This week, the New Yorker published a long elegy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year legacy. It’s brutal. Media critic Ken Auletta paints Bloomberg as a jackbooted, power-hungry bruiser: “the biggest plutocrat in a plutocratic capital, a creature of Wall Street who, flagrantly and legally, tapped his limitless bank account to become, and remain, mayor.” Asked about it by reporters—specifically about the part where Auletta describes his secret efforts to line up police commissioner Ray Kelly as a candidate to succeed him as mayor—Bloomberg refused to acknowledge the existence of the piece.
Now, Bloomberg expects bad press from, say, the Times. (In Sunday’s paper: “No mayor in New York’s history has done more to consolidate the city’s identity with Wall Street.”) But the New Yorker tends to accommodate Bloomberg’s imperfections . The magazine defended his ban on Big Gulps and offered its sympathies to the aims of his stop-and-frisk policy, though it stopped short of endorsing the program. “Crime is low, test scores are climbing, and racial tension hardly registers,” staff writer Ben McGrath wrote in 2009, describing Bloomberg’s effect on the city. Its pages were a safe-ish, if not entirely accurate, space. (Racial tension definitely registered in 2009!)
What changed? Certainly not the subject matter. Stop-and-frisk existed; so did rising poverty rates in the boroughs. Wall Street, like its mayor-patron, was maybe a bit less well-off, but not dramatically so. Then as now, as both profiles mention within the first few paragraphs, Bloomberg liked to gulp expensive wine with fine company at his townhouse, now copper-bathtub-equipped. West-central Brooklyn was only slightly less completely gentrified. Lena Dunham had not yet filmed Tiny Furniture.
Hence Ken Auletta’s diagnosis: “For the past twelve years, New York City residents have lived in a reality-distortion field created by a man who spent two hundred and sixty million dollars of his own money to get elected three times.” It’s true: New York, under Bloomberg, seems not quite real, whether at the top or the bottom. As the city’s homeless population grew, the net worth of their mayor grew by tens of billions of dollars. Nothing made sense.
Still, it’s not as if the magazine suddenly registered the more unsavory parts of Bloomberg’s agenda. After all: He delights in humiliating the poor. He defends racial profiling as racial profiling. He thinks medical marijuana is an elaborate hoax!
It’s just that, as Bloomberg talked about cup sizes and recycling, New York continued, at an increased rate, its transformation into an gigantic amusement district for the world’s rich. At a premium magazine that benefits in money and good will from the city’s transfiguration, this is the sort of realization that slowly accumulates before becoming undeniable, if not totally unbearable. Which makes reading it all the more vertiginous for Bloomberg, and captivating for those he rules.
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