For more than a decade, New Yorkers have indulged the running joke that Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid his way into City Hall. A report in Monday’s New York Times suggests he did just that: paid $650 million in 12 years for everything from City Hall’s fancy fish tanks to overseas trips.
Rejecting the taxpayer-funded mayoral salary, Bloomberg put millions into doing the mayorship his way. The Times‘ report, based on “public documents, travel records, philanthropy databases, conversations with vendors and interviews with his government employees,” mentions spending hundreds of thousands on trips abroad and tens of thousands just to clean up the City Hall fish tanks he had installed regularly. He also paid for daily staff meals, an enormous amount of campaign contributions, and hundreds of millions to his arts, health, and cultural groups. The Metropolitan Museum of Art alone received $30 million of the mayor’s private money.
The newspaper calls their $650 million estimate “undoubtedly low.”
And this estimate only takes into account money he spent specifically related to his mayoral duties–or, in the case of campaign contributions, acting as a politician rather than an advocate or donor. Outside of this estimate, Bloomberg has spent millions on causes he supports. He sent $1 million to the then-floundering Cory Booker senatorial campaign. The New York Times estimates he has spent millions on “encouraging gun control ($7 million), immigration reform ($5.7 million) and volunteerism ($6.2 million).” He has spent so much money trying to regulate and stigmatize soda in Mexico that he has become the face of unwieldy American imperialism to free-marketers in that country.
There is something vaguely admirable about Bloomberg’s insistence to use much of his own money to fund his quixotic crusades. At the very least, he refused to exhaust much of his constituents’ money where many others would have. But along with that admiration comes the inevitable anxiety about what kind of plutocracy New York City has turned into for Bloomberg to have so solidly established his position as ruler of that city-state through personal fortunes alone.
And then there are the political repercussions of someone who considered solid immigration laws “national suicide” wielding so much power based almost exclusively on his bank account. Bloomberg’s capacity to run his own campaigns and manage his own financial burdens without relying on campaign contributions contributed greatly to his eccentric crusades against mundane objects during his tenure. His wars on soda, fats, styrofoam, and smoking all generated so much loathing that even Bill Maher joked the mayor made him “want to join the Tea Party.”
With Bill de Blasio’s inaugural as mayor on the horizon, Bloomberg’s diminishing role in shaping New York City will finally close up shop for good–at least in the public sector. And de Blasio, with his radically progressive politics and penchant for supporting left-wing despots, will herald in an entirely new set of concerns for New York. But for one, the fear of such pervasive political influence from one man who amassed a fortune and spent it on being ruler is setting on the city–a city with much more cash in pocket, thanks to his egotistical largess.