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What Now, Mayor Bloomberg?

by Mark Berkey-Gerard, Nov 09, 2005
 

"All I wanted -- and you gave it to me -- was four more years," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on election night.

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But in his reelection campaign, Bloomberg focused on the past, not the future, boasting of his record during his first term, but avoiding until the last few weeks his agenda for his second term.

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Mayor Bloomberg's plans for the next four years -- which are outlined in a document on his Web site entitled, "Moving Forward: The Bloomberg Vision for New York City" -- are notable, not only for what they promise, but for what it will take to accomplish them. They depend largely on the mayor's ability -- not much tested in his first term -- to win battles outside of the city.

On education, the mayor wants to double the number of pre-kindergarten and day care slots to serve more than 300,000 children. Key to the plan, however, is funding from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and the $23 billion the court has ruled the city schools are owed in education funding. The mayor has said that the governor and State Legislature in Albany must contribute the full amount and that the city should not pay a cent. Governor George Pataki is appealing the court ruling.

On housing, the mayor recently expanded his previous housing plan and promises to build or preserve 165,000 affordable homes by 2013. His plan, however, depends on the continued strength of the real estate market, developers willing to work with the city, and hundreds of millions of dollars in financing from philanthropic and financial partners. And for every new affordable apartment built, the city loses others as rent-stabilized apartments drop out of the state-controlled system. One of the reasons the city has such a housing crisis, some experts say, is that lawmakers in Washington have slashed federal housing subsidies.

On crime, Bloomberg focuses on strengthening state gun laws and securing more homeland security funds from the federal government. He is also calling for the governors of New York and New Jersey to create new seats on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Port Authority for the city police commissioner to help the city plan for future terrorist attacks.

On economic development, the mayor is banking on the rebuilding of Ground Zero, a site still mired in controversy, owned by the Port Authority, and leased by private developer Larry Silverstein. When Bloomberg recently called for more housing to be built in lower Manhattan, he was roundly criticized by nearly everyone involved including Governor Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the area, and the two U.S. Senators from New York, whose job it is to lobby for federal rebuilding money.

And the mayor's second term agenda is also notable for what it does not say: how he plans to address the looming $4.6 billion budget deficit. The only tax the mayor and the City Council can raise without permission from the governor and State Legislature is the property tax, which was already hiked by 18.5 percent in 2002. And Bloomberg has declared budget items like debt payments, labor pensions, and funding for Medicaid as "uncontrollable," meaning he can do little to change a third of the city budget.

The mayor proved he was capable of big victories in Albany when he convinced the State Legislature to give him control of the schools. Beyond that, many of the mayor's most significant accomplishments happened "in house." He used his knowledge of technology to create the 311-call system. He lobbied the City Council to pass his smoking ban in bars and restaurants. He successfully negotiated contracts with city workers. But he avoided battles - like taking a more active role in Ground Zero or pushing for a commuter tax - knowing that the power of City Hall only extends so far.

The mayor, who has touted himself as a non-partisan, apolitical manager of the city in his first term, may ultimately be measured by how successful a politician he can be in convincing people in Albany, Washington, and elsewhere to help him achieve his vision for New York City.

Mark Berkey-Gerard, city government editor of Gotham Gazette, was in charge of campaign coverage 


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