Opinion

The Great Debate

How to build on the Bloomberg legacy

New York City is engaged in a highly contentious general election campaign for mayor. One of the fascinating turns in this race is how both candidates have chosen to distance themselves from the city’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Bill de Blasio, the Democratic party candidate, has articulated a progressive agenda that might sound to some New Yorkers like 1960s liberalism. Echoing John Lindsay’s aspirational New York, de Blasio argues that the city must refocus public policy in support of the American Dream. Government continues to be important in de Blasio’s New York, but it must change its focus from supporting the wealthy to doing more for its poor and middle-class population.

Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate who served as Deputy Mayor during the Rudy Giuliani administration, is too smart to run a campaign on his former boss’ coattails. After all, Democrats have a 6 to 1 registration advantage in New York City, so the simple math dictates that he needs Democrats and independent voters to win the mayoralty. So, Lhota’s message is dark: New York’s economic health and civic peace is fragile and we can’t revert to those “bad old days” of high crime, economic decline, middle-class flight and a broken city government. Lhota also promises to cut taxes.

While it is not surprising that the campaign rhetoric often sounds anti-Bloomberg, the next mayor must understand that at this critical moment in the city’s history, our future will depend on continuing much of Bloomberg’s successful policies. I say this because there are an extraordinary number of changes that Bloomberg put into place that are vital for both the future economic well-being of the city, and for achieving the policy goals that both de Blasio and Lhota are advocating.

Here are the aspects of Bloomberg’s legacy that must continue under the next administration:

The next mayor must continue to support government that is accessible to individuals and businesses, and accountable for high-quality services.

Bill de Blasio, the Not-Bloomberg

Bill de Blasio, whose strong support in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor may have averted any runoff, had a secret weapon — and I speak not of his delightful Afro’d son, Dante, but of the very man he wants to succeed, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Yes, if anyone handed de Blasio a win — besides de Blasio, his campaign and his feckless opponents — it was Bloomberg. He has never fully understood the art of politics, governing stubbornly with his head, never his heart. He has been substantive and steady, he has had many successes. But his inability or unwillingness to empathize with the public, especially on such gut matters as the policing policy of stop-and-frisk, gave de Blasio an opening. The public advocate campaigned as the anti-Bloomberg — and it worked.

The mayor can be persuasive, one on one. But it is a Bloomberg the public barely glimpsed. I recall thinking this a few months ago, when I was visiting a friend at Bloomberg News, and the mayor walked in. Within seconds he was lecturing me about the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk, urgently defending the policing policy, making his familiar arguments about deterrence, the importance of reducing gun possession through the police stops, which a federal judge has since said violates the constitutional rights of minorities.

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