Mike’s Icy Inaugural: Bloomberg Signs On, Asking for Sacrifice

On an Inauguration Day charged with anxiety about the city’s future and uncertainty about the abilities of its new chief executive, Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered the first hints of his leadership style, suggesting that he would subject the city government to the same sort of treatment that chainsaw-wielding C.E.O.’s bring to bloated corporations. He vowed to cut Mayoral staff by 20 percent and challenged the Public Advocate, City Comptroller and City Council to do the same-a pronouncement that didn’t exactly inspire his bundled-up listeners to leap to their feet. Many of them, after all, work for the City of New York.

“We will not be able to afford everything we want; we will not even be able to afford everything we currently have,” Mr. Bloomberg said, adding, “The search for efficiency begins at the top.”

The promise of staffing cuts was largely symbolic, since it didn’t address the far more delicate matter of cuts to city agencies, whose performance directly affects service delivery throughout the five boroughs. Even so, it was the only specific pronouncement in the 15-minute speech.

Indeed, Mr. Bloomberg’s first public address as Mayor did little to fill in the picture of a man who is largely unknown to the public. He is the least-known incoming Mayor in memory, taking charge at one of the most volatile moments in the city’s history. A political novice, Mr. Bloomberg is shrouded in uncertainty at an uncertain time; for beneath all the civic pride and chest-thumping rhetoric about New York’s resiliency, there is an understanding that the next few years could be turbulent at best, and awful at worst.

At such a crucial moment, Mr. Bloomberg offered a speech that did nothing to dispel the lingering doubts about his leadership and communication skills, one that provided no soaring imagery or great flourishes on an occasion that seemed to demand something more than a recitation of a business plan. It was a disappointing contrast to the performance of his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, who never had trouble articulating his vision or, in the days after Sept. 11, giving voice to the roiling emotions of an anguished populace.

Standing on a broad platform built atop the steps of City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg often seemed awkward and nervous, his head swiveling mechanically back and forth between two plexiglass teleprompters that hovered at eye level on either side of the podium. The speech was larded with the sort of rhetoric one might expect from a second-tier candidate for student-council president, not the newly inaugurated Mayor of New York:

“We will go forward; we will never go back.”

“We can never abandon our future.”

“Since the days of the Dutch, wave after wave of immigrants have transformed this city.”

Mr. Bloomberg also flubbed several applause lines. At one point he said, “Please stand and honor me in joining … ” before quickly correcting himself: “Please stand and join me in honoring Mayor Rudy Giuliani!”

Nor did he seize on his inaugural address as the occasion to forcefully present an overarching vision for the city, as Mayors have done in the past. For instance, Mr. Giuliani used his 1993 inaugural speech to declare a simple goal: He would liberate the city from the fear of crime.

Although Mr. Bloomberg is taking over City Hall at a no-less-critical moment, he declined to elaborate such a lofty vision, offering instead only the vaguest of hints about the city’s future under his administration. The speech made the following points: First, cuts are coming; second, the city will rebound; third, the Bloomberg administration will be open and inclusive.

“Those of us in government must remember that we are here to work with and serve all eight million New Yorkers,” Mr. Bloomberg said. He added: “I want all New Yorkers to have the same opportunity my father wanted for my sister and me, the opportunity to pursue one’s dreams.”

At another moment, the speech revealed Mr. Bloomberg’s uncertainty over what may prove to be the trickiest political task of the weeks and months ahead: taking over City Hall from a popular and volatile Mayor who seems intent on maintaining a very active public presence. In the final days of his Mayoralty, Mr. Giuliani announced that he had struck a tentative deal with the Yankees and the Mets to build new stadiums for the teams.

Mr. Bloomberg used his speech to challenge the deal, but he did it in a way that seemed to come out of nowhere. “We will bring new life to our waterfront and stimulate new investment in housing, schools and-when we can afford them-the world’s best cultural and athletic facilities,” he said. A murmur went through the crowd. Mr. Giuliani, sitting in the first row, glared at the stage floor.

