With a record of public service that makes, say, Ronald Lauder
look like a stogie-chomping Tammany boss, Michael Bloomberg, the
anti-politician, offers little raw material for political speculators. What
kind of Mayor will he be? Presumably not the kind of C.E.O. he has been,
otherwise eight million New Yorkers had better be prepared to have their
movements monitored at all times.
Dragging out gassy pronouncements from the campaign trail
probably qualifies as unsportsmanlike conduct, yet what else do we have?
Several months ago, candidate Bloomberg
told an audience of fellow business types that they shouldn’t hire people from
the suburbs because they aren’t “the best and brightest.” He said this without
the requisite irony-“the best and brightest” being a term associated with those
who brought about a certain debacle in Southeast Asia-and went on to compound
“People that want to go [to the suburbs] aren’t the people that
you want to have in your company,” he said. Emigration from New York, he said,
is a “self-selection process.”
By now, Mr. Bloomberg no doubt has been advised to refer to
people as “who” and not “that.” Whether anybody has briefed him on the reality
of New York’s relationship with its suburbs-for example, the noteworthy fact
that so many of the heroes of Sept. 11 lived on Long Island or in Westchester,
Orange, Putnam and Dutchess counties-remains to be seen.
Cheerleading is part of a
Mayor’s job, so perhaps Mr. Bloomberg can be forgiven for giving it his best on
the campaign trail. Nevertheless, one suspects that he really does believe that
the people who leave New York-most often to rear their middle-class families in
nearby suburbs-actually are losers unworthy of employment in the great
corporate towers of Gotham. And that is a frightening thought, because it shows
the new Mayor as an isolated, insular product of Manhattan’s society circuit,
with little appreciation of how life is lived in other parts of his new empire,
those provinces where an upsurge in crime or a bad economic downturn will lead
to streets clogged with moving vans.
Rudolph Giuliani-a native of Brooklyn whose family moved to, yes,
the Long Island suburbs when he was a child-understood the importance of
keeping the city as middle-class-friendly as possible. The results speak for
themselves. The exodus from New York during the early 1990’s, of which I was a
part, slowed during the Giuliani years precisely because he understood the
importance of making the city safer, more accessible and more family-friendly.
He didn’t dismiss those who looked beyond the boroughs; he listened to their
complaints, and did his best to resolve them.
Mr. Bloomberg, however, comes from a world that views the Sunday
Styles section of The New York Times
as society’s version of the Daily Racing
Form. As they move from party to party in the comfort of their private
automobiles, they surely cannot understand why anyone would prefer the suburbs
to New York–that is, New York County, or more specifically, Manhattan south of
Of course, one of the great
secrets of Manhattan life is how dependent it is on the very suburbanites Mr.
Bloomberg regards as intellectually challenged. We already know about the
heroes of Sept. 11, who represented the best of New York-even if they didn’t
live here. The other casualties of Sept. 11 further proved the point: the young
traders from the New Jersey suburbs of Middletown and Basking Ridge and Summit.
Were they not deserving of employment in elite Manhattan, home to the best and
And what of the reporters and editorial-board members with whom
Mr. Bloomberg will soon be fighting? They may
pride themselves on being combative in a New York kind of way, but more
than a few spend their evenings in bedroom communities and small towns beyond
the boroughs. This fact may be used to support Mr. Bloomberg’s thesis about
where the best and brightest reside and where they don’t; however, it surely is
worthy of note in seeking to understand the intimate links between city and
suburbs. Thousands who consider themselves genuine New Yorkers-who make
important contributions to the city’s intellectual and economic life, who if
asked on a London street corner where they come from would reply “New
York”-actually live elsewhere.
New York taxpayers may grumble
about this, and with some justification, but it’s a fact all the same. New
York’s political boundaries are at odds with its intellectual and psychic
boundaries, which is why two football teams representing New York play their
games in New Jersey, and why so many tributes to New York post–Sept. 11 were
delivered to people who “merely” worked in the city. It seems possible that Mr.
Bloomberg and his circle do not understand this, and that doesn’t bode well for
the next four years.
New Yorkers-the best of
them-will leave if they feel unsafe, if their children are poorly served in
public schools, if their taxes are too high and service delivery too spotty.
Mr. Bloomberg and his crowd may regard such flight as evidence of low IQ.
Others would suggest that those who leave under such circumstances are a good
deal smarter than those who boast of their authentic New York credentials in
the back seats of their town cars.