New York's Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is a controversial political figure. Ranking at number 17 on Forbes magazine list of the super rich, he represents a New York, which has little to do with the former haven for progressive art and intellectual inspiration, known from the 60s, 70s and 80s. With an excessive property tax, he ousted medium-sized enterprises, his mishaps regarding the press in town have become legendary, and his media company, Bloomberg LP, is under investigation over a federal lawsuit for alleged sexual discrimination. His latest coup is launching a campaign that recognizes the problem of human trafficking in the city, while cutting budgets of organizations, which are meant to deal with it only two months later.
The American dream has plenty of names associated with its mythology. One of them is Michael Bloomberg, former broker, media tycoon and financial juggler. His fortune amounted to an estimated $ 16 billion, according to business magazine Forbes in March 2009. The network of sympathizers is so tightly knit he was able to change current New York City law, which only permits eight years in office, in order to run for a third term. It was a tight race, but many New Yorkers found his opponent William C. Thompson, simply plain. Not to mention that Thompson did not have the financial means to pay for an equivalent $100 million campaign, which Bloomberg covered from petty cash. "Bloomberg has probably been a good Mayor, that is, because he simply bought up most of the agitators," the New Yorker cited an unnamed Democrat in 2009. The troublemakers include political opponents, charitable organizations, and the local press.
Only five months after the re-election, however, the patience of New Yorkers, generally a resilient crowd, seems to have come to an end. A survey by Quinnipiac University in March 2010, showed that only 22 percent of the City's inhabitants would tolerate a fourth Mayoral run by Bloomberg; the majority wants to see him leave office sooner rather than later. His financial omnipotence, the flirtation with the city elites, and his often-flaunted arrogance is annoying more and more New Yorkers. At the same time an increasing number of scandalous news has occurred.
A number of cases of sexual discrimination allegedly took place at Bloomberg LP, the media giant that Mike Bloomberg founded in 1981.
One of those concerned is the 42-year-old Monica P. She worked as a supervisor on key accounts in Bloomberg's media company, and fell pregnant in 2005. A demanding job that included voluntary overtime. In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Monica P. had to reduce her working hours from ten to eight hours a day due to health problems. The management of Bloomberg L.P. approved this change, but her superior, Carole K., did not seem to agree, and began mentally abusing the pregnant woman. Carole K repeatedly asked Monica P., why she started her working day an hour later, at meetings in the company she behaved in a hostile manner, or ignored her completely. Monica P. was soon forced to take up her maternity leave earlier because she was diagnosed with severe depression. Even during her maternity leave Monica P. worked from home for Bloomberg LP, but at this point she feared for her job.
On 21 February 2006, Monica returned to the company and faced the same treatment. By the end of March, she underwent her annual evaluation where a new, usually higher salary, should have been negotiated. Monica P. learned only a month later that against all expectations, she is excluded from a salary increase. In Mid-June because of ongoing severe depression, Monica P. goes on sick leave, and at the end of 2006, she loses her job.
About 80 complaints make up the federal sexual harassment lawsuit against Bloomberg LP. The plaintiff's claim "A pattern of discrimination of pregnant women who had applied for maternity leave had been established at Bloomberg LP."
The New York federal Judge, Loretta Preska and both parties are negotiating a fair procedure of the case. The opening of the trial is planned for early 2011, and due to the size of the plaintiffs group and Bloomberg LP, the case will be a precedent.
Mike Bloomberg is not a defendant, since he left his firm in 2001 to run for mayor. The statement of claim does, however, announce, "Michael Bloomberg is responsible for developing a systematic, hierarchical discrimination culture at Bloomberg LP." Furthermore, Bloomberg already admitted, that despite his official retirement from the company he was regularly informed about the on-goings at Bloomberg LP.
