When Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his state of the city address yesterday, he sounded very much like a typical career politician embarking on a re-election campaign.
Standing in front of a banner that described New York as the city of opportunity, Bloomberg presented his audience with a laundry list of accomplishments and offered an even longer list of predictable programs and projects his administration was cooking up. That list included a host of trivialities, from job placement programs in the Bronx to a new commission to help bring diversity to the city’s construction industry to yet another New York City industrial policy aimed at stopping the flight of manufacturing jobs (a flight that has long since peaked). His agenda sounded like that of any number of big city mayors—especially those of a generation ago—who mistakenly think that government is the key to expanding opportunity for citizens.
What a contrast this speech made—as a tone setter for his coming re-election bid—with Bloomberg’s successful campaign message of four years ago. Back then, he presented himself to voters as the political outsider, the businessman-mayor focused on bringing efficiency and private-sector solutions to government. Central to his campaign was a pledge not to raise taxes, because New York’s overburdened businesses and residents simply couldn’t afford still higher levies without further damage to the economy—though he eventually reneged on that message. The mayor even declared shortly after being elected that, “New York is open for business.”
Ironically, yesterday Bloomberg again proclaimed New York was open for business. But the business that Mayor Bloomberg outlined mostly entailed public-sector projects—the kind of stuff that politicians who have little faith in the private sector like to point to as “economic development” but which rarely accomplish much except to redistribute tax dollars ineffectively around an economy.
Except for a brief reference to his plans for another homeowners tax rebate, in yesterday’s speech Bloomberg made no mention of any efforts to restrain or cut the city’s job-smothering taxes. While enunciating his grand plans for government-subsidized housing and other projects, he made no reference to the city’s yawning budget deficit or its soaring spending, which will have a far greater effect on New York’s business environment than any job-training programs or city-sponsored diversity efforts.
But as the mayor—now an all-too-typical-sounding municipal politician—heads into his re-election campaign amid approval ratings that are stubbornly stuck under 50 percent, maybe he should remember what got him elected in the first place. Otherwise, it might be a very long campaign season for the former businessman turned mayor.