Throughout his five-and-a-half years as mayor, Mike Bloomberg has come across as something of a revolutionary in pinstripes, tearing down the old ways of doing things and replacing them with methods based on reason, data and cool calculation.
He consolidated all of the city’s customer service numbers into 311, centralized the school system and came up with a plan for New Yorkers to breathe the cleanest air of any big city by the year 2030.
The true inventor of these policies, though, was not the Jewish boy from Medford, Mass., but rather an Irish pol from the near south side of Chicago. Back in 1995—when Mayor Bloomberg was just a glimmer in CEO Bloomberg’s eye—Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley got rid of his Board of Education and soon after started holding failing kids back. In 1999, Mr. Daley implemented 311 (yes, the same number New York has). By 2001, he had declared his intention to make Chicago the greenest city in the country and started planting flowers on top of City Hall to prove it.
“When the C-40 summit came, I gave the opening night’s reception speech and I unabashedly said we have stolen from cities all over the world,” said Dan Doctoroff, Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, referring to the C-40 Large Cities Climate Summit held in New York in May. “Chicago, as the city in many ways the most similar to New York in the U.S., is the prime target.”
So while New York, when it comes to things like the Olympics, congestion pricing and corporate headquarters, generally puts itself in the glamorous company of London, Moscow and Tokyo, the Big Apple has really been getting its juice from the hog butcher to the world.
Such imitation dates back maybe a century, to the first skyscraper. The Ferris Wheel, Jim Belushi and Tina Fey are all Chicago imports. Remember those fiberglass cows that littered New York’s sidewalks years ago, painted in all different colors with punning names like Moo York and Tutancowmon? Chicago (or rather Chi-cow-go) had them first. Chicago put the boom in the Manhattan Project: It was where they split the atom. The Chicago Manual of Style was created in, well, Chicago.
“The thing about Chicago is that they have a second-city complex,” said Ester Fuchs, a Columbia University political science professor and former adviser to Mayor Bloomberg who got her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1984. “People in Chicago obsess about New York, whereas in New York no one obsesses about Chicago. By and large, New Yorkers are very parochial. We think we came up with our own ideas.”
As for what Mayor Daley thinks of the sincerest form of flattery that Mr. Bloomberg has shown him, Deputy Press Secretary Jodi Kawada e-mailed, “Mayor Daley is certainly aware of the improvements Mayor Bloomberg has made in New York City, but he doesn’t claim any pride of ownership.”
PERSONALLY, THE TWO MAYORS could not be further apart. The compact Mr. Bloomberg is the accidental mayor, a politician whose party allegiance is a matter of convenience, and one who is rich enough not to care that it is. The meatier Mr. Daley is the son of Mayor Richard J. Daley, who was in office for 21 years—a record that Daley fils, now in his 19th year, is likely to break. Daley the younger grew up in a working class neighborhood and had his Democratic affiliation denied him as a result of some pansy-ass legal change that made all primaries in Chicago nonpartisan (a change that Mr. Bloomberg unsuccessfully sought for New York City also). He still is a member of the local and national Democratic Party, however, and has acquired an image of a managerial mayor only to the extent that a man named Daley is able to.
“Daley is much more of a political animal; Bloomberg is much more of a businessman,” said Dick Simpson, a former member of the Chicago City Council who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “In New York, there is no longer a Tammany machine; there is still a Daley machine.”
Mr. Bloomberg’s mimicry began early: Without any political roots, he had to rely on those of others. In the first days of his first term, he resurrected advisers from the Lindsay and Dinkins administrations, and was even considering hiring Paul Vallas, Chicago’s education chief, as schools chancellor. (Philadelphia hired him first.) Mr. Vallas had been the one who ran the new Chicago public schools, which Mayor Daley had assumed direct control over. Chicago’s model became widely imitated around the country. In fact, Mayor Giuliani had even tried to get rid of the Board of Education. But it was Mayor Bloomberg who, his first year in office, succeeded.
“Sometimes I think the thing about the Bloomberg administration is that there is this attitude that if someone has a good idea, we are not the least bit reluctant to use it and give credit where credit is due,” said Mr. Doctoroff. “Of course, it’s important for a city to be an innovator. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t more efficient to borrow someone else’s ideas and adapt them. It can show you the way politically. It can show you the way technologically.”
Mr. Doctoroff in fact went to law school at the University of Chicago in the early 1980’s. Andrew Alper, the former president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, went to college and business school there. But neither say that their backgrounds made them more receptive to the winds from the Windy City.
“The two mayors share a pragmatic approach,” said Mr. Alper, now chairman of EQA Partners, a hedge-fund company. “Beyond that, I don’t think there is any business relationship.”
What coordination came about usually occurred at lower levels of government. Ms. Fuchs, who worked on Mr. Bloomberg’s first election, recalled that the candidate came up with the idea for 311 during the campaign, while looking at page after page of phone numbers for city agencies. But he was following a well-traveled route: President Clinton proposed the number to relieve 911 operators of nonemergency police calls. Baltimore adopted it first. In 1999, Chicago configured 311 to field not just nonemergency police calls but all nonemergency calls for city government, later winning an award from Harvard’s Institute for Government Innovation as a result.
According to Mr. Daley’s press office, delegations came from New York to visit Chicago on two occasions about four years ago to consult on 311, and a delegation from Chicago went to New York to help implement it. Mr. Bloomberg inaugurated 311 in New York in March 2003.
The Bloomberg administration has also consciously mimicked Chicago’s efforts, dating back to Mayor Harold Washington’s administration in the mid-1980’s, to keep condo developers from pushing out still-vibrant manufacturers around the center of town. In 1990, Mayor Daley implemented the first “planned manufacturing districts” in which zoning would prohibit any conversion of industrial space for residential or commercial uses.
“I went out there for three or four days and had the opportunity to visit two or three of the planned manufacturing districts and spoke with my counterpart there,” said Carl Hum, the outgoing director of the mayor’s Office for Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses, who will start as president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in September. “It was definitely recognized as the leading city in regards to industrial retention and had a lot of the same parallels to New York.”
Early last year, Mayor Bloomberg declared 16 areas around New York City, such as parts of Bushwick and Red Hook, as “industrial business zones”—which are less stringent versions of Chicago’s planned manufacturing districts.
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.