Mayor Bloomberg's Terms Not Getting Easier

Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 08:55 AM

 

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NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg wraps up his second term this week, a sophomore effort that will be known for fewer splashy successes and more failures than his first four years as a politically untested businessman.

After the billionaire former CEO first entered office in 2002, he banned smoking in bars and restaurants, won control of the troubled city school system and reversed the post-9/11 fiscal slump. He was re-elected in 2005 by a landslide, even while running as a Republican in this Democratic town.

But Bloomberg's next four years were not as easy, and some New Yorkers became resentful of his missteps and priorities, including his presidential aspirations that smoldered for more than half his term before burning out in 2008.

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On Friday, the 67-year-old mayor will be sworn in for another four years, and he will face a new class of Democratic leaders in citywide posts, which could make his next term even more difficult.

"The goodwill has, in many ways, evaporated," said Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College. "If you make decisions, you make enemies, and after eight years of making decisions, there are a lot of disgruntled stakeholders."

To be fair, Bloomberg had plenty of second-term achievements.

He rezoned dozens of neighborhoods covering thousands of city blocks — a reinvention of the city not seen since the 1960s. He outlawed trans-fats in restaurant food and forced chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus.

In schools, crime is down, the graduation rate slightly improved and students made some gains on state tests. Bloomberg also persuaded the state Legislature to give him control of the 1.1-million student school system rather than hand it back to a Board of Education model.

The decline in city crime that began in the 1990s continued, despite predictions of a recession-related surge. This year, the city is on track to have its fewest murders since comparable record-keeping began in the 1960s.

Bloomberg also managed to retain control of the office by first orchestrating a change to the two-term limit so that he could run again.

But the mayor has had many second-term setbacks.

The founder of financial information company Bloomberg LP garnered a whopping re-election victory. But shortly after his inauguration, the death of a 7-year-old girl brought close scrutiny of him and the child services agency.

Nixzmary Brown was tortured and beaten to death by her stepfather. Officials said she might not have died if the child welfare caseworkers involved in her case had acted more quickly in investigating suspected abuse when concerns were raised months earlier.

In winter 2006, the mayor vehemently denied an interest in running for president while his associates whispered otherwise. By spring, the mayor's operatives had begun to plant the seeds for a campaign.

He spoke out on national issues and found reasons to travel to presidential swing states. He changed his party registration from Republican to independent, while he had a team of people examine how he could get on the ballot as a third-party candidate.

"The fact that they were concentrating so much on this sideshow presidential campaign — it had to take away attention from day-to-day operations," said Doug Muzzio, public affairs professor at Baruch College.

By summer 2006, his reputation for handling crises smoothly during his first term — including a transit strike, a citywide blackout and the shooting of a councilman inside City Hall — risked being hurt by his response to a weeklong blackout in Queens.

Critics said the mayor should have come to the neighborhoods sooner than he did. But Bloomberg's aides said he was focused on preventing wider outages and had misinformation about the size of the blackout.

Throughout his second term, the mayor was embarrassed by problems among some city agencies.

In 2007, two firefighters died in a blaze at a condemned asbestos-filled building being dismantled at the World Trade Center site. It revealed the Fire Department was failing to inspect many construction sites and uncovered communications lapses between many agencies.

After two fatal crane accidents and several other construction deaths in 2008, Bloomberg admitted he was not satisfied with the agency, and his buildings commissioner resigned.

The mayor also had a number of policy disappointments.

While he set a goal of reducing the city's homeless population by two-thirds by 2009, the number of those in shelters reached an all-time high of more than 39,000, some 3,000 more than when he took office.

He failed to persuade the state Legislature to sign onto his plan to raise money for mass transit by making Manhattan's most congested streets essentially toll roads.

In addition, his administration gave up a plan to force the city's taxi fleet to go entirely hybrid by 2012, after taxi drivers and advocates sued in federal court.

The jet-setting mayor, who has homes in Colorado, Florida, Bermuda, London and upstate New York, has also had to contend with questions about how his own energy use isn't environmentally friendly.

He ordered his drivers to stop leaving the engines running in his SUVs after The Associated Press found them idling all over the city, sometimes for more than an hour.

Bloomberg insisted last week that he has learned from experience and that his second term was better than his first. He predicted his third term "will be even easier."

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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