The Final Minutes

As Mr. Bloomberg has to know by now, Mr. Giuliani is not going to disappear from civic life. Anyone watching the transfer of power in Times Square on New Year’s Eve could see that.

The ritual was intended to send a powerful statement from New York to the rest of the world: Terrorists may have knocked down the World Trade Center, but the city remained defiant, joyful and democratic. And not only would it proceed with an orderly transfer of power, but it would do so in this most public of places, in front of a live audience of 500,000 revelers and a television audience spanning the globe.

For Mr. Giuliani, the symbolism was no less obvious. There he was, at ground zero of the Giuliani experiment, beaming at people from all over the country, people who probably wouldn’t have risked a visit to Times Square a decade ago, people who believe he’s a hero and who treat him like one.

And it was clear, as one watched the last moments of Mr. Giuliani’s Mayoralty ebb away, that he was loath to pass the reins of power to his very patient heir-in-waiting. He was determined to wring every last ounce of adulation and attention from the crowd before relinquishing the Mayoralty to Mr. Bloomberg, who respectfully laid low while Mr. Giuliani soaked up the final minutes of his memorable reign:

10:30 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani is standing on a platform in the middle of Times Square, at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway. It’s the highest makeshift platform in Times Square. He is there with Judith Nathan, his very good friend, who is perched on a pair of stiletto heels. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is also there. Mr. Giuliani’s aides are teary-eyed, mouthing the patriotic songs that are booming through the canyons of Times Square. Mr. Giuliani stares down as hundreds of thousands of partygoers wave American flags.

10:50 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani embarks on one final stroll down Broadway as Mayor, arm-in-arm with Ms. Nathan. The couple is surrounded by a team of bodyguards worthy of a President and First Lady, and the two of them are acting the parts. Mr. Giuliani gives the thumbs-up to flag-waving crowds chanting, “Rudy! Rudy!” Ms. Nathan, though, is not waving; she is clutching Mr. Giuliani’s arm tightly and whispering in his ear as his Mayoralty disappears into history.

11:03 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani stops to embrace his former chief of department, Louis Anemone.

11:20 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani stops for a quick live interview with ABC-TV. His face beams down on Times Square from an enormous screen above.

11:28 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani pauses for a quick live interview with Dick Clark, who has been presiding over New Year’s Eve since Mr. Giuliani was in law school. Or so it seems. Or maybe that was Guy Lombardo ….

11:32 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani disappears into a cavernous space on the first floor of the Condé Nast Building, at 42nd Street and Broadway. All his friends and supporters are there, the people who were with him from the start: First Friend Peter Powers, Liberal Party chief Ray Harding, Yankees president Randy Levine, longtime loyalist Denny Young, roommate Howard Koppel.

11:40 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani bursts out of the party and begins to make his way up Broadway back to the platform, where he will face the inevitable in 20 minutes. Hordes of people spill out of his party and follow in a procession that stretches on for over a block.

11:58 p.m.: Mr. Giuliani is standing on the platform where the transfer of power will take place. Mr. Bloomberg is nowhere in sight. Mr. Giuliani is singing “God Bless America,” which resounds throughout Times Square. He moves to one side of the podium and waves to the throngs below; Ms. Nathan follows. He moves to the other side and waves again; Ms. Nathan follows.

11:59 p.m.: The countdown begins. As the last moments of 2001 flash by on the gigantic screen, “God Bless America” gives way to the chanting of the countdown. Mr. Giuliani begins to chant along with the crowd, counting down the final seconds of the dying year and his dying Mayoralty. In the last 10 seconds, as he’s counting, he puts both his hands on the silver globe on the podium before him.

Midnight: The new year breaks. Mr. Giuliani hesitates a moment, then turns to Ms. Nathan. He deliberately plants a kiss on her lips. At the exact moment that he becomes a private citizen, his relationship with Ms. Nathan becomes official, high above Times Square, on international television.

The New Order

On the morning of Jan. 1, 2002, Mayor Bloomberg bounded up the steps of City Hall wearing the smirk of someone who has just pulled off a monumental practical joke on some unsuspecting victim. It was 10:30 a.m., an hour and a half before his inaugural address. Wearing an overcoat and red scarf and surrounded by cops and advance people, he strode purposefully through the lobby, hung a left through the gate into City Hall’s West Wing, glanced into rooms on either side of the hall, then without hesitation turned right into the corner office he will inhabit for the next four years.