The Federal Department for "Equal Working Opportunities" goes even further. On March, 31st of 2009 they filed another complaint: "...and Bloomberg has been sued in the past because of complaints that had directly to do with Michael Bloomberg. Female managers described a misogynistic climate inside Bloomberg LP. "
In 2001 the former director of sales, Sekiko Sekai Garrison, sued the Bloomberg LP. She claimed that less attractive women were exposed to persistent malice, and young mothers had to accept pay cuts. Sekai Garrison, described that Michael Bloomberg responded negatively to her pregnancy, and had advised her to have an abortion. Bloomberg rejected all accusations, and settled the case in 2004 by transferring an undisclosed sum to Sekai Garrison.
Joel Berg, Chairman of the New York initiative "Coalition against Hunger," complains, "People are afraid of Bloomberg and his money. The Mayor devotes little time to organizations like ours. He rather spends time with the 56 other billionaires in the city. His record in New York City is shocking, there are more hungry and homeless people than ever before." The New York "Food Bank" reports a steep increase of those who can hardly afford their food, about 3.3 million New Yorkers, an increase of 60 percent since 2003. With the continuing recession, the figures don't look much better for the rest of the U.S. A report by "Feeding America" discloses that 37 million Americans have turned up to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. That shows a rapid increase of 46 percent since 2006 at the Federal level.
"At the same time, Bloomberg is clearly a master of self-promotion, and has actually created some PR-effective initiatives against hunger in New York City without much substance", says Berg. In 2006, Bloomberg founded the "Center for Economic Opportunities," which deals exclusively with the fight against poverty in the city. The initiative is financed half privately and half publicly, and has an annual budget of $ 150 million.
"A drop in a bucket," Berg claims. Indeed compared to the tax cuts the Bloomberg administration still distributes to millionaire real estate investors, the budget for his initiative seems relatively low. As a result of the controversial 421a tax program, which was adopted in the 1970s to counter the exodus of people from New York City, the city is now facing an annual revenue loss of around $300 million. In order to qualify for 421a tax relief, it was a requirement in the 1980s for investors that wanted to either build residential buildings or commercial properties, to also erect low-income housing to establish a balance of wealth in the City.
Only 69,000 low income housing units were build in the years 1985 to 2002 according to a study by the "Independent Budget Office" from 2003.
In the year 2006, the New York City Council reformed the 421a, which was then reversed in April 2009. The reasoning behind this decision was investors suffered huge losses during the financial crisis and the City didn't want to alienate them.
Many of the luxurious glass towers remain empty or are owned by absent foreign tenants because only a few can afford the high rents or prices. In January, Alyssa Katz described in her article Gentrification Hangover in The American Prospect how New York City awakes and experiences that the social structure changed dramatically, and how the former haven of the arts and progressive political thinking turned into a culturally synchronized strip mall.
The author names ambitious real estate projects such as "Oro," "The Gates" and "Forte." Titles of an exquisite, global lifestyle that are promising private helicopter landing pads, translated to mean $2 million for two medium sized bedrooms. The advantage of the conformist life style is that it is applicable in London, Dubai, Berlin and New Deli in a very similar way and lulls the consumer into a sense of ostensible safety.
For many, the aid programs for New York's destitute seem not radical enough. Approximately 1.8 million New Yorkers lived below the poverty line in 2009. The definition of "poverty" in New York City corresponds to the model of a family of four with an annual income of about $ 26,200.
A study by the "Center for an Urban Future" reported in early 2009 that a New Yorker would have to generate an annual income of $ 120,000 to acquire the same standard of living as an American living in Houston, Texas who is making 50,200 U.S. Dollars per year.
"Only three per cent or 42,000 poor New Yorkers benefit from the programs under the Bloomberg administration and New York is still at the head of the United States in terms of income inequality." Joel Berg claims that Bloomberg's initiatives are too specific and not radical enough. As an example he names the "Teen Action Plan", a program that assists a total of 3,100 teenagers in New York City. That is no reason to call Bloomberg a "courageous reformer", criticizes Berg.
