The Magazine

Bloomberg's Bombast

New York's mayor buys himself a third term.

Nov 17, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 09 • By FRED SIEGEL
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The folks over at Newsweek have a sly sense of humor. They put New York mayor Michael Bloomberg on the cover of their November 3 issue and let him dispense fiscal advice to the next president. In the article, Bloomberg, who has presided over record levels of spending and debt increases, chastised "Washington" for putting us in a hole by "spending with reckless abandon for years." The lofty Bloomberg told Newsweek's readers, "Programs that don't pass a cost-benefit analysis, that have been driven by politics rather than economics, should be cut."

This is excellent advice. But Bloomberg has never taken it. One of the few things economists agree on, for example, is that subsidized sports stadia are a bad investment of public funds. They are also one of Bloomberg's passions. The mayor tried and failed to subsidize a West Side football stadium to the tune of roughly $600 million, but succeeded in sending similar sums toward his developer friend Bruce Ratner for a massive Brooklyn project, centered on a basketball arena, now stalled, for which there was no demand. He subsidized the Mets' new home, Citi Field, and, through direct and indirect subsidies--some of which are now under New York state and congressional investigation--Bloomberg has been paying for the construction of George Steinbrenner's new Yankee Stadium. The costs to the city so far are $458 million (with tax breaks provided to the two teams for the stadium projects further costing the city an estimated $480 million in revenue). Yet, the mayor tells Newsweek's readers that national infrastructure projects have to be funded "strictly on merit."

The man who has helped preside over the gigantic hole at Ground Zero--where rebuilding is many years behind schedule and massively over budget--nonetheless insisted in Newsweek that the federal government hold the states and the cities "accountable for building on time and on budget."

Newsweek's offices are in New York City; shouldn't Bloomberg's assertions have raised a few red flags? But on he went. The mayor, who has nearly doubled spending on education with no known return on the investment other than a vastly expanded PR staff and chaos in repeatedly reorganized schools, talked about "our [educational] success in New York." Did Newsweek notice that the additional $9 billion he's spent on education hasn't shown up in any improvements on national tests?

The article closed with Bloomberg's heartfelt advice to the next president to "demonstrate that your talk of bipartisanship is not just talk." Here his deeds have generally been as good as his words. He has been willing to spend vast sums to buy support in both parties to achieve the greater glory of Bloomberg. He has the money, resources, and advisers to be his own party and is less bipartisan than he is an alternative political pole, one that offers Michael Bloomberg as the sole program.

A knockoff of Berlusconi, he's a man with a media empire who has dedicated his efforts to saving not his city or country but himself from the boredom of buying influence by merely giving away pieces of his fortune. A lifelong Democrat, he suddenly became a Republican in order to run for mayor in 2001. He later left the GOP to become an independent, and his staff is now exploring the chances of his running as a Democrat for reelection in 2009.

Whatever his formal identification, Bloomberg is desperate to remain on the national stage. For the past year, he ran a shadow campaign for national office. He toured the country and ran ads touting his educational "achievements" to boost the idea that he was the indispensable man for America's future. Long before Newsweek turned itself into his doormat, he had garnered adoring articles in Esquire, Vanity Fair, and GQ explaining how he had risen above the ordinary categories of politics to accomplish extraordinary fiscal and educational feats. But Bloomberg, whose billions make it possible to insert himself into any campaign at almost any time, saw his presidential and vice-presidential hopes dashed. He has been reduced to buying a third term as mayor of New York.