David Brooks: The case for Mike Bloomberg

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, the multibillionaire former New York City mayor, made his second visit to Utah on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 to campaign ahead of the state's primary on Super Tuesday.

The best case for Mike Bloomberg is that he’s a brilliant debater who has a witty riposte for every line of attack.

OK. Let me start over. The best case for Mike Bloomberg is that he is not a brilliant debater. He can’t whip a rally crowd into an ideological frenzy. The best case for Bloomberg is that we’ve already elected a reality TV star to the White House. We need somebody who can actually run things.

We need somebody who can actually lead a government, staff an administration with talented professionals and do the mundane but essential tasks of pushing legislation and executing laws. We need somebody who will turn down the ideological temperature, so we don’t rip ourselves apart as a nation. We have enough politicians who cater to people who treat politics as the place they go to get self-indulgent moral affirmation baths. We need someone who can improve the lives of actual Americans.

Bloomberg was one of the most successful mayors of this century. He was a Republican who left office with two-thirds of New Yorkers saying he made their city a better place.

I’m not endorsing Bloomberg. I think it’s a mistake for journalists, even opinion journalists, to endorse, and I’d be fine with many of the candidates. But I just want to throw Bloomberg’s record before you:

Education: As mayor, Bloomberg took over a dysfunctional school system and instituted a series of fantastically successful reforms. When he became mayor, less than half of New York City students were graduating from high school on time. When he left, nearly two-thirds did so within four years. He replaced large failing schools with small attentive schools. The graduation rates in those places surged from 38% to 68%. Under Bloomberg test scores rose more quickly than in other cities. The black-white achievement gap decreased by 23%.

Job creation: Bloomberg inherited a city reeling from the 9/11 attacks and helped kick-start an economic boom. He inherited a city that was economically over-reliant on Wall Street and had a relatively tiny tech sector. Now New York receives the second highest amount of tech investment, after Silicon Valley. He led the effort to create an applied sciences university on Roosevelt Island that will supply the city with talent for generations. Private sector jobs increased by 10% during the last four years of his term alone. The mayor’s office said that 29,000 people found jobs through the city’s career centers in 2012, compared to 500 people in 2004.

Housing: Bloomberg rezoned about 40% of New York City and helped spark a neighborhood renaissance along just about every waterway in the city. He led a $2.4 billion expansion of the subway system to serve the new Hudson Yards neighborhood. He managed to finance 170,000 new affordable housing units, even while the state and federal governments slashed housing budgets.

Health and the environment: He banned artificial trans fats and smoking from bars and restaurants. New York experienced about a 30% decline in adult smoking over his tenure. Meanwhile his administration added more than 850 acres of parkland, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions in city-owned buildings, and created a bike-share program. Life expectancy in New York is now 81.2 years, more than two years longer than the national average.

Crime: Stop-and-frisk is obviously a blot on Bloomberg’s record. His focus on crime data made him blind to the human beings who were mistreated by his policies. And yet during his tenure homicide rates dropped by 65% and shootings dropped by 55%. In Bloomberg’s final year there were only 335 murders in New York, comparable to the 1950s.

Budgets: He raised property taxes on the most affluent citizens and used the money to boost city services. When he entered office the city budget was $42 billion. When he left it was about $70 billion.

The case against Bloomberg is that he’s said insensitive stuff and he didn’t succeed in making New York more equal. The case for him is that he led an immense amount of change that made life better overall. You decide. Does America need more gridlock and ideological fireworks or a practical manager who gets stuff done?

David Brooks

David Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.