The most recent PR campaign, launched by the Bloomberg administration is titled:"Let's Call an End To Human Trafficking." Apparently awareness is needed when it comes to the victims of human trafficking in New York City. A noble request one might think, but a bit senseless when only two months later the New York City Council eliminates all funding for a sexual violence programming and prevention initiative, "...effectively turning its back on the needs of victims and the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers", describes Iona Siegel, Executive Director at Mount Sinai SAVI about the outrageous on-goings in town.
The political scientist, Frances Fox Piven, at the City University in New York (CUNY) adds: "Bloomberg does not abolish the mechanisms that make the poor in New York City poorer. Instead, his administration has ensured that with the housing boom in the city residential areas for workers disappear and are replaced by glass towers with million-dollar apartments. "
Punk icon Patti Smith, who called the wild New York City in the 70s and 80s her home, is frustrated: "I feel the Bloomberg administration has reinvented the city as a new hip suburbia. It's a tourist city. It's really safe for tourists. I guess I liked it when it was a little less safe. Or I liked it when it was safer for artists. Now it's unsafe for artists."
"Mike Bloomberg strikes me as an extremely disciplined man. This may have a positive impact on a big company, but for a city like New York, I'm not so sure" says Richard Roth, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs in in the litigation of alleged sexual discrimination against Bloomberg LP.
Gabe Pressman, an NBC journalist and former chairman of the New York Press Club, has seen many mayors come and go. He has been reporting on the Big Apple since 1954. He finds Bloomberg's management style, particularly his dealings with the press, "dictatorial."
Rafael Martinez Alequin got a lasting taste of Mike Bloomberg's definition of press freedom. He's reported for 25 years from City Hall, most recently as supervisor and blogger of "Your Free Press." In 2006 Alequin's renewal of his press card was denied. In the same year, Mayor Bloomberg made it a habit to ignore his questions when he asked about discrimination against Blacks, Latinos and poor Whites. Despite Alequin's repeated requests over why his press card would not be renewed, the journalist never received an answer. In 2007 he filed a lawsuit against New York City and won so bloggers can now get the New York City Press Pass. "I was so far the only journalist they removed from City Hall," says Alequin, smiling proudly over his victory, "... for the freedom of the press," he adds.
Alequin has his own ideas regarding the Mayor. "Bloomberg has moved away from the average New Yorker. He got used to the fact that his immense wealth can buy anything -- including journalists. His arrogance bothers me a lot. "
How distant Bloomberg is from the lives of the average New Yorker, but also, how autocratic his management style looks like, shows the current debate being waged about the closure of 19 state schools in New York City, six of them in the Bronx. Only after an outcry from students, parents and teachers and a lawsuit filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP, the Supreme Court of New York State decided that the schools should remain in operation. The reasoning: the public was neither sufficiently informed nor involved enough in the decision making process.
Not only have the popularity ratings of the restless mayor, who seems so afraid of retirement, dropped steadily, New Yorkers are still miffed about the result of the questionable re-election says the political scientist Fox Piven, and journalist Pressman agrees.
Even the inner circle of his advisers seem to be up and running. The creative political strategist Kevin Sheekey and Ed Skyler, who served as a press secretary and ended up as the deputy mayor, both left the Bloomberg administration within a month.
Skyler left for Citigroup. Sheekey went from the public service into the private sector and his old boss is also, indirectly, the new one -- Sheekey could secure himself a lucrative post at Bloomberg LP.
The rest of the administration has started worrying about the lacking of experience their successors will have in dealing with the Mayor which they think could cause conflict.
"The consultants go," said political scientist Fox Piven, "... because they can foresee the end of the Bloomberg era, a fourth term is not happening."
Even Mike Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, was accused of a questionable management style and a disposition for despotism. He also had set the White House as a goal. Giuliani now only calls attention by political commentaries that are lacking any wisdom. Despite that, he has become politically irrelevant.