Hidden away from public view for nine months now, former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff last night emerged from his private sector bunker (he’s now the president of Bloomberg LP) to deliver his first retrospective on his time in the Bloomberg administration since he resigned in January.
Speaking at Columbia University to a lecture hall filled with graduate students from the School of Architecture, the takeaway message of the city’s former economic development architect-in-chief was little he hasn’t said before—government is tremendously slow, controversy marks every step one takes, and the Bloomberg administration discovered the key to public sector success—but his look back was at times refreshingly candid. Speaking to the shortcomings of government, he lacked the careful and respectful language he formerly used—cautious language that is still employed by officials working on the projects he pushed.
“In government, everything is about conflict,” he said, pulling up a PowerPoint slide that showed circles for all the forces that push and pull at an administration’s initiatives, with a tagline that described each of those forces’ motivations.
“Unions, what do they want? They want to keep their jobs, they want better wages,” he said. “Community groups? What do they want? Frequently, what they don’t want is anything in their own back yard.
“Businesses—well, businesses want to make money.
“A City Council person basically wants to get his or her name in the newspaper.
“City agencies—they all want their own turf to be protected.”
His brief assessment of why the World Trade Center redevelopment is taking so long was similar—a multitude of players means a lengthy process.
“Think about all of those different parties, literally at war with one another, in part because the turf is so small, and the stakes are so great,” he said. “Multiple city agencies; a state that was desperate to retain control; the Port Authority, which actually owned the site, which is effectively beholden to no one.”
To sort through this tangle, in the thinking of Dan Doctoroff, one needs to take the management techniques, strategy, organization, and other skills that work best in the private sector. Taken with an approach that encourages innovation deep within the administration’s ranks, he said, management style is much of the reason why he views Mr. Bloomberg as being so successful in his governance of the city, claiming victory on issues and projects that left prior mayors stumbling.
He hailed the Bloomberg administration’s methodical approach to putting money into projects that ultimately bring returns (financial and in quality of life), the cornerstone of Mr. Doctoroff’s economic development strategy. From HR&A to McKinsey & Company, he seemed to put much significance in the administration’s reliance on quantitative data and private sector projections to make strategic decision. (Specifically, Mr. Doctoroff highlighted seven key factors in the business-style approach to government leadership: independence, strategy, investment, management, innovation, communication and accountability).
His example of an individual who would have benefited from the organizational discipline of the Bloomberg administration? Eliot Spitzer.
“One of the failures of the Spitzer administration that was very evident before his other problems was his administration was a chaotic mess,” he said. “We would have meetings where there were literally nine people who were in effect my counterpart … there was no one in charge except for him.”
Such is the under-told story of the Spitzer administration, as numerous other people who dealt with the state under the former governor have told of similar experiences. Infighting was common among state officials, though the governor was apparently unable, or unwilling, to sort through such differences, leaving many crucial decisions unmade for weeks or months.
Mr. Doctoroff tried to illustrate to the students that he had learned how to better navigate through the often-inclement bureaucracy and approvals process. Over time, the administration better listened to the community through rezonings, he said.
He applied the same storyline to the two big, ultimately failed initiatives of his time that needed approval in Albany: the proposed West Side stadium, which then educated his approach to congestion pricing.
“In secret, we crafted a magnificent, fully hatched plan, and then what we did was we attempted to end-run the Legislature,” he said.
“PlaNYC—we learned, completely,” he said, listing the various meetings and forums that went into the crafting of the administration’s sustainability plan. “Rather than trying to do the end-run around the Legislature, we sought legislative approval."
So why did congestion pricing fail? (Critics of the mayor’s approach have a long list of answers to this question.)
“I still am somewhat at a loss to explain,” Mr. Doctoroff said.
“That said, I do believe that in some form, congestion pricing will come back.”