You can make the argument that putting a titan of business at the head of a government is a risky proposition, with all the opportunities for cronyism and undue influence that person would have at his disposal.
Or you could make the argument that an extremely wealthy individual is a good choice for a position of political power because he could hardly be bought off by interest groups whose resources pale in comparison to his own. And that someone who rose to the very top of the private sector would do well in the public sector too.
In 2001 the voters of New York City were faced with all these possibilities as billionaire political newcomer Michael Rubens Bloomberg threw his hat in the ring for mayor. A majority gave him a shot, some no doubt thinking that if nothing else, his wealth would make him essentially uncorruptible.
And it seems that it did. While we don’t agree with everything Bloomberg did as mayor — and recognize that without a doubt he often put the little guy at the bottom of his priority list — we believe he generally ran a tight ship and always pursued what he believed to be the public’s best interests.
We’ve detailed our thoughts on his record on crime, education, business, health and the environment in this space over the last month. When it comes to the government itself, we’d say his top accomplishment over 12 years was in keeping it largely free of scandal — at least free of the kind of traditional corruption that marred so many prior administrations, as well as the City Council and the state Legislature.
The biggest financial scandal of the Bloomberg administration was the CityTime debacle, in which contractors ripped off the taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars. The administration came up short on oversight, but it was not Bloomberg or any mayoral appointee stuffing his pockets. And in the end, the main contractor, SAIC, was forced to pay back the money, and a stiff penalty on top of that.
The biggest cost of government is personnel, and in that area the mayor leaves a mixed, but overall positive legacy. He reduced the workforce by 5 percent, from 311,804 full-time equivalents when he took office to 296,436 now, not an easy task in an era of growing governmental responsibilities. And he did it with a scalpel, not a cleaver.
His biggest managerial failing, however, is also in personnel — his leaving office without a single contract in place for any of the city unions. In his first term, Bloomberg gave away too much in contract deals as he sought union support for his second term. But not reaching any agreements at all is a far too large swing of the pendulum the other way.
Even with that flaw in his governance, we’re certain history will rate Bloomberg highly. He assumed office at a time of crisis, as the city struggled to recover from the Sept. 11 attacks, and saw it through another crisis, the Great Recession, only to be hit with yet another one, Hurricane Sandy.
The recoveries from the recession and the storm continue. But even as they do, the city continues to draw tens of millions of tourists and the money they spend every year. It continues to draw people from all over the country and the world who want to live here. It continues to build, to grow and reinvent itself. It couldn’t do all that if it weren’t as clean, prosperous and safe as it’s been under Bloomberg.
Our newest ex-mayor did a great job in office. We look forward to his still making the world a better place through his philanthropy and hope he’ll still support institutions that have benefited from his largesse, such as the Queens Museum and so many others. We also wish his successor, new Mayor de Blasio, all the best. He’s got quite an act to follow.