Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bloomberg Update: Fire and Ice (Part I)

On Monday, at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School for Public Service, Mayor and mayoral candidate Michael R. Bloomberg addressed a large group mostly consisting of individuals from the city’s nonprofit organizations, spending 21 minutes telling them about the ways in which they were going to be getting money from his administration. The title of the address was: “Nonprofits In NYC: Facing the Challenges.” We say “mayoral candidate” Bloomberg because there is no one else campaigning with anywhere near the kind of financial presence of Mr. Bloomberg. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg, the man who became the city’s richest resident while he was mayor, taking his wealth up from about $2 billion to about $20 billion. And it hasn’t yet been two terms. Bloomberg wants a third. During his remarks he joked with casual aplomb about going for a “twelfth term.”

Updates While Looking at the Mayoral Campaign

We are going to use this occasion of the Mayor’s talking to those assembled from the nonprofit community as a chance to talk about the unfolding campaign for mayor and to provide updates to the portrait we painted when looking into the workings of the Bloomberg administration at the beginning of February (Monday, February 2, 2009, The Good News IS the Bad News: Thanks A lot for Mayor Bloomberg’s “Charity.”)

In other words, we will write here about a man of unfathomable wealth who is dedicated to remaining in power and who in the process abuses charities, process and conflicts of interest. Unfathomable wealth? Well you can conclude from what we write further on whether it is possible that Bloomberg is, in fact, so unfathomably wealthy that Bloomberg recently lost $4 billion in personal wealth in a matter of months without the press even noticing when reporting on the subject of the stats of his net worth. In the end, none of this is healthy for the city. We conclude by looking at how the Bloomberg administration’s mismanagement is leaving us with barren salt-sown earth in our urban environment.

The updates here illustrate in a time-microcosm the same concerns we previously wrote about. (For the macrocosm refer to our previous piece.)

Bloomberg Campaign Proceeds Apace Financially With a Ubiquitous Bloomberg Face

Bloomberg’s face is everywhere these days. His campaign advertisements are appearing all over on the back of community newspapers like Chelsea Now. (Click on image.) A Brooklyn Paper story accompanied by Bloomberg’s picture on the front page begins: “Mike Bloomberg wants YOU — to volunteer for his race for a third term. To make it easier, the billionaire mayor opened campaign offices in all five boroughs last weekend . . .” (See: Billionaire Bloomy needs you to volunteer for his campaign, by Gersh Kuntzman, March 30, 2009.)

(Click on images to enlarge, this one from the front page Brooklyn Paper story.)

Bloomberg’s publicists seem to have done good work. If you were riding Amtrack this past month, Bloomberg’s face would have been staring at you from the many covers of Amtrak’s Arrive magazine, slapped onto a story about harnessing wind power that seemed to have very little to do with the expensive high-end picture portraits of Bloomberg incorporated into the magazine.

(BTW: We must acknowledge that in some recently appearing photographs Bloomberg looks pretty good. Is he working out? Losing weight? Are old archived photos being exhumed? Nobody seems to be alleging that he has had any `work done.’)

Bloomberg, Bloomberg everywhere, but you see almost nothing of the opponent candidates. This is partly attributable to the terrific degree to which Bloomberg is outspending his challengers, See the recent New York Times story on the three million his campaign has already acknowledged spending: Bloomberg Spends $3 Million on TV Ads in Mayoral Race, by Michael Barbaro, April 7, 2009.

The $3 million cost of the ads exceeds the combined spending by all of his Democratic rivals since the start of the current election cycle, in 2006.

And it represents nearly half of what the city’s campaign finance laws allow each of his challengers to spend on the race between now and their party’s primary in September.

Without money others may be in the political doldrums, but Bloomberg is pursuing endorsements. He has gotten endorsements from the Independence Party and from the Staten Island Republican Party. The Independence Party’s endorsement is part of a calculated bid to get enough votes to keep its line on the ballot in the future. The fortunes of that party are fading and part of the deal for the party’s endorsement is that “in return for the support. . . that the mayor had offered, among other things, to help pay the costs of promoting him as the party’s candidate.” (See: Bloomberg Is Endorsed by Independence Party, by Fernanda Santos, April 5, 2009.)

