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Leonie Haimson

Leonie Haimson

Posted: October 20, 2009 03:38 PM

Double Standard for the Times; But Then Why Not? Bloomberg Owns This Town

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The New York Times was a great cheerleader for continued mayoral control over our schools -- including Bloomberg's ability to appoint a supermajority of members to the Board of Education (which he likes to call the Panel for Educational Policy, to make clear it has no real power to overrule him.) The paper also supported his overturning of term limits, without a peep of dissent.

Well, yesterday the Times came out with an editorial lambasting our state government, with a bunch of proposals, including that no one man should decide by himself how to invest our state pension funds, as the state comptroller currently does. The editors agreed with the state attorney general that there should be a 13 member oversight board, with appointments made by various different state leaders and state employees:

New York's comptroller is the sole trustee watching over $116.5 billion in pension investments. This should not be happening anywhere, but especially not in Albany.


Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has proposed a 13-member commission to manage pensions. The idea is a good one, requiring appointments to the board by state leaders and employees with pensions. But this new board should not become another parking place for political hacks. While we need a better system than one person controlling so much money, it must be done right -- with a board picked for its financial expertise with fiduciary duties to protect the pension.

What about accountability for the spending of billions of dollars in tax funds for public education, and the policies that will doom our children either to success or failure? Funny, instead in the mind of the Times, this meant that one man alone, namely Bloomberg, should continue to have total control.

When they endorsed the legislation that continued his monopoly of power over our schools, the editors wrote in praise: "It would preserve the mayor's right to appoint a majority of the members of the board that advises him on school matters."

In the editorial, they also implicitly supported the mayor's right to fire any of his appointees at will, at any time, for any reason -- which ensured that the board would continue to act as a rubber stamp, no matter how destructive and/or irrational the mayor's decisions might be.

Yet somehow, on something really important, like state pensions, the Times editors realize that for the sake of true accountability, we should have an independent oversight board with members appointed by a variety of different elected leaders and state employees.

Why the apparent contradiction? Could it have anything to do with the fact that, according to this week's New York magazine, Bloomberg has used his political power and personal fortune to buy the support of opinion makers, and effectively owns this town, lock, stock, and barrel. This includes the publishers of the three major dailies, who come calling when he snaps his fingers.

The article starts off with a description of a dinner party Bloomberg recently gave for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

Johnson is in New York to promote U.K.-U.S. tourism. Bloomberg is a longtime Anglophile, and his company's second-largest office is in London. The clearest sign that this Sunday evening holds special resonance for Bloomberg is the presence of Rupert Murdoch, Mort Zuckerman, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publishers of New York's three daily newspapers. They're here because Bloomberg asked them to be. Those three are at anything that really matters to Mike, a dinner-party veteran says.

Indeed, in contrast with the past, when the business and media establishment were allowed to have different views from the mayor, this no longer occurs. Instead they all seem willing to serve as his lackeys.

The article describes how when Randi Weingarten tried to woo certain establishment figures to her side in her battle with Joel Klein, the mayor made it clear that "for business leaders, stepping forward and trying to become a civic leader would be at some risk to your relationship with the mayor, a corporate insider says. Only a crazy person would step out without Bloomberg's say-so."

So instead of a circle of wealthy and influential people who make policy in this town, there is one man alone, a billionaire who holds a monopoly on power. As the reporter writes:

... there is a one-man Establishment: Michael Bloomberg. Certainly there are other figures with real power. But in a way that wasn't true two decades ago, their influence is circumscribed, confined to their narrow categories: real estate, culture, health care, banking. And, in terms of civic life, little of their power exists independent of their relationships with Bloomberg. The mogul-class push for the mayor's term-limits extension felt like the last gasp of what's left of the city's old-line ruling class ... Bloomberg gets what he wants more than any mayor in modern memory. The foundation of Bloomberg's imperial mayoralty is, obviously, money.

So much for checks and balances and the public having any say when it comes to our schools.

Perhaps all this would be less horrifying if he was actually on the right track when it comes to public education, but last week the national assessments known as the NAEPs were released, showing achievement results in math have been flat since his policies were imposed, and that the state scores on which the administration has based their claims of improvements are horribly inflated.

Class sizes are increasing, despite the city's legal obligation to reduce them, and the mayor recently thanked the governor for proposing cuts to city schools on the order of $232 million.

What should he care? Bloomberg has outspent his rival candidate for mayor, Bill Thompson, 16 to one, and is on his way to breaking his own previous records of $100 million or more in his campaign to be re-elected to a third term.

What can you say except Democracy in NYC: RIP.