Mayor Bloomberg has enjoyed the sort of adulatory media coverage that would make even Barack Obama envious. Well, maybe not Obama, but certainly any merely mortal politician. Which makes Fred Siegel’s stubborn refusal to join Bloomberg’s Hallelujah chorus all the more startling.
Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation and a prolific writer on New York City politics, has long been a discordant voice among a local and national punditocracy all too eager to spread the message that Bloomberg, in the words of former New Yorker editor Tina Brown, is “the city’s greatest mayor.”
Recently, Brown and five other prominent New Yorkers were asked by New York magazine to name the ten individuals “who reshaped the city.” Four of the six had Bloomberg on their list. Only two included Rudy Giuliani, and one of those gave him a decidedly mixed review.
To illustrate the absurdity of the above, just think back to the state of the city in January 1993 when Giuliani took over from David Dinkins and the state of the city (9/11 notwithstanding) in January 2002 when Bloomberg took over from Giuliani. Which mayor faced the greater challenges and which has left more of an impact on the city?
At any rate, getting back to Fred Siegel, he’s lately been in a higher state of dungeon than usual about Bloomberg, mainly, as he wrote in the New York Post, because of the way the mayor “deployed his vast personal and political power to overturn the term limits law … [and] his unlawful refusal to send out property tax rebate checks that have been due since Oct. 1.”
Siegel quoted Bloomberg’s excuse that “We have no money … this is not a legal issue, it’s a fiscal issue” – a statement, according to Siegel, “that boils down to ‘I know better.’”
Don’t believe it, said Siegel; “the cupboards are bare because Bloomberg has emptied them for his own political ambitions. While the stock market was heading south, Bloomberg, one eye on a potential presidential run, raised his approval numbers by expanding the city payroll. Since 2004, he has hired at least 40,000 new city employees, while bringing his own mayoral staff to record levels.…”
And, continued Siegel, while “Bloomberg touts himself as a CEO who can negotiate the best deal for the city … part of running the city includes bargaining with people he can neither give orders to, nor buy like the City Council. That’s made Bloomberg a singular failure in Albany, where the mayor tried to steamroll his ill-conceived congestion pricing plan through the Assembly.
“The plan, which seemed designed as much to provide Bloomberg with a green issue for his presidential campaign as to decongest Manhattan, met with a skeptical response. Bloomberg’s reaction was to blame his defeat on ‘gutless’ opponents. While arguing over whether to reauthorize Off Track Betting, the mayor clashed with the normally mild-mannered Governor Paterson, whose support is essential for the city; Paterson came away describing the mayor to the Post’s Fred Dicker as ‘a nasty, untrustworthy, tantrum-prone liar who has little use for average New Yorkers.’”
Siegel went after the mayor in similar fashion last month in The Weekly Standard, writing that “Until a few weeks ago New York had a term-limits law – twice ratified by public referenda – that limited the mayor and the city council to eight years in office. Bloomberg could have held a referendum on overturning them – a referendum he was very likely to win given his 70 percent approval rating. But there were dangers in taking the democratic path. The referendum would have been scheduled for February 2009, and, as Baruch College’s Doug Muzzio notes, voters are likely to be hit before then by hikes in their property taxes, water bills, and subway fares.…
“Instead, operating on the basis of ambiguities in the city charter, Bloomberg strong-armed the city council into overturning term-limits: threatening to cut off funds to their districts and stop his ‘anonymous’ donations to the nonprofits they count on to get out the vote if they opposed his plan.”
Mincing no words, Siegel mocked the mayor’s claims of indispensability: “For the time being Bloomberg, who presided over the great spending spree of the last few years, has been reduced to insisting that only a genius like himself can save Gotham from the fiscal dangers imposed by Wall Street’s collapse (and his own maladministration).”