Bloomberg Contributed Personal Wealth To His Legacy

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Michael Bloomberg has stepped down after 12 years as mayor of New York City, leaving a big imprint on the city. Errol Louis, the host of Inside City Hall on NY1, speaks with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about Bloomberg's legacy.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office this week after 12 years as the mayor of New York City. During his time in office, he changed the city in all sorts of ways, including a sweeping ban on smoking and a controversial stop-and-frisk policy. He lobbied the City Council to overturn the law and get an extra term on office, and he turned his job in New York City into a bully pulpit, speaking out on national issues like gun control and immigration, involving himself in elections far beyond his city. With us now to help assess Bloomberg's legacy is Errol Louis, the host of "Inside City Hall" on NY1. Thank you for being with us.

ERROL LOUIS: My pleasure. Glad to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I want to go back to the beginning of Bloomberg's term. Here he is, a billionaire with no particular political experience, kind of coming out of nowhere to become mayor. What was the perception of him then and how did it change?

LOUIS: Well, there was a perception of him during the campaign that he was, political speaking, a long shot, maybe a bit of a lightweight. The thing to remember, though, Linda is that this was 2001. I mean, 2001, 9/11 was an election day in New York City. That election had to be cancelled and then rerun, the primary, a few weeks later. It was a time of tremendous crisis, really a lot of things changed. And politics as usual really was defeated as much as Bloomberg's Democratic opponent was.

WERTHEIMER: So, what do you think was the thing that Bloomberg did that was the most substantial policy, the most important program, and what was the big-deal thing he did for the city of New York?

LOUIS: Oh, there are a few of them. But you can lump a bunch of them together under public health. He put a lot into the public hospital system here. He did things like the smoking ban, which alone probably will save more lives than almost anything else anybody could have done. Starting a conversation in this city about diabetes and about diet. You never hear that out of City Hall. I mean, there were prior mayors - Ed Koch comes to mind. There'd be these stories about his fainting in a restaurant where he'd be feasting on, you know, duck and all of these other gourmet dishes. And this mayor sort of started a different kind of a conversation. I mean, and that's just picking one thing. I mean, there are a lot of unsexy things like making sure the government functions more effectively, putting more of the information on the working of government online so that the public can see it. All of these things were done, Linda, without tawdry political transactions in the back room. You know, the one big exception being the one that you alluded to, which was the way that he overturned the term limits law so that he could run for a third term.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we've both alluded in various ways to his considerable personal wealth. And I would say that that in some ways sort of defined his tenure in office. Does this national figure that he became and issues like gun control, climate change, is it possible for somebody who has a regular amount of money to be mayor of New York now?

LOUIS: Well, you can be mayor but you won't have the impact or you won't do things the way that Michael Bloomberg did them. There were some allegations that we had a new type of small city corruption - nothing you could go to jail for, but that that by giving a lot of money to city groups and advocacy groups, the mayor actually purchased their loyalty or at least their silence, because they wanted some of that largess going forward. It's an interesting question. And I don't think it's gotten enough attention, in part because it is so unique. I'll give you one example. He wanted to do a project to help low-income men, and it wasn't clear whether or not it was going to have support in a tough budget. The mayor wrote a check for $30 million to jumpstart the project. I don't think we're going to see a mayor anytime soon willing to do anything remotely like that.

WERTHEIMER: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall" on NY1. Thank you very much for doing this.

LOUIS: Thank you, Linda.

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