Masterful Mayor on Monday

In his remarks on Monday, the mayor, introduced as a “hugely strong supporter of non profits,” did not, for the most part, say that nonprofits were going to get more money from the city. He spent his time talking about the procedural details of the nonprofits continuing to get the money they are already getting. Apparently, there will be less paperwork and procedures will be streamlined and brought up to date with more computer- and web-based support mechanics. (The city also stands ready to help nonprofits save money by conserving energy, group purchasing, and taking advice from the city on better management.) The mayor also did not mention his own substantial private flow of funds to nonprofits.

The mayor’s remarks were masterfully delivered. He seemed supremely confident. We thought about this. To us it seemed the confidence of someone totally in control and who intends to give up none of that control. After his remarks the Mayor sauntered off the stage and an announcement was made on his behalf that he was leaving because he `had no time to answer questions.’


Clearly focused upon on Monday was the new importance of “ICE.” ICE is what we are going to get in the winter of our discontent now that our FIRE is sputtering out. Expect to hear a lot more about it. (For instance: Wednesday, March 11, 2009, With Houses Divided And Revenue Reduced, How Can Legislature Agree on Any Budget? By Henry J. Stern, March 10, 2009)

FIRE, standing for “Finance, Insurance and Real Estate,” is that sector of the economy that has always most preoccupied Bloomberg. It is that sector of the economy where he made his money. It is that sector for which he primarily envisioned building. It is that sector of the economy that, with bubble economics, was driving other sectors out of existence in New York. And now that the bubbles have burst we, as a city, have found ourselves in the lurch. Now we are hearing a new term used to talk about that sector of the economy that is expected to pick up the slack, ICE for “Information, Culture and Education” (or, alternately, until a consensus develops, “Intellectual, Cultural and Educational.”) Other cities that were not so tied to FIRE, cities like Savannah, knew about ICE a long time ago even if it had not yet been so christened. For NYC residents it is just beginning to be talked up, but this has always been an important part of our economy, especially since it includes science, health care and medical schools.

There is also the very peculiar way that the real estate industry has always valued culture, as in “artists.” Artists are viewed as the vanguard that create value in transforming neighborhoods though they then get kicked out when they are out-bid by higher-paid FIRE arrivals.- That’s grist for further rumination to discuss in another article at another time.

Reference to ICE was made in the introduction by New York University President John Sexton that prefaced the mayor’s remarks. Mr. Sexton took responsibility for coming up with the term “ICE.” We think we can recognize an advertising campaign when we hear one, political or not. Not only do we come from a family that included a good many advertising professionals but our aunt, Kay Daly, is credited with coming up with the original Revlon “Fire and Ice” campaign of the `50s, renowned in advertising circles. (See: Fire and Ice, by Andrew Tobias.)

Cold and Clammy Thoughts About ICE

It is not that in paying attention to the ICE sector Bloomberg is switching his attention to something he has never heeded before. The sector is filled with nonprofits and, going back to a time not long before he first ran for mayor, he started making “charitable” contributions to a vast number of institutions in the sector. At last report there were 1,221 recipient groups showing up in his 2008 tax return and that probably leaves out many others receiving his “largesse” via other means, such as the taxpayer-financed gifts from the city or the Mayor’s Fund charity, controlled through City Hall.

It is actually pretty scary to think that FIRE and ICE are considered the two major sectors of the economy and that Bloomberg’s ties to each are so significant. Our wealthiest resident privately does business with most of the firms in the FIRE economy while simultaneously dispensing critical discretionary City Hall favors throughout that sector. That is not to say that Bloomberg doesn’t also do business with many in the ICE sector. The largest nonprofits have substantial endowments to invest and it also seems to be increasingly fashionable for the large nonprofits to think in terms of making killings in real estate. That seems a temptingly easier path to funds than pursuing their missions in more traditional ways. (See: Nonprofits Look for Cash, ‘Salvation' in Real Estate, by Michael Stoler, March 8, 2007 and How Real Estate Bolsters Nonprofits, By by Michael Stoler, May 10, 2007)

