The most remarkable aspect of Mayor Bloomberg’s 12th and final State of the City address was not any one phrase or proposal.
What was remarkable was that people were paying attention.
Third terms have not been friendly territory for New York politicians. The late, great Ed Koch found his administration tainted by scandal in his third term when his friends and allies in Queens and Brooklyn were caught up in the infamous Parking Violations Bureau scam. Gov. Mario Cuomo’s best days were far behind him by the time he gave his last State of the State speech. Gov. George Pataki, who defeated Mr. Cuomo, could have skipped his final SOTS speech and few would have noticed.
Michael Bloomberg, on the other hand, showed that irrelevance is not necessarily inevitable after a dozen years. Of course, bear in mind that, unless the city charter is changed yet again, he will be the last mayor to serve a third term—and perhaps that’s just as well, as he has been the exception to the rule of third-term chief executives.
Mr. Bloomberg has said that he has no intention of taking a year-long victory lap. Work remains unfinished, goals not quite achieved. What’s more, there are new initiatives to launch, although, truth be told, banning Styrofoam containers—as the mayor proposed in his final SOTC—isn’t the sort of big-picture thinking we associate with great leaders.
Still, over the next 10 months, New Yorkers will bear witness to the actions of a mayor who is going out on his own terms, a rare occurrence in the city’s history. He is right to worry that his successor may be a good deal friendlier to special interests than he was—but he still has time to make that alliance less politically palatable. He still has time to remind New Yorkers that remarkable things have been achieved in the city over the last 20 years, thanks not only to big ideas but to determined leadership.
If Mr. Bloomberg spends the summer and fall contrasting the New York of 1993 with the New York of 2013, he will perform a valuable public service. Because nobody wants to go backward—except, perhaps, for the people who have been shut out of City Hall for a generation.