The day Mayor Bloomberg began his third term, he said, “Conventional wisdom holds that by a third term, mayors run out of energy and ideas. But we have proved the conventional wisdom wrong time and again, and I promise you, we will do it once more.”
But now that Bloomberg is one year into his third term he might want to rethink that statement. The year began with reports that he directed $51 million in public and personal subsidies into a museum project led by Democratic mayoral rival Bill Thompson’s wife, dumping $2 million of additional city funding into it in the middle of the mayoral campaign.
Then it was disclosed that for the second year in a row, the mayor had quietly pumped more than $1 million into the state’s Independent Party without disclosing it as part of his own campaign spending. The party promptly turned around and gave $750,000 of the money to a shell company associated with key Bloomberg operatives.
John Haggerty, a former Bloomberg campaign aide, said that he used the money to pay poll workers on Election Day. Queens Republican Party Chairman Phil Ragusa said he tried to dissuade Bloomberg’s re-election campaign last year from dealing with John Haggerty.
“I warned Bloomberg before this happened,” Ragusa said. John Haggerty, along with his brother Bart, has been warring with Ragusa over control of the Queens GOP. Haggerty said he needed the $1.1 million funneled to him from Bloomberg through the Independent Party for poll watching and ballot security, but Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said $600,000 of those funds were spent to buy a home from John Haggerty, Sr., who was a chairman of the Conservative Party. They allege that Haggerty used about $600,000 to purchase a home. Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of the house.
Haggerty maintains his innocence, claiming his deal with the mayor and the party allowed him to keep the $750,000 he’s accused of stealing.
In court papers, Haggerty’s attorneys claim the mayor’s campaign “intentionally chose the least transparent way possible to conduct ballot security. It was Mr. Bloomberg who chose to hide payments, not Mr. Haggerty.”
If Bloomberg “made the contribution directing how it should be spent, he would be in violation of both New York State election law and the New York City campaign finance law,” Haggerty’s attorneys allege.
The checks are all personal donations by Bloomberg. This allows the billionaire mayor to take advantage of rules that apply to contributions to so-called housekeeping accounts.
Then days after warning Albany that proposed cuts in state aid to the city would force him to lay off 18,000 municipal employees, it was reported that Mayor Mike had created city payroll slots for 15 staffers of his re-election campaign. In addition, seven city employees who left their jobs to work on the campaign returned, in many cases at higher salaries. Together, the appointments cost taxpayers more than $2 million in government wages.
Howard Wolfson, a strategist on Bloomberg’s re-election campaign, was hired for the newly created position of counselor to the mayor. His City Hall salary is $200,000 a year.
Days later a Bloomberg campaign aide, Maura Keaney, landed a job, after being fined $2,500 for making fundraising calls for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn while serving as her deputy chief of staff, a violation of the City Charter. The city board of education hired her as its new, $143,000-a-year executive director of external communications.
Then city Comptroller John Liu refused to approve a new $8 million contract the Bloomberg administration has awarded for the city’s controversial payroll and time-keeping system.
Liu wanted to know why the computerized system known as CityTime has ballooned to more than 10 times its original price tag.
CityTime “has a long history of extraordinary increases, rising from $68 million to $722 million over 10 years,” said Liu
A few months later four highly paid CityTime consultants and two others were arrested on charges of syphoning $80 million out of a project where costs have ballooned radically.
Mayor Bloomberg prides himself on his managerial prowess. And he recently said that he should be in the running for best New York City mayor ever. But when he said payroll consultants accused of stealing $80 million from the city were allegedly able to do so because they simply slipped through the cracks, it causes us to question that prowess.
In a letter to Bloomberg, Comptroller Liu blasted the mayor for his response, stating, “The CityTime scandal makes it abundantly clear that the city must have a system in place that properly tracks and assesses sub contracts as well as prime contracts, including invoices, timesheets, and explanations of work performed, in order to seriously reign in the potential for waste, fraud, abuse, and certainly embezzlement.”
He said billions of dollars have been spent on outside consultants over the years, and that a “significant portion” of that money has been wasted.
Then many New Yorkers were shocked when the mayor signed a budget that raised city council member item spending, the cash pols get to pass around their districts like Christmas turkeys, a full 9 percent over last year, to $396 million.
That’s nearly $8 million per city council member.
Then reports came in that on national and state tests our school kids’ test scores plummeted, erasing all of the gains on scores that the mayor had claimed happened under his watch. His chancellor Joel Klein resigned, and the mayor appointed Cathie Black, who was immediately put under the microscope for her lack of educational experience. The mayor seemed to ignore the critics. “I don’t see it as any criticism. I think some people don’t understand what the job is all about,” the mayor said. “This is a management job and we need somebody who has real management experience.”
Then the day after Christmas the city was socked with a record snowstorm. When many in the outer boroughs complained that the streets had not been plowed, the mayor rejected any notion that the city was somehow less prepared for the storm than for others past.
“The world has not come to an end,” Bloomberg said at a news briefing. “The city is going fine. Broadway shows were full last night. There are lots of tourists here enjoying themselves. I think the message is that the city goes on.”
This response once again crystalized the mayor’s disconnect from many New Yorkers.
Third terms historically are problematic in New York politics; just ask Ed Koch.
In his third term, Koch’s popularity was shaken after Queens Borough President Donald Manes, Bronx Democratic Party official Stanley Friedman, and Brooklyn Democratic boss Meade Esposito stacked city agencies with patronage appointments. The wave of scandals undermined Koch’s prior claims that he would run a patronage-free city government.
Bloomberg may have the toughest year he has faced coming up. It will be interesting to see where the self-proclaimed greatest mayor stands. Stay tuned.
Still on fire