Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Unapologetic Bloomberg Talks Legacy, and Big Plans
Thursday, February 14, 2013
In his final State of the City address Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the long view. He spoke boldly of his administration’s accomplishments after 11 years in City Hall, and added a warning to any who would stand in his way: He’s not done yet.
The speech had a serious pre-game strategy. City Hall began pumping out stats, lists of accomplishments and fact sheets 24 hours before the speech. In keeping with the Barclays Center setting, black and white, NETS-styled banners hung from the ceiling, each with a number proclaiming one of the administration's record-setting achievements.
So when it was finally the mayor’s turn to take to the podium, he drove each point home.
“Back in 2002, we were told that you couldn’t bring crime down any further without locking up more people. But today, murders and shootings are at new record lows – and so are incarceration rates,” Bloomberg said, working his way through a list that included higher graduation rates, increased park space, outer borough job growth and longer life expectancy.
But it wasn't just about numbers. The mayor sought to cast his administration in a historical light and cement a legacy that’s reminiscent of the city’s last great public works era.
“For the first time since La Guardia was mayor and FDR created the WPA, we’re not only conceiving big plans that fundamentally change the landscape of our city, we’re achieving them,” said Bloomberg.
Calling it the single most important project this year, he committed to rebuilding the Sandy-damaged neighborhoods. “We're a coastal city so we cannot and will not abandon the waterfront.”
He pulled no punches describing his tenure. It was about progress over “defeatists," “naysayers," “special interests” and even “NIMBYers" (Not In My Backyard-ers) on a range of issues from the Brooklyn arena where Bloomberg delivered the speech, charter school expansion, or the imperative of rezoning near Grand Central this year.
"Given all the politics and special interests, if we don't get it done this year, it may never get done. We just can't let that happen,” he warned.
In the audience were three candidates looking to replace him, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn. She gave the mayor a lot of credit for this speech and rejected the idea that he was picking on his potential successors.
“I think the mayor has done a very good job of focusing his decisions, many of which I agree with, not all of them, on the facts and the data and the statistics as he sees them and as he interprets them, and I hope and believe that that's the kind of attitude that will continue in City Hall, because that's what New Yorkers deserve.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, though, didn't like the mayor's insinuations about what's coming next.
“He loves to suggest the notion that none of the leaders past, present or future could possibly understand what he understands and it's just not accurate,” said de Blasio.
Still, the mayor's mix of liberal social policy proposals and a strong economic growth record forced even critics like de Blasio to give mixed reviews. “He offers some very good ideas mixed in with a lack of long-term vision and attacks on crucial parts of this city.”
Democratic Comptroller John Liu took a similar approach. He praised the mayor's push for immigration reform -- but pointedly laughed off Bloomberg's suggestion that his administration has been uniquely insulated from special interests.
“I think Mayor Bloomberg is putting himself a little bit too high on the pedestal when he says there have been no special interests,” said Liu. “Many would argue there have been very deep special interests that have had the ears and the purse of the mayor these past 11 years.”
And it wasn't just Democrats offering critiques. Adolfo Carrion, who's pursuing a mayoral run on the independent and Republican lines, said he's aligned with most of Bloomberg's policies, but said Bloomberg's style is not always helpful.
"You know, I think that unfortunately, chief executives when they've been around for a long time, get a bit grumpy,” said Carrion. “You know, twelve years is a long time.”