ANALYSIS: Political PR - Bloomberg morphs from mogul to mayor inpublic

After spending $69 million to win a very hotly contested

election, Mike Bloomberg is already hard at work on uniting the city and

proving that a billionaire mayor can relate to - and work for - the

average Joe.



At the end of Mike Bloomberg's first seven days on the job, perhaps the

most significant story to emerge about New York City's new mayor had to

do with his taste in decorating.



Like all bosses, mayors are connected in the popular imagination with

foreboding corner offices. So when Bloomberg revealed that he had

converted the city's former Board of Estimates chamber into an open,

newsroom-like workspace - in which he would operate from a central

cubicle, surrounded by 30 of his top staffers - well, that was big

news.



But soon, the press' fascination with Bloomberg's "bull-pen" setup will

fade; and, following reporters' lead, the public's will too. The mayor's

lieutenants, meanwhile, will continue toiling under the unique

arrangement.



And each morning, as they report for duty, their cubicles - complete

with state-of-the-art computers donated by Bloomberg LP - will remind

them of the message their boss has been trying to send to city employees

since he won the election last November: In his administration,

sacrifices will be expected, loyalty will be rewarded, and innovation

and cooperation will be prized above all else.



It has been argued that Bloomberg, who has amassed a 10-figure personal

fortune through his financial information empire, bought his way into

office through the staggering volume of advertising his riches afforded:

By opting out of the city's campaign finance program, he was free to

spend $69 million of his own money, while his Democratic

opponent, Mark Green, was stuck with the $34 million he received

in public funding. Since his surprising victory, though, Bloomberg has

switched his focus to PR. And he has been paying particularly close

attention to what, in his former role, would have been referred to as

internal communications.



A low-key approach



Consider the example of Bloomberg's inaugural. Aside from the Times

Square torch-passing that he staged with Rudy Giuliani on New Year's Eve

(a new twist for an incoming New York City mayor), Bloomberg assumed

office with little self-generated fanfare - a noteworthy touch, coming

from a high-society insider whose party for the 200 Democratic

convention included a mermaid draped over a raw bar. That low-key

approach might have marked the first steps in a strategy to shrink the

Giuliani-sized position back down to a more workable scale; Bloomberg,

as The New York Times pointed out, is "a diminutive man," and not one

given to sweeping oratory. But it was probably also motivated by a

second, more pressing goal: to continue the repositioning of Bloomberg -

in the eyes of voters and bureaucrats alike - from billionaire mogul to

workaday public servant.



"The message was that this certainly isn't the imperial mayor," says

Hunter College political science professor Ken Sherrill. "It was sort of

like Jimmy Carter walking down Pennsylvania Avenue for his Presidential

inaugural. He really toned down the pomp and circumstance, and

symbolically rolled up his sleeves."



Mike makes his mark



In his inaugural speech, Bloomberg repeatedly invited Democrats, members

of city government, and private-sector leaders to join him in a "new

partnership" that can work together to pull the city through the tough

times ahead.



That theme, perhaps meant to be a descendent of Roosevelt's "New Deal"

and Kennedy's "New Frontier," signaled a clean break from the

my-way-or-the-highway leadership favored by his predecessor. And had it

been delivered by a more stirring speaker, it might have received a more

prominent billing in the news coverage the speech received.



Instead, the New York City papers led with a more nuts-and-bolts

message: Bloomberg's announcement of his plans to eliminate a fifth of

his office's budget, and his challenge to city leaders that they do the

same. Judging by the eye-rolling and groaning that portion of his

remarks elicited from members of the audience, the proposed 20% cuts are

not going to prove an easy sell - and there will be more unpopular

reductions to come as Bloomberg seeks to close the projected $4

billion gap in New York City's $43 billion budget for this year.

That's why Bloomberg has been careful to back up that rhetoric with

savvy actions.



Shortly after squeaking past Green, Bloomberg let it be known that he

didn't intend to move into the mayor's traditional residence in Gracie

Mansion, preferring instead to remain in his posh townhouse on the Upper

East Side. Coupled with his pledge to work for $1 a year, that

gesture represented an effort to communicate that the mayoralty, to this

mayor, was just another job - a sentiment that was echoed when

Bloomberg, who is licensed to pilot his two private jets, rode the 6

train to his first full day of work.



Of course, it's easy for a man as wealthy as Bloomberg to do without a

few city-funded luxuries. But by demonstrating that he was willing to

give up the perks that come with his position, he adroitly supported his

policy goals.



"The visual symbols have all been communicating a certain kind of

austerity," notes Sherrill. "That makes a lot of sense, especially when

you're asking city employees to accept a certain degree of hardships.

That's smart politics in hard times."



But even if his minions are being sent all the right signals, it remains

to be seen whether Bloomberg's strategy will be successful. One

potential pitfall lies in the depth of the rollbacks he's asking for:

Several city officials have gone on record with their doubts about the

feasibility of trimming 20% from their budgets. And the police and fire

departments had their financial concerns raised for them through a

screaming front-page headline in the New York Post, "Readers to

Hizzoner: Don't Even Think It!"



And what about the mayor's office itself - the one branch of city

government where Bloomberg can guarantee the level of cuts he wants?

Chris Ingram, a Republican pollster and communications consultant from

Alexandria, VA, suggests that some of the career bureaucrats now working

under Bloomberg may soon begin to chafe at their new chief executive's

business-bred leadership style.



"Folks that are typically driven to the political environment are

different than people who are driven to the corporate world, and that's

going to be a huge culture shock," he says. "Somebody that works for an

elected official has decided that they're going to forego the high

salary and the nice BMW. One of the few perks they have is their

powerful-sounding title and their nice office near the bosses. You put

them in a cubicle, and then you ask them to do 25% more work, and morale

is going to drop."



In the meantime, Bloomberg's team still has its impressive new Bloomberg

computer terminals - a free product give-away that saved taxpayer

dollars while also supporting the mayor's internal communications needs.

"He'll be able to use similar moves to buy goodwill even after his

honeymoon period is over," says a Democratic source. "But his money

can't buy better schools or keep the crime rate down - only a balanced

budget can do that."



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in