Almost two years after the titans of Wall Street created the conditions for economic destruction, the Bloomberg administration has chosen from among their ranks the next person to be the city's Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.
"New York City is working through a difficult economic period," Bloomberg said of the appointment, "And now more than ever we need to find new ways to create jobs today and implement innovative measures to grow New York City's economy over the long-term. Bob Steel is going to help us do that."
Steel spent 28 years at Goldman Sachs and left the firm in 2004. After that, Steel worked for the Bush administration in the Treasury Department where he focused on improving the global competitiveness of the US financial industry. Steel then returned to the private sector as CEO of Wachovia bank in 2008, which was looking shaky at the time, and shepherded Wachovia's sale to Wells Fargo.
But will the new deputy mayor, with such strong ties to the financial industry, be willing or able to move New York City away from its reliance on the financial sector? After all, the financial meltdown was supposed to serve as a reminder that unless the city diversifies its economy, it will continue to be subject to the violent swings of the financial markets. Steel's work in the Bush administration, on the other hand, focused in part on "sustaining New York City's and the US's global competitiveness in financial services," according to the Mayor's press release. Will this be the focus of his work in New York City as well?
For those of us looking for a new approach towards economic development, Steel's appointment offers little hope that we will see a different orientation during Bloomberg's third term. Rising inequality, falling wages for low-skilled workers, and the erosion of middle-class jobs will be the biggest challenges that the city's economy will face during the 2010s. These challenges require a bottom-up approach to economic development. Instead, we will likely continue to see the administration support big business, big banks and big developers--and to hope that maybe just a little bit of this Bloomberg-style of "economic development" will trickle down to ordinary working New Yorkers.
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