Doctoroff, Poetic ‘Last Optimist,’ Promises NYC Rebound

For someone who’s running a company that’s intertwined with the financial industry, Dan Doctoroff doesn’t seem all that concerned about the economy.

Yesterday Mr. Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor and current president of Bloomberg LP, gave a speech at the Citizens Housing and Planning Council luncheon in which he painted a highly optimistic picture of the city’s—and the financial sector’s—future, saying New York would emerge stronger than ever before. (He called himself the “last optimist.”)

Of course, that’s not an uncommon line from those who stand to gain a lot of money if the economy were to turn around; however, he seems to be putting his (or Mike Bloomberg’s) money where his mouth is, saying he was expanding Bloomberg LP through the downturn.

“At Bloomberg,” he said, “we’ve made a decision this year to sacrifice short-term profits to invest aggressively to build new products, invest in new businesses, bring on new talent, all to increase our market share, so that when the recovery does occur, we’re better positioned.”

“We are actually adding 1,000 people this year, the majority in New York City,” he said to applause.

It would be interesting to see how Mr. Doctoroff feels about the approach to New York City’s fiscal calamities these days, as the Bloomberg administration is looking to cut billions from the budget and slash the capital spending budget by a third. Always more of a spender than a saver, he’s criticized government as it cuts just at the time that its services are needed most, in downturns.

Indeed, many of the expensive initiatives of the Bloomberg administration (like the mayor’s affordable housing plan) were undertaken during the early part of the mayor’s first term, in the downturn after September 11. With that said, today is a bit different as the city’s debt load has risen dramatically, in large part as a result of those initiatives. And now—without Mr. Doctoroff around; he left in late ’07—the administration is seeking to trim back that load.

He gave the housing-focused crowd (CHPC is an affordable-housing organization led by his former HPD commissioner, Jerilyn Perine) a lesson in history, recounting all the various crises of the past 200 years.

“By my count, New York has endured 11 financial panics, crashes or busts since New York became a financial center in the early 1800s,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “If you go back—and I’ve done this—and look at the newspaper accounts, you will read exactly the same things: ‘The Wall Street model is dead,’ and more ominously, ‘New York will never recover.’”

Then he got somewhat poetic:

“The financial sector is like a forest, and the largest trees are like the major institutions. Some may topple … some may whither, but from them come dozens of new offshoots—new saplings pushing up a groundswell of new life.”

His prescription for how to actually recover was not quite so clear, and more or less amounted to: be innovative. “Time after time, after destruction comes the creative regeneration,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “We have to be creative.”