There is no better place in the world to celebrate the holiday season than New York City. The stores along Madison and Fifth Avenues are stuffed with shoppers, perhaps lured in by the beautifully decorated windows or early sales. From Brooklyn to Queens, or from Staten Island to The Bronx, New York City is a colorful, diverse, vibrant and energetic metropolis.
But New Yorkers face an uncertain future. With the new year comes a new mayor, the first new mayor in more than a decade. And this new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has many promises to keep and many supporters to take care of. New York City is a huge, complex, and impatient metropolis filled with larger-than-life personalities, big egos, powerful interest groups with competing agendas, and the pulsating beat of an unrelenting 24/7 news cycle.
After a dozen years in office, polls show that New Yorkers are tired of their current mayor, Michael Bloomberg. A majority of those who voted in this year's mayoral election want a more progressive agenda, and someone who will focus on closing the huge income disparity between the city's rich and poor. They want universal pre-K and expanded after school programs, and an end to abusive police tactics. And many want the freedom to drink big sugary sodas and smoke -- initiatives that have earned Bloomberg the nickname Nanny Mike.
But the fact is that New York has been an extremely well-run city for more than a decade due to Bloomberg's considerable management skills. And, while there is room for criticism, Bloomberg has done an enormous amount of good for the city while taking home only $1 in salary each year.
For instance, according to current projections, New York City will have a $2.4 billion budget surplus for fiscal 2014, and a $1.9 billion budget surplus for fiscal 2015. However, these projections will be affected by upcoming labor negotiations.
The city population has increased by 300,000 since 2001, and New York now has 3 million immigrants living in its boroughs. More than 54 million tourists came to the city in 2013, that's up 54 percent since 2001. And it is no wonder, as the city's crime rate is down 35 percent in that same period, while murders have declined significantly as well. New York is a safe place to visit and live.
Since Bloomberg first took office, there has been a 23 percent decline in infant mortality, and the average life expectancy of a New Yorker is up three years, to 80.9. That may be partially due to the mayor's crackdown on smoking in restaurants and other public areas. For instance, there has been a 50 percent decline in teen smoking since 2002, and today only 14 percent of the city population smokes.
New York is now a healthier city. Bloomberg has put in 450 miles of bike lanes, and he has partnered with CitiBank to make bikes easily available throughout the city. In fact, there will be about 5.5 million CitiBike trips in 2013. The mayor has also expanded city parkland by 2 percent since he took office, and 800,000 have been planted in the past five years.
The mayor won control of the city's public schools early in his mayoralty. While there are still complex issues with the city's education system, including the expansion of charter schools, New York's four-year graduation rate is nearly 65 percent, up from about 50 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, the city's welfare roles have been reduced by nearly a quarter since Bloomberg first took office.
The mayor has encouraged investment, corporate development and new businesses. Being a successful entrepreneur himself, he has created an atmosphere that has attracted many start-ups and new enterprises. New York is a great place for the next generation.
New York is a far better place today than it was when Michael Bloomberg first took office. Some of the changes he has made have drawn, well, the Bronx cheer from many citizens. Earlier this week, I asked the mayor what he thought of the criticism he has received. He was accepting: "Change is hard, and people don't like it."
Come January 1, New Yorkers will face a big change when the 6'5" de Blasio takes over from the 5'7" Bloomberg. De Blasio will move quickly to raise taxes on the rich to pay for his education initiatives. Unions will demand a quick resolution from him on pending contract and pension issues that will be costly. His new police commissioner will take over and enact new community based tactics to keep the streets safe. And these new challenges are just the tip of the iceberg.
Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg leaves behind a stronger city and a powerful legacy.