Those of us who have lived in New York for a long time remember the all-too-recent days when crime was rampant, infrastructure was crumbling, services were diminishing and, indeed, the city itself seemed ungovernable.
But today, the trend in all these — and so many other — spheres of public life is exactly the opposite, thanks to the steady, independent, visionary leadership of Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
As such, the Community Newspaper Group, of which this newspaper and its Web site are a part, heartily endorses the mayor for re-election.
Granted, Mayor Bloomberg’s quest for a third term has not been the prettiest thing to watch. First, the billionaire mayor, a former Democrat, renounced his Republican Party affiliation during a flirtation with the presidency in 2008 as an independent.
Then, when faced with the obstacle of New York City’s two-term limit, he spent a considerable sum of money to overturn the inconvenient law.
For many voters, that disqualifies Bloomberg from further service.
But for us, it is but a blemish on an otherwise stellar record.
And in a head-to-head race against Comptroller Bill Thompson, there is no question who will serve the city better. Yes, Thompson is an able, intelligent official who has performed well in all his prior service, but Mayor Bloomberg has a vastly superior track record and broader vision for the future.
The Bloomberg record is so impressive that many of his successes are taken for granted by the electorate. As such, they bear repeating:
• Mayoral control of schools: Though the status quo fought it, mayoral control of schools has proven to be the vital first step towards fixing public schools and, more important, restoring middle class voters’ confidence in them. Critics have carped that the Bloomberg-led system fails to give parents sufficient voice — whatever that means — but the current arrangement is a night-and-day improvement over the old Board of Education, which was not only less accountable to the public, but failed at its most basic mission: improving our schools and teaching our kids.
We are concerned that the mayor errs too much on the side of testing to measure school and student achievement, but those tests do show that there has been substantial improvement. Plus, the mayor’s business-like approach to the system has empowered principals to set their own local budget priorities and to demand excellence from teachers. That’s a plus for parents.
• The 311 system: In one visionary sweep, the mayor created what residents needed for decades — a front door to the city’s vast bureaucracy. Of course, it’s not perfect — not every call about a pothole gets that pothole filled by the end of the business day — but never before did New Yorkers have a simple, easy, trackable way of registering their most basic complaints about a failing city service.
That’s why more than 70 million — 70 million! — calls have been made to 311 since its inception.
And remember this: Before 311, calls to City Hall were simply transferred to phones that just kept ringing, and complaints — if they were taken down at all — went on some pile on someone else’s desk. The 311 system ended that buck-passing forever.
• Crime: Mayor Giuliani deserves a great deal of credit for the successes that the NYPD had against crime in the 1990s, but Mayor Bloomberg has done the impossible — he’s actually cut crime even further. Murders are down to such lows that New York is not merely the safest big city — it’s one of the safest places in the country.
It’s almost unbelievable: Crime is down 30 percent since he took office. And his heroic fight against illegal guns has made the mayor a national leader on the issue.
• The environment: Whatever you think about Al Gore, when the former vice president praises someone for leadership on the environment, it’s credible. Last month, Gore, a Democrat, praised Bloomberg in no uncertain terms: “I get a chance to work with mayors all over this country, and mayors in lots of other countries as well,” he said, “and I know real leadership on the environment when I see it, and this is the real deal.”
For us, the mayor’s leadership on the issue goes beyond his tree-planting and adding hundreds of acres to the city park system.
Through his innovative transportation commissioner, the mayor has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes, worked to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency in city-owned buildings, and create a solid waste disposal plan that put a cleaner face on the messy business of collecting our trash.
• Protecting neighborhoods: To his ill-informed critics, the mayor is a tool of developers who want to pillage our communities. But on the ground in the neighborhoods we cover, the mayor has moved ahead with zoning changes to preserve neighborhoods or revitalize commercial areas, such as Carroll Gardens and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens or along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. In such cases, we’ve seen the benefits of the mayor’s big-picture approach.
And the mayor’s call for the construction of tens of thousands of units of vitally needed new housing is the best example of his vision: His proposal calls for new construction and zoning changes mostly in areas that can support new housing — along key subway routes and with parks and other services thought about from the start.
Concerning the sprawling Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the mayor’s team admitted long ago that it didn’t handle the development properly and has since done a much better job. That improvement deserves praise.
• Health: Voters can certainly take exception to the mayor and his former health commissioner Tom Frieden’s “Nanny State” approach to micro-managing our diets, but no one has done more to reduce smoking, get trans-fats out of our diets and ensure the safety of restaurant food than this administration. And you know what? It’s refreshing to have someone in the bully pulpit reminding residents to make proper food choices — and how those food choices affect individuals and our entire society. It’s simply good business: Obesity and preventable diseases cost all of us in the long run.
• Fighting for transit: The mayor understands better than the technocrats in Albany the importance of mass transit to New York City.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t control the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, though the Bloomberg campaign has offered numerous proposals that would improve service and increase efficiency. His re-election would do more to shake the status quo at the MTA than anything — perhaps encouraging the do-nothings in Albany to move aside and give Bloomberg more control over the sclerotic regional agency.
And the mayor’s most important quality is not even on this list: his independence. Though every politician hypes his “independence” from the special interests, Bloomberg is one of the few who actually has it.
That independence has allowed him to take on so many of New York’s sacred cows: the MTA, unions, the entrenched Democratic machine and the state legislature. He’s cut the budget in the tough times, but done so with minimal detriment to city services. His keen business acumen, honed by years in the private sector and creating one of the most successful financial companies in our nation’s history, has kept us ahead of other cities (and even states like California) and helped New York avoid mass layoffs, middle class flight and, most important, civic despair.
And best of all, he’s not a politician.
Indeed, critics complain that the mayor’s personal fortune is bank-rolling his re-election and silencing democracy, but it is that wealth that frees Bloomberg from the affliction of so many other popularity-craving, poll-watching politicians. He can truly answer to the people of New York because he doesn’t need to answer to anyone else.
And lest we forget: The mayor took office with the smoke still billowing from the fallen Twin Towers. Certainly, he deserves praise for getting Washington to do its part to protect the nation’s main terror target. But his leadership goes beyond mere lobbying. Where other cities, under other leadership, might have collapsed after a 9–11-type attack — and the economic downturn that followed it — New York is strong because of Mike Bloomberg.
So for these reasons, and so many others, we strongly endorse the mayor for a third term.