Hot and Cold

There is the famous Aesop’s fable of the Shepherd and the Satyr from which comes the phrase to “blow hot and cold in the same breath.” The fable is a tad more enigmatic than some other of Aesop's, founding its inexplicability upon the foreignness of two creatures, one of them mythical, each hailing from a different world. (Notably, the mythical creature, the satyr, has the higher standards while the human, is just, well, just human.) The fable can leave some room for how it is interpreted but most often it is considered to refer to a man who cannot be trusted. It is not the same thing as “running hot and cold” which refers only to simple vacillation. Instead it bespeaks an untrustworthiness born of a devious duality of purpose. What that duality involves or how it problematically undermines the hope of depending on someone to act in accord with a declared purpose is left to be fleshed out by the specific situation when the phrase is applied.

We point out the aptness when, dealing with FIRE and ICE, of applying the “blows hot and cold in the same breath” phrase to Bloomberg who, in the case of both sectors, has a substantial dualities of purpose. He governs the FIRE sector while making his living from it. When it comes to the ICE sector, anyone who receives the “gift” of his “charity,” as we will discuss further, should wonder about the extent to which it should actually be considered a “gift.”

When it comes to Bloomberg, we find ourselves with the satyr, we “will have nought to do with a man who can blow hot and cold with the same breath."

What Did Bloomberg Need to Say to Get His Campaign Message Across With ICE?

We thought it was interesting what the mayor did not have to say on Monday, starting with what we observed about how what he was saying was not about giving the nonprofits MORE of the city’s taxpayer money that flows through the Bloomberg administration. It was sufficient for campaign purposes for Mr. Bloomberg to focus only on the “procedures” by which members of the assembled audience would get money. The mayor never mentioned the funds that he personally gives out (actually or potentially) to these same organizations. Did he need to? Consider this: It was featured news at this initiative-announcement/press conference/campaign event that “returnable” money or possible temporary bridge loans from the city were being increased by $12 million. It was the dollar figure mentioned in terms of new funds being made available. Compared with that, Bloomberg privately is now the source of $235 million or more per year in funds that can be kept as “gifts” and not returned.

Here is what the handout said about the funds for “short-term” use:

The city will more than double the size of the New York City Returnable Grant Fund from $8 million to $20 million- a 150 percent increase - for the next two fiscal years.

(See also, Bloomberg Outlines Initiatives to Assist Nonprofits, 07 April 2009.)

Mr. Bloomberg concluded his remarks by conspicuously informing all of the nonprofit community guests assembled that their point person on dealing with his administration on funding should be First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris. We have previously written about Ms. Harris (see again: Monday, February 2, 2009, The Good News IS the Bad News: Thanks A lot for Mayor Bloomberg’s “Charity.”) and we have more to say here. Ms. Harris, who came with Mr. Bloomberg from his private sector operations, seems to have problems understanding conflicts of interest and seems to be in the thick of some very disconcerting qui pro quo-ing. Her responsibilities overlap some dangerous areas of concern: charities and big real estate.

Devoiding the Field of Alternatives to Bloomberg

We would hope that checks on the power of Bloomberg as the city’s wealthiest resident would include alternative mayoral candidates with viable campaigns to run against the mayor. There are candidates, but their numbers are declining. Those that exist are having problems raising the funds necessary for the public to find out about them, funds they also need to have good campaign staff and support. More on this later. First, some explanation why.

Mayor’s Abuse of Charities to Deprive Opponents of Political Funding

We previously wrote about how Bloomberg leveraged his “charitable” contributions for political purposes. We wrote about phone calls from high up in the Bloomberg administration scolding the recipients of Bloomberg “charity” for providing financial support to Bloomberg’s political adversaries. (See: Monday, February 2, 2009, The Good News IS the Bad News: Thanks A lot for Mayor Bloomberg’s “Charity.”)

