On the morning of Jan. 1, 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s third inauguration day, the mayor emerged from his black SUV wearing a turtleneck sweater printed with “I [Heart] NY.” His spokesman, Stu Loeser, stepped out next. “Good morning!” he yelled.
We were at a soup kitchen in South Park Slope, and Mr. Bloomberg was out to prove that his third term would be different than the rest. In a wild departure from 2005, there were no parties the day he was sworn in. This year was different, and not just because the economy changed and along with it the mood of the city. It’s also that Mr. Bloomberg’s rather obvious power grab—pushing an extension of term limits that went through the City Council but was not put to voters—and various second-term failures earned him only a 5-point victory over a weak opponent, despite a $102 million reelection campaign. It’s a weak start.
Inside the soup kitchen, Mr. Bloomberg stood behind a metallic table supporting three trays of Port Royal Premium Cut Green Beans, looking stoic. Before he got to the beans, he had to open some cans—of Venice Maid Foods Meatballs in Sauce.
The can opener was attached to the table, and Mr. Bloomberg raised the handle and plunged it into the jar. He pivoted the crank and ground it, and after a time, the can slowly opened. It was manual labor; he almost broke a sweat. There were more people standing behind him and watching than working.
“It’s so hard to get good help these days,” deadpanned Bob Fritz, a 67-year-old volunteer in a baseball hat.
On to the green beans. Sister Betty Schroeder handed him a bottle of cooking oil, and as Mr. Bloomberg—wearing plastic gloves—hand-tossed the green beans with a big metal spoon, in went the oil.
By the third tray, Mr. Bloomberg was smiling.
“Mayor, would you like to cut some onions?” asked Sister Betty Schroeder.
“I’d be happy to,” Bloomberg said. Deploying a bit of domestic lingo, he added, “Do you want them sliced, or chopped?”
The mayor, not known for his cooking skills, made surprisingly quick work of the onion, like maybe he’d done this before. “Any tears?” a New York Times reporter asked.
“No tears. The onion tastes good,” Mr. Bloomberg said, popping a raw slice into his mouth.
After the soup kitchen, all two dozen of us—Mr. Bloomberg, his entourage and the reporters—walked, together, to a train station a block away, leaving the black SUV behind. As he does every day, the mayor would take the subway to City Hall.
The train came and Mr. Bloomberg stepped in and stood with his back against the door. There were only a few straphangers to see their humble mayor—the car was almost empty.
At an impromptu mobile press conference, Mr. Bloomberg told reporters that the night before had been far from splashy—after the New Year’s festivities in Times Square, he visited his favorite bar and was home at “a reasonable hour.”
He quickly dispensed with the idea that he might have acquired his sweater for the occasion. “I’ve had it for a long time; you just don’t notice it because normally I have a jacket over it,” he said. “But I’ve tried to wear it New Year’s Eve or places—it just tells the world about what I care about.”
When asked, Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that traveling to the outer boroughs to volunteer isn’t how he spent previous inauguration days, but echoing the argument he’d given for extending term limits, he cited the economy. “We live in a different time today than we did four years ago,” he said.
“Thank you guys very much,” Mr. Loeser said, stepping in front of a bunch of reporters and ending the subterranean press conference. Mr. Bloomberg, who has a tendency toward being blunt and speaking off the cuff, was silent.
At City Hall, it was obvious fewer people came out to see the mayor and other officials than in 2005. Workers in down jackets were taking away chairs from where the spectators would sit, and where in 2005 there had been an elevated walkway by which Mr. Bloomberg entered—and space for hordes of supporters—now there were only wires, some seating and a place for VIPs to roam around.
In addition to Mr. Bloomberg, the new city comptroller, John Liu, and the new public advocate, Bill de Blasio, were there to take the oath of office. Both are fresh out of two terms in the City Council and both have promised, in their new roles, to take on the Bloomberg administration.
They emerged before the mayor from behind a curtain, one at a time, like prizefighters who know they can win. Mr. Liu pumped his fists in the air and gave a thumbs-up; Mr. de Blasio lumbering out casually, head slightly titled, as if even the great outdoors were somehow too constricting for someone of his height. Both walked down the side of the stage closest to the members of the City Council, some of whom were just elected. This is a more hostile Council, elected in part on anti-administration platforms.
