Twelve years is a long time. In the case of Michael Bloomberg's reign as mayor of New York City, it's at least four years too long, given that his doddering final term has left many lower-income New Yorkers with a sour view of the man who presented himself back in 2009 as their best hope for recovering from the losses sustained during the financial crisis.
Instead of working to combat rising income inequality, Bloomberg spent his final years on the job ensuring that the city became even less affordable, reinforcing his assertion that it is a “luxury product” increasingly out of the reach of ordinary New Yorkers; dictating what we can and can't eat, drink and do based on a thinly veiled assumption that we're too stupid to make such decisions on our own; and defending the most likely unconstitutional practice of institutionalized racial profiling by the NYPD.
As the New Year and New York's Jan. 1 mayoral inauguration draw near and Americans contemplate their resolutions, perhaps to be more humble or treat people better, Bloomberg has instead decided to put his wealth behind a new consulting firm that will spread his special brand of urban planning to cities from Mexico City to Louisville, Ky. He simply refuses to leave the halls of power, but at least he won't be running City Hall anymore, and as he walks off into the sunset, let's take a moment to count our blessings.
Below is a list of 10 things to be thankful for now that our modern-day Scrooge is finally no longer top dog in New York, though he still has more money and open disdain for the populace than any other person in the five boroughs.
1. No more of his “nannyism” policies: Bloomberg will be remembered for many things, but perhaps his most enduring legacy will be his persistent charge to force rules and restrictions on his fellow New Yorkers based on his view that he knows better than us what choices we should make in our daily lives. Whether you agreed with his proposals or not, no area of life, no matter how mundane, seemed immune to this aggressive vision to reign in practices he deemed unsavory, unsafe or unhealthy, and the results are everywhere.
From smokers who now pay upwards of $13 per overtaxed pack to puff away on the few patches of land that avoided his ever-expanding ban to restaurant owners squeezed by crippling fines, health inspection grades and calorie counts to walkers and drivers hemmed in by bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and lower speed limits, he made his mark by ensuring New Yorkers' freedoms were slowly eroded according to his master plan. His laughable ban on large sodas may have been struck down in court, but as he packed his boxes, Bloomberg's single-minded campaigns continued as his long-ballyhooed ban on Styrofoam containers was approved by the City Council just last week.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio may have similar ideas in mind, and he has praised of some of his predecessors' initiatives, but at least they won't be coming from the Wizard from Wall Street, who passed down dictates like his corporation slings Bloomberg terminals. The city's overbearing nanny will tend to us no more.
2. Say goodbye (hopefully) to three-term reigns: One of Bloomberg's most controversial moves was his decision to find a legal way to circumvent standing practice and run for a third mayoral term. He won that battle with the help of tens of millions dollars of his massive fortune, but he lost the hearts and minds of much of the city in the process. In a testament to his massive ego, the diminutive mayor's plan didn't include a mechanism for future overlords to stay in power past the usual eight years max, so this should be the end of three-term mayors, unless another plutocrat with a head as big as Bloomberg's one day pulls the same trick.
3. A New Yorker in City Hall: One quirk of New York City politics is that more often than not a candidate can be disqualified for not being a native of the city. Bloomberg somehow skirted this de facto requirement, despite the fact that he is from Boston, home of the despised Red Sox, a fact that is quite obvious to anyone familiar with regional American dialects. De Blasio, on the other hand, was born in Manhattan and sounds more like a Brooklynite than a New Englander. Yet even he has deep Boston roots, having been raised in Cambridge, Mass. Still -- and this may be a stretch -- a certain hole deep in the hearts of many New Yorkers this past decade-and-a-fifth will be filled again now that a son of the city will follow Bloomberg in occupying Gracie Mansion. Oh, wait, Bloomberg didn't live there either.
4. Speaking of Occupy: There's no way to determine what a different mayor would have done in the heady days when the Occupy Wall Street encampment was thriving in the heart of Bloomberg's beloved Financial District. It was a beacon of hope for many of America's most downtrodden citizens, and youths left facing one of the worst unemployment crises of the past century broke (free) bread with political activists, artists, academics, free thinkers and even bespoke bankers in an invigorating pop-up community that will never quite be replicated.
But early one dark morning in November 2011, Bloomberg's NYPD goons descended on the sleeping protesters and evicted them from Zuccotti Park in one fell swoop, breaking their makeshift homes, possessions and hearts in a violent display of hatred for the struggling masses that goes down as perhaps the mayor's most cowardly and despicable individual act. A movement that famously represented the aspirations and concerns of the 99 percent against the greed and callousness of the 1 percent was crushed by the latter's exemplar, who ended a peaceful push for economic justice quicker than it had formed, and turned millions of his subjects permanently against him and his hard-faced minion, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Now the mayor who crushed so many dreams will no longer run the city from his “bullpen” less than a half-mile's walk from Zuccotti.
