WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
A Portrait of the City Under Bloomberg's Tenure
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his 11th State of the City address Thursday when he is trumpeted education initiatives, and re-ignited plans to develop the borough's vacant Kingsbridge Armory.
The mayor is halfway through his third and final term, and will likely lay footings for the legacy that he hopes will endure beyond his tenure.
Bloomberg has made the case that improving the quality of public education is the surest path out of poverty. His selection of the Bronx's Morris High School as a backdrop for his State of the City address Thursday was meant to cast the mayor's focus on the city's public schools as transformational.
Morris, built in 1897, was the Bronx's oldest public school. It was closed by the mayor and re-configured as five smaller high schools -- four of which are located in the Gothic Revival building.
Since Bloomberg took office, the on-time student graduation rate went from less than 50 percent to 61 percent. But truancy remains a problem and state officials caution that graduation does not mean students are prepared for college or careers.
The results of test scores are decidedly mixed – they went up under Bloomberg when he took mayoral control and fell in 2010 when Albany made the test harder.
Last year, 57 percent of third through eighth grade students passed their state math exam, and 44 percent passed their language arts test.
City Poverty Numbers Climb
The city also continues to be a place with the highest wealth disparity in the country where an increasing number of families find themselves struggling below or near the federal poverty line.
Nearly one in five – or 1.6 million New Yorkers – live below the poverty line in the city. By contrast, 15 percent of Americans fell below the poverty line nationwide.
Mayor’s Public Health Legacy
The Bloomberg Administration has also spent a lot of time and energy on improving public health.
The mayor's smoking ban in bars and later in parks forever changed the landscape of the city.
And Bloomberg has tried to balance long term economic re-vitalization and diversification with making the city more environmentally sustainable.
Bike lanes, tree plantings, waterfront parks and Times Square's re-invention are physical manifestations of the emphasis on making the city more livable.
Baruch political science professor Doug Muzzio said these initiatives help the city re-invent itself and may be the mayor’s most enduring mark.
"It does it in the Highline and it does it in Kingsbridge Armory where you take old facilities, old infrastructure and transform them to 21st century uses," he said.
But critics contend the Administration has been Manhattan centric and the makeover has emphasized luxury housing. Under their analysis the city may have become more livable but less affordable.
Administration supporters counter that under the mayor the city has added 165,000 affordable units to its housing stock.
The City Economy
But despite efforts at diversification, the city remains hugely reliant on tax revenues realized from profits and bonuses on Wall Street, according to the city's Independent Budget Office
"While Wall Street is just 5 percent of all of our private sector employment" it accounts for "about 24 percent of all wages and salaries in the City," said Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the IBO.
Wall Street's profits and bonuses are down, and the city will have a multi-billion dollar budget gap to close come July.
Additional reporting by Beth Fertig, Charlie Herman, Ilya Marritz, and Cindy Rodriguez.