Such high-level discouragement of financial support for his political opponents came from the same deputy mayor, Patricia Harris, entrusted simultaneously with responsibilities for Bloomberg’s“charitable” largesse and overseeing important city and City Hall-influenced decisions significantly affecting the economics of big-developer real estate deals. When last we wrote, we cited the New York Times. Here, as a supplement, is a link to an Observer article we missed that is about the Bloomberg City Hall administration’s use the “charities” to discourage contributing the mayor's political opponents. (See: A Deputy Mayor Hits Culturati On Giff Giving, by Lizzie Ratner and Ben Smith, May 30, 2004.) Yes, that article focuses on First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris (“Pattie Harris”).

The Observer article covered, if allegations are to be believed, multiple contacts by Ms. Harris. Since essentially the same reported language was used in the case of the two of the three situations where the reporters talked directly to individuals threatened, it is likely Ms. Harris was working from what was essentially a script to make a comprehensively orchestrated set of contacts. Support for Bloomberg’s opponent (Gifford Miller) was viewed as “unfriendly or disloyal" “anybody who donates to Gifford is going to be viewed as disloyal" and “ the Mayor wasn't happy.” (General background: There has also been an article in the New York Post publicly reporting that the mayor was ‘livid’ with those on the list of contributors to Miller.)

Bloomberg administration spokesman, William Cunningham, defended rather than denied the allegations:

He said there was nothing inappropriate in the deputy mayor's questions. "You have a right to ask a question, 'Did you really give money to someone who's working against us? We've been with you for years,'"
Apparently, the implied threat aspect of this (technically denied by Mr. Cunningham) applied both to Bloomberg’s private charitable funding going back for years as referred to above and also, according to those recipients speaking to the reporters, to public funding over which Bloomberg (and Deputy Mayor Harris) did not start exercising control until he assumed the office of mayor in January 2002.

In the article, Gene Russianoff, a senior attorney with the New York Public Interest Research Group, commented:

Ms. Harris' conversations with the Miller contributors could "chill contributions" to Mr. Bloomberg's opponents. "If true, it's inherently coercive for a government employee to be doing that," he said. The City Charter bars deputy mayors from soliciting political contributions, but contains no explicit prohibition on their discouraging contributions to others.
Personally, we doubt such activities by the Bloomberg administration do not transgress the line of what is legally permissible. (In spring 2004, still preoccupied by 9/11, we think that Bloomberg was still in an unexamined honeymoon period with the press.) If the law actually permits Bloomberg such latitude then the problem is that the law is not strict enough. Remember that we are talking about the man who is currently, far and away, the city’s wealthiest citizen who by virtue of being mayor also controls extraordinary public funding. Mr. Russianoff was not clear that Bloomberg was legally home safe with respect to his conduct. His comment extended to include this:

However, the city's Conflicts of Interest Board has been known to censure officials who violate the spirit of the charter's rules.
Given the above we wondered exactly what was meant when we read that the Bloomberg’s Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler, in charge of administration, threatened city’s comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., a candidate running for mayor against Bloomberg, with “the Gifford [Miller] treatment.” (See: Mayor Trusts Youngest Deputy to Run the City, by Michael Barbaro, April 9, 2009.) It is not clear form the context of this recent Times story what that threat was intended to mean, but however it was intended one must also wonder how it was interpreted by the recipient.

No Rescue in the Times?

While the New York Times has reported on Bloomberg’s abuse of charities for political purposes as front page news, the Times has not yet editorialized directly against it. The Times editorial page nevertheless appears to be very well able to perceive the critical importance of keeping politics and charity separate and has called for appropriate conduct characterizing the following as one in a list of “stunners”:

For more than 50 years, it has been against the law for charities to contribute to politicians. This news appears not to have reached Albany. Danny Hakim and Jeremy Peters recently reported in The Times about how more than 80 tax-exempt charities have been doling out money to helpful state politicians.

Some of the charities said they simply “goofed,” even though they appear to have received favors from politicians they supported. Charities should know better; the illegal money, meanwhile, should be returned.
(See the editorial: Albany Syndrome, March 20, 2009 and see also the story to which it referred: Charities Give to State Campaigns, Despite Law, by Danny Hakim and Jeremy W. Peters, March 16, 2009.)