As if walking into the next four years, Mr. Bloomberg came out from the behind the curtain slowly, and stayed close to the side of the platform where his commissioner and aides were seated.
Mr. Liu spoke of breaking down racial barriers (he’s the first Asian to be elected to a citywide office) and pledged to probe “no-bid contracts,” which the Bloomberg administration, has in the past given out.
When Mr. de Blasio, who aggressively opposed changing the term-limits law and who has designs on the mayor’s office, took the stage, he asked spectators whether they would like the long or short version of his speech. “I think there’s been a democratic vote for the condensed version,” he said, referencing the undemocratic manner in which term limits were extended.
The new public advocate wasn’t done. He praised the work the mayor has done improving public schools by taking control of the Board of Education and installing Joel Klein as schools chancellor, which drew hand-clapping and smiles from the mayor’s aides. Then he added, “We can do better if we involve the parents of this city more fully.” The mayoral aides froze; on the other side of the stage, council members applauded.
Mr. Bloomberg’s speech came last. For the event, he changed out of his sweater and into a suit, with a bipartisan-colored purple tie. Though—or because—he’s alienated both parties in recent years, he said in his speech that he’s the first “independent” to take the office, but almost no one—onstage or in the audience—applauded. The mayor offered a rare bit of introspection anyway: “I realize the building behind me is yours and the job ahead is to listen and to lead,” he said.
The inauguration ended with a long-haired teacher strumming a guitar in front of students from P.S. 22, who gently swayed from side to side, singing an acoustic version of “We Run This Town,” by rapper Jay-Z.
“Got a problem tell me now/
The only thing that’s on my mind/
Is who’s going to run this town tonight.”
The kids sung on:
“Life’s a game but it’s not fair/
I break the rules so I don’t care/
So I keep doing my own thing/
Walking tall against the rain/
Victory is in the mile/
Almost there so don’t give up now/
Only thing that’s on my mind/
Is who’s going to run this town tonight.”
In case the point wasn’t clear, they repeated the chorus: “Life’s a game but it’s not fair/ I break the rules so I don’t care.”
After the ceremony, Mr. Bloomberg headed to Staten Island to stuff care packages for soldiers overseas. In keeping with the spirit of the day, he traveled by way of the ferry, and even bought “two popcorns and a pretzel.”
On the way over, a woman told the mayor that she thinks public-school teachers need a raise. He said he’s working on it. When I asked whom she voted for, she said, “Bloomberg,” and muttered something about whether there was a choice.
As Mr. Bloomberg exited the ferry, a man with blond hair and an unbuttoned white shirt shook the mayor’s hand and said, “Run again.” I followed him and asked if he was serious. Actually, he clarified, he wants Mr. Bloomberg to “run off” the ferry. “We have term limits for a reason,” he said.
In Queens, on the fifth floor of a Long Island City warehouse that smelled of burnt popcorn, Mr. Bloomberg was asked to move giant bundles of fabric from a bin to a shelf as photographers snapped away.
When he was done, he held a Q&A with reporters, and when a reporter prefaced a question by saying it had been a long day, Mr. Bloomberg promptly cut her off and said, “You think it’s a busy day. This is a normal mayor’s day, actually.”
His last stop of the day was at The Points, a community center in the Bronx where Rubin Diaz Jr., the borough president, said it was nice to have the mayor. The two of them recently clashed over redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory, but Mr. Diaz said Mr. Bloomberg sounded optimistic that they’ll be able to get another developer. This surprised reporters, because the mayor said the exact opposite after the Council rejected the plan.
In the meantime, the mayor was poster-painting amid lots of children and Spanish music.
As he added some blue paint to a Cat in the Hat poster that was more or less finished, Mr. Bloomberg joked that the one spot where there was a mistake in the lettering wasn’t his fault.
When it was all over, reporters rushed back to the press van for a long, mostly quiet ride back to City Hall. On arrival, it was dark, the lights were on inside and metallic barricades were still on the sidewalk. Going into the building, a reporter, Frank Lombardi, commented on the dais, which was partially dismantled. It took days for them to build it, he said, and a few hours later, it was practically gone.