Our Kind of Town Chicago Is

THERE MAY BE NO SHAME IN STEALING ideas from elsewhere, but there used to be a time—say, seven years ago—when New York was a net exporter of them. Mayor Giuliani spread his influence not just through his crime-fighting policies, but also by shedding staff, sometimes after nasty personality clashes. Commissioner William Bratton, Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple and Chief of Department John Timoney brought New York’s crime-fighting techniques to places like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Miami. Mr. Bloomberg’s chief executive style has attracted followers such as Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. But, according to Fred Siegel, a frequent critic of Mayor Bloomberg and a former adviser to Mayor Giuliani, the CEO mayor has yet to promulgate a platform.

“In the case of Giuliani, there was crime and welfare. In the case of Daley, we can talk about things that other cities have taken up. There are no comparable examples of Bloomberg,” said Mr. Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

When Mr. Bloomberg steals an idea from another mayor, however, he does not just scratch off the serial number and pretend it’s his. He gussies it up with extra reflectors and swoop-necked handlebars to make it far flashier, louder and—his supporters argue—more effective than the idea that he ripped off.

Witness his emphasis on illegal guns, which Mayor Daley had made a priority in the early 1990’s. When the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, Mr. Daley began a lonely lobbying campaign in Springfield to get state laws that would reinstate its power. Then along came Mayor Bloomberg, who, with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, founded an organization called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. They got more than 200 of their fellow municipal leaders to join them (including, eventually, Mayor Daley) and started lobbying not some cornfed legislators in a Midwestern capital but instead the real steak-eaters in Washington, D.C.

Similarly, Mayor Daley has been shuffling along for years on an environmental kick. He has long been a bicyclist himself and has created more amenities for bicyclists around the city (whereas Mayor Bloomberg bought a bike during the first threatened transit strike and quickly gave it away without riding it). He put a green roof on City Hall and, starting in 2005, issued a yearly “environmental action agenda” that tries to systematize his goals and methods. But when Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, a 155-page blueprint, hit the press in April, it made a thud around the country the way that only taxing car drivers could make.

Mayor Daley has planted 500,000 trees. Mayor Bloomberg seeks to plant a million.Mayor Daley pledged to reduce city government’s power consumption by 4 percent over four years (and failed to meet the target); Mayor Bloomberg is planning to bring New York’s level down by 30 percent within 10 years.

Mayor Daley wanted to reduce the city’s “environmental footprint” by 30 percent; Mayor Bloomberg reaches for a comparable figure—but with the added benefit of detailing how much pollution each of his 127 initiatives will avoid producing.

“It wasn’t anything nearly as specific. It wasn’t anywhere nearly as comprehensive or concrete,” said Mr. Doctoroff of Mayor Daley’s plan. “What we think PlaNYC does is to establish these goals and to lay out real-world funded initiatives in order to meet the goals.”

If New York does owe Chicago some props for the whole green idea, the balance of trade may finally tip back. Mayor Daley is now chasing the Olympics. Ms. Fuchs, the Columbia professor, recently lectured the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on how Chicago could become a more international city.

Last week, Douglas Foy, an independent consultant who served as special adviser on sustainability during the drafting of PlaNYC, was invited to stop in Chicago “to consult,” he said, “on energy strategies.” Whether that means there is a PlaNYC in Chicago’s future is hard to tell, but Mayor Daley, at the very least, is going to have to call it something different.