NEW YORK (AP) Michael Bloomberg”s upset victory in New York”s mayoral race will test the central premise of his campaign that a man who built a major media company from the ground up can now rebuild a city with a devastated downtown and a fragile economy.
The 59-year-old billionaire Republican who touted his complete lack of political experience as one of his greatest strengths will assume control of the nation”s largest city during one of the most difficult periods in its history.
Yesterday, Bloomberg was frank about the challenges, including the likelihood of getting a lot less sleep.
“When the alarm went off, I think I moaned a little bit, and rolled over and thought to myself, “You know, if I hadn”t been so fortunate, I”d be able to sleep in a little more,”” he said.
The short list of decisions Bloomberg faces represents the kind of political minefield that would make even a veteran politician question the wisdom of a career in public service.
His first priority will be to nurse a city still recovering from the World Trade Center attack back to financial and emotional health and at the same time, seek creative solutions to successive years of projected $4 billion budget deficits. Even so, Bloomberg saw no reason yesterday to rule out grand schemes such as an expensive new sports stadium.
“This is the Big Apple,” he said at his first news conference as mayor-elect. “We are a city of big projects, of big ideas, of big complexes and a big heart.”
The tasks in front of Bloomberg are not all new. The businessman, whose experience with unions has been minimal, must negotiate new contracts with the police and teachers unions do something about the city”s failing 1.1-million student school system and begin the delicate work of trying to heal racial and ethnic rifts in one of the most diverse communities in the world.
He must do all this while filling the shoes of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack has been elevated from a modestly popular incumbent to civic sainthood.
At least Bloomberg can point to a fairly broad coalition of support among city voters: Exit polling found that he ran even with Democratic opponent Mark Green among Hispanic voters and picked up about one-quarter of the black vote in Tuesday”s election.
It was this breakdown in the traditional Democratic coalition, the $50 million or more that Bloomberg spent on the race and Giuliani”s backing that turned Green from odds-on favorite to loser and gave control of City Hall to Bloomberg.
Fifty-five days before he takes office, most of Bloomberg”s plans remain thin.
He supports raises for police and teachers but has refused to say how much. He wants to move city workers out of Manhattan to free up prime downtown office space for companies, but it is unclear how that would happen. He says he will not raise taxes and will continue the city hiring freeze, but has not said how he will bridge the projected deficits.
Voters, who identified the jobs and the economy as the most important issues in exit polls Tuesday, were willing to take a chance anyway.
“Bloomberg was not a typical politician and voters were looking for someone who had the experience to help turn the economy around,” said Lee Miringoff, director of polling at the Marist Institute of Public Opinion.
It remains an open question whether Bloomberg can adapt from a maverick businessman to a mayor who governs by consensus.
He said he likes to delegate authority and listen to new ideas, though some employees at the Bloomberg financial news service have complained about the company”s management structure and what they perceive as resistance to change.