloomberg is no Democrat. He is anti-union to the core. He has nothing but contempt for public employees no matter how educated.
Did developers get away with fleecing the city and begin the process of the identity-crushing gentrification that has altered the soul of the city during his administration? Yes, that happened too.
At the end of his tenure, it was an efficient, well-run city with an unregulated, greed-fueled real estate boom that forced me to leave said well-run city.
Bloomberg the person
Even as a staunch Democrat, I voted for him when he ran as a Republican. You run into a lot of celebs in New York City, but I was thrilled to meet him on the 2 train in Brooklyn.
I will vote for him again in a New York minute.
During a severe snowstorm in the winter of 2010 he did not take the situation seriously enough. New York City was crippled by the storm. Streets were impassable. Buses and cars were abandoned in the streets.
He invited students from LaGuardia High School to perform at Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence.
My son, a pianist, was invited to play on two different occasions. I was impressed that he took the time to speak with students and posed for pictures with them.
Michael Bloomberg had no agenda here, he was simply being kind.
When Bloomberg was mayor, I lived in the East Village, which is now so crowded with the wealthy and N.Y.U. students that it is difficult to live there!
Also, I’m Jewish and I worry about anti-Semitism in this country and what those with hidden anti-Semitic beliefs will do if he gets the nomination. (Although, I would love for there to be a Jewish president.)
I remember he sent every New York City voter a radio that only tuned to Bloomberg News. I dug it out from my desk during a blackout one summer, and was glad to have it. Maybe he’ll send one to every U.S. voter.
And he loved his mother. I remember that he talked very fondly of her. He’s a good guy in my opinion.