Speaking in general terms, the concerns the Times editorial confronted involved quid pro quo exchanges between politicians and charities wherein a charity forsakes its obligation to benefit the public in a nonpolitical, neutral fashion. When charities abandon their obligation to benefit the public nonpolitically and neutrally as a result of such quid pro quo exchanges, there is an amplification of concern because, with special privileges to avoid taxes, the quid pro quo exchanges can have disproportionately large economic impacts. This applies to the Bloomberg situations as well.

The Times editorial which had a few other complaints about conduct and failure to clean house in New York bemoaned: “The news from Albany these days is filled with evidence of dysfunction and allegations of full-blown illegality.” But if the New York Times as the paper of record presides over dysfunctional politics in New York perhaps it bears much of the responsibility itself by not reporting what it should and by not calling for appropriate conduct as and when it should.

We have previously pointed out that by prematurely supporting a third term for Bloomberg in ill-considered fashion, the Times editorial page is now often in the feckless position of calling for better conduct from Bloomberg after the fact. (See: Saturday, November 15, 2008, The Mayor, The Times’ Timing, and a Proper Ordering.) We have been accumulating a growing list of such too-late editorials chasing after the mayor. If the New York Times ever does editorialize against Bloombergian abuse of charities it seems we will just have to add that editorial to the list.

Might It Be Goose and Gander With Ms. Harris?

If charities are abused this way by Ms. Harris to downwardly manipulate contributions to Bloomberg opponents, we must necessarily speculate about how impartially Ms. Harris handles City Hall’s ability to make discretionary decisions with respect to large real estate projects since this is also a responsibility assigned to her purview. We view it as problem that so much of local New York City politics is funded by the political contributions of real estate developers. We view it as a problem, but is nonetheless a reality that such political contributions sort of set the bar in terms of what people expect. People have come to expect the well-funded well-staffed kind of campaigns they see when campaigns are taking money from real estate developers. But if Ms. Harris can dissuade real estate developers from making contributions to Bloomberg’s opponents, then you won’t see them running those kinds of campaigns.

Other Mayoral Candidates: Those Who Are NOT Taking Contributions From Real Estate Developers

One of the candidates running against Bloomberg, City Councilman Tony Avella, is not going to have the problem of Bloomberg or Patricia Harris dissuading real estate developers from making contributions to his opposition campaign. Candidate Avella does not take contributions from real estate developers. He made this point at the March 7, 2009 15th annual Historic Districts Council (HDC) conference, Communities and Cornices: Preservation in a Political World, where all the mayoral candidates were invited to speak. (Mr. Bloomberg didn’t avail himself of the invitation and Comptroller William Thompson also did not come.) We were there. In the Q&A session, after Mr. Avella made the point that he was the only major candidate to that didn’t accept contributions from real estate developers except for Mr. Bloomberg, we corrected Mr. Avella: We pointed out that Mr. Bloomberg essentially does take political contributions from real estate developers since Bloomberg causes real estate developers to contribute to charities he designates and he then uses those charities for political purposes. (See: Monday, October 20, 2008, “Charity?” We Begin to Groan.)

There is another candidate who is not taking money from developers, Billy Talen, better known as Reverend Billy.

Tony Avella can run a campaign on the merits, pointing out the fact that he is consistently on the right side when it comes to development issues. He is on the right side even when that means taking a lonely position and he is on the right side of other important issues such as opposing the repeal of term limits in the fashion it was done. While he can run a campaign based on these merits, he is not running a very well-financed campaign and that probably causes many to judge him as running what looks like a campaign that could be higher profile and better run.

Reverend Billy’s core positions are probably not so different than Councilman Avella’s. He is a robust critic of the venality in the real estate industry. We hope that Reverend Billy can make up for, with showmanship, what must also be a very small campaign purse.

Other Candidates in the Somewhat Devoided Field of Alternatives to Bloomberg

The other candidates running against Bloomberg were Anthony Weiner and William C. Thompson.

As noted, William C. Thompson, City Comptroller and the candidate viewