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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."