Does Michael Bloomberg warrant three spots on this list? Consider: pioneering information disseminator; mayor who transformed New York; philanthropist of nearly unprecedented generosity, reach and ambition.
Yes, yes and yes. And perhaps a fourth, for having singularly moved the national (and global) debate on pet issues such as public health and gun violence. For good measure, The Observer could give him a fifth place, as one of the 25 to Watch, since “what will Mayor Bloomberg do next” (buy the Financial Times?) is the favorite parlor game of New York’s chattering class. He has given away $2.4 billion of his fortune, but that means he has $25 billion to use. Mr. Bloomberg has been silent on post-2013 plans, but he has shown unceasing resolve to use his money and talents to tackle the biggest issues in New York, the U.S. and the world.
Just before he first ran for mayor, Mr. Bloomberg shared his worldview with us. This never-before-published quote—uttered before the worst terror attacks on U.S. soil, before a worldwide collapse of New York’s most important industry—looks positively prophetic today:
“The difference between today and 20 years ago … 20 years ago people went to where the jobs were. Today, the reverse is true. Today, jobs come to where the best labor force is. That’s why companies stopped moving out of Manhattan. They moved out when they couldn’t get people here. They got to the suburbs and now all the people are back in New York City and want to live here. This is a great place to raise a family and to live here yourself. And if you could keep crime down, get the educational system much better, provide housing and health care, the jobs would come in a second. The jobs are the tail and not the dog.”
It’s a remarkably succinct elevator pitch, a modern urban manifesto, actually, and over 12 years, Mr. Bloomberg lived it. As New York’s 108th mayor, his unique combination of business savvy and political idealism have created a one-of-a-kind leader, a man who has reshaped New York in his image. And that image is richer, sleeker and greener: an emerging tech hub, dotted with modern public spaces and glass towers, and packed with tourists and ex-smokers sipping their downsized sodas and riding their bikes to Whole Foods in safer, revitalized neighborhoods.
A unique political animal, a Republican-turned-independent yet beloved by the denizens of his Democratic metropolis, Mr. Bloomberg’s leadership has been shaped by his own decisive vision more than any allegiance to party or clique. As mayor, he has transformed the city’s business, financial and real estate climate through the post-9/11 economic recovery and the recovery from the recession and financial services crisis of 2008, made peace with the BIDs (paving the way to make big businesses take responsibility for making their neighborhoods clean and safe), spearheaded numerous development and revitalization efforts, and promoted New York as a future center for technology and research.
And yet for Mr. Bloomberg, money and conviction go hand in hand, and the notoriously health-conscious “nanny mayor” has stuck to his convictions on a range of public health issues: smoking bans in restaurants and parks, a trans fats ban in restaurants, health-inspector grades for restaurants, soda downsizing and an obsession with converting car terrain into bicycle territory, even where few pedal. New Yorkers are healthier for his efforts, whether they like it or not.
Over the course of his three terms, his innovative, forward-thinking governance has been a powerful contrast to the stagnancy of the federal government, pioneering new strategies to reinvent the city’s transportation, education and public health systems. He has presided over further gains in shrinking crime (which few thought possible after Mayor Rudy Giuliani) and improved race relations (which everyone thought possible after Mr. Giuliani), with high school graduation at a record high, not to mention the ambitious rezoning of the city’s landscape and the innovative repurposing of all those underutilized historical railroad viaducts. Public parks for everyone!
On November 12, 2001, Flight 587 crashed just after taking off from JFK, killing 260 people on board and five on the ground in Queens, where its wreckage sat smoldering on the streets. The city, still rattled and heartbroken from the World Trade Center attacks two months prior, had just elected Mr. Bloomberg, who had yet to take office. We sat next to him in a small room reserved for grieving family members who needed some attention from Mayor Giuliani, who by that point had earned his stripes in comforting victims of tragedy. Mr. Bloomberg sat quietly and watched the mayor whose job he would soon hold. By that point, Mr. Bloomberg had accomplished a lifetime’s worth of achievements. But he recognized that he still had much to learn. And that’s what he did.
Yet even as Mr. Bloomberg has revitalized the city, he has also pushed his leadership beyond the borders of the five boroughs, from his advocacy on immigration reform and nationwide gun control, to his recently created super PAC. While Mr. Bloomberg may be stepping down soon from his post as mayor, suffice it to say, his impact on the national and even global stage looks set to grow and flourish for many years to come.