As City Hall filled with people awaiting Mr. Bloomberg’s speech, there were signs everywhere of the general chaos that attends the transfer of municipal power, as well as the particular challenges that the new government will face at this unprecedented moment in the city’s history. People whose fates remain uncertain, such as Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, wandered the building. Over in the City Council wing, the offices were dark and empty. Most personal belongings were gone; half-eaten celebratory cakes sat on desks.

The ghostly offices served as a reminder of just how bizarre things are likely to get within months or even weeks: At exactly the same moment that a Mayor with no political experience is moving into City Hall, two-thirds of the City Council is being replaced by newcomers, thanks to term limits. The ordinary questions everyone asks of a new Mayor-What sort of a leadership style will he develop? How will he deal with the City Council come budget time?-are being posed with far more urgency this time. The building buzzed with talk about how a city government full of political novices will manage to handle an austerity budget, particularly since years of prosperity will make the cuts all the more politically contentious.

Adding to the uncertainty, insiders crowded the second-floor veranda, chatting quietly about the race to succeed Peter Vallone as City Council Speaker. Council members Gifford Miller and Bill Perkins, two likely candidates, prowled the halls, using the occasion to campaign among Council colleagues and the media. The urgency is understandable, because the Speaker will be the second most powerful official in City Hall, and whoever it is will undoubtedly set the tone for relations between the Council and the Mayor.

Elsewhere in City Hall, there were other signs of confusion and uncertainty. People awaiting the speech passed time scrutinizing the seating of the dignitaries onstage for clues about who would have power in Mr. Bloomberg’s universe, and how it would differ from that of Mr. Giuliani. The instant conclusions: In the Bloomberg world, there were few political insiders with the power of a Ray Harding, the Liberal Party chief who became a lobbying powerhouse during the Giuliani years. And there were many more minorities accorded positions of honor on the stage, a testament to Mr. Bloomberg’s reliance on minorities, particularly Latinos, to enable him to defeat his Democratic foe, Mark Green.

Around City Hall, there was the palpable sense that the transfer of power illustrated how the Giuliani years and Sept. 11 had completed a fundamental realignment of city politics, in which the desire for personal safety had trumped party loyalty as the driving force for many voters. Even though Mr. Bloomberg’s victory was a massive embarrassment for the local Democratic Party, powerful party officials throughout City Hall had nothing but praise for the incoming Mayor-whose top appointments, as it happens, are almost entirely Democratic.

“I feel more welcome than I have in the past,” enthused former Mayor David Dinkins, a prominent supporter of Mr. Bloomberg’s defeated foe, Mark Green.

“This is a Democratic administration,” said political consultant George Arzt as he stood surveying the scene. “Mike is a person who in the past I’ve always asked to help Democratic candidates running, and he always gave freely to those candidates-and I think he hasn’t changed his stripes any.”

Meanwhile, there were signs everywhere that the third branch of municipal government-that is, the reporters who inhabit Room 9-was already trying to retake territory it lost during the Giuliani years. Verbal scuffles broke out between reporters and harried Bloomberg aides. At one point, a reporter and a Bloomberg aide wrestled over a plastic cup brought in for the festivities; the goodies weren’t for members of the press, the aide said.

At another point, a Bloomberg aide tried in vain to banish a group of reporters to a small space out of the way of visiting dignitaries.

“This is not the fucking Giuliani administration,” one reporter snapped at the aide. “Things have changed now. It’s morning in New York.”

The aide threatened to call for the help of Ed Skyler, Mr. Bloomberg’s new press secretary.

“Fuck Ed Skyler!” the reporter yelled. “Who’s Ed Skyler? Have him come down here!”

In the end, the aide allowed the reporters to stay put. Round 1 went to Room 9.

-with additional reporting by Josh Benson. Mike’s Icy Inaugural: Bloomberg Signs On, Asking for Sacrifice