Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Richest Man in Gotham: Mayor Mike

I've always felt, for some reason, that it can't be a healthy sign when the elected leader of any jurisdiction is its wealthiest citizen. How could he relate to the common people? Would he even try, or would he be biased towards his fellow "-illionaires"?

For example, when Silvio Berlusconi was first elected prime minister of Italy, he was already the country's richest man. But Italy is probably a special case; it has never really coalesced since its consolidation as one country back in the 1870s, as evidenced in its parade of governments since the abolishment of the kingdom after World War II. Italian leaders can see their coalition fail because the PM sneezed without covering his mouth or used the wrong fork at a state dinner.

Then we come to Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. He was already a billionaire when he was first elected, so in order to not threaten his holdings in Bloomberg LP he agreed to take a salary of $1 a year. Immediately I began to figure that NYC residents should only expect a dollar's worth of governance. But my assessment looks like it might have been wrong, at least in the beginning. He actually turned out to be, if not a great mayor, at least pretty good at seeing issues that need to be addressed and actually doing something about them. I guess years of experience as a CEO, rather than as a politician, will do that for a guy.

But it also seems me that years of being a billionaire CEO has distanced him from the common people. He can come across as very callous when speaking of the difficulties that working people might have with his policies.

Now it comes out in Forbes magazine's latest poll of the richest Americans that, apparently, Bloomberg is now the richest man in NYC and the eighth richest in the US. In fact, he is now one of the twenty richest people in the world. Not just New York City, or New York State, or even the United States. The world. But during 2008, when the bottom was falling out of the housing market, the credit market, and the financial sector, leading to people losing their jobs and companies closing down in all kinds of industries, what was Bloomberg doing?

He was busy working on a way to get around term limits, which the people of New York City had voted to keep in place. Twice. And now he's busy slashing the budget on services that New Yorkers need. Where's the concern for the people who put him into office? Where's the common touch? You would think he would at least be a little concerned how it looks when the richest man around is playing Scrooge with the public's money while swimming in his own.

It's pointed out in the comments to the first article referred to above that "if Bloomberg were to give each New Yorker $1000 out of his own personal coffers, he would still have $10 billion left." Not that anyone is seriously expecting the mayor of New York City to start bailing out ailing New Yorkers from his own huge stash of cash, but then he did say that, when he left office, he was going into philanthropy. (Oh yeah, but that was back when we thought he was going to honor the people's wishes and go away after his duly elected terms were up...)

Disclosure: I am not a resident of New York City, but of neighboring Westchester County. I am also not running for office anywhere, or giving support to anyone running. I just had to put this out there.