5. See ya later, Ray: On that note, Bloomberg's departure from City Hall means his top cop is also packing his boxes at One Police Plaza. De Blasio's decision to appoint William Bratton as his successor by no means indicates that the NYPD will revert to a force dominated by the community-policing, Constitution-respecting policies that a large percentage of New Yorkers had hoped to see after 12 years of a heavy-handed police state. But the simple fact that Kelly, the face of the NYPD's jurisdiction-crossing Muslim surveillance operation and invasive “stop and frisk” lunacy, will no longer be in charge engenders a guarded hope that the city will soon have a more sane police department than the one it lost trust in while Kelly brought the crime rate down by any means necessary.
6. Hope for an end to stop and frisk: Stop and frisk -- the disingenuous moniker slapped on the Kelly NYPD's draconian practice of searching mostly people of color, often without any justified suspicion that they have committed a crime -- is probably going to end or be vastly cut back no matter who's calling the shots. The practice has been employed far less by Kelly's NYPD in the recent past than it was at its height, the judiciary seems poised to bring an end to it if no leader is willing to do so, and de Blasio has spoken out against it (though he has recently tempered his condemnation.) So the end of Bloomy's supremacy brings with it a cautious optimism that stop and frisk will too go the way of the 2,000-murder year on New York City's now mostly very safe streets.
7. No more of his smarm: Bloomberg's policies were enough on their own to make many New Yorkers dislike him, but the Mayor's penchant for dismissing people he deemed lesser than himself revealed that he honestly didn't care what the voters who elected him thought of him and what he did to and for them. At press conference after ribbon-cutting after interview, the Mayor exhibited this unflattering trait in a succession of snarky, sarcastic, mean-spirited and downright rude remarks that make for a highlight reel of how not to treat other people.
His history of insults and inappropriate remarks is legendary, from the time he was quoted in a campaign booklet as having said, “If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they'd go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale's,” to the time he embarassed a disabled reporter in a wheelchair for failing to turn off a recorder that began playing audio after he accidentally dropped it. With Bloomberg out of office, there will be no one there to listen next time he calls a reporter a “disgrace” for asking a legitimate question at a press conference.
8. He'll be done deciding what New York looks like: Bloomberg's legacy has also been painted on the physical landscape of New York City. From his laudable rejuvenation of the city's shorelines to the towering residential buildings that have cropped up everywhere from Long Island City to Williamsburg, and the 7/11 franchises swiftly replacing Manhattan's bodegas, Bloomberg's push to rezone huge swaths of the five boroughs and provide incentives for developers to build massive projects here have left a starkly different city than the one he inherited shortly after the 9/11 attacks left a gaping hole in the Manhattan skyline.
Many people (especially tourists) enjoy his gleaming, corporate, “Disney-fied” version of New York, but a sizable camp of city natives and other folks long for the days before Bloomberg presided over big money coming in to reshape their neighborhoods and tear down iconic structures. Whichever camp you belong to, the changes made under the Mayor will not be undone, but his will no longer be the vision that guides Gotham's ongoing transformation.
9. He won't be buying any more elections: Money in politics has been a destructive force for years, but Bloomberg took the practice of using one's own wealth to attain elected office further than literally any other individual in the history of the United States, according to the New York Times. As a billionaire many times over, Bloomy doesn't need to worry about money, so when he was faced with a daunting reelection campaign in 2009, he threw millions of dollars at the problem. It appears that the strategy worked, as after spending more than $102 million (about $183 per voter) of his own personal fortune on the race, he eked out a narrow victory over challenger William Thompson, whose campaign spent less than $10 million.
10. No more of his presidential race toe-dipping from City Hall: Bloomberg was the most powerful person in the most populous city in the U.S. for a dozen years, but apparently even that was never quite enough for him. A number of websites have been set up over the years encouraging him to run for president, and in 2007 politicos including Washington Post elder statesman David Broder (who has since passed away) urged him to throw his hat into the 2008 race. Though Broder reported that Bloomberg liked to joke that “they're never going to vote for a 5-foot-6-inch Jewish guy from New York,” the Mayor quietly mulled running in the 2008 presidential race. In 2007, Bloomberg went so far as to conduct national polls and voter analysis and meet with political experts, according to the Associated Press, leading some observers to question his loyalty to the office he actually held. There has even been talk that he may be gearing up for a 2016 presidential bid. At least this time the inevitable parlor chatter won't be about our own mayor.
In the spirit of the holiday season, it seems only fair to end this story with one thing we'll genuinely miss about Bloomberg. That would be the always-hilarious Miguel Bloombito Twitter account, which translates the mayor's statements into the bumbled version of Spanglish that Bloomberg has made one of his most endearing calling cards. If you haven't seen it, be sure to give the posts a read quickly, before Bloomberg takes his final bow as mayor and there's less fodder for the genius behind the classic feed to lampoon.
Hasta la vista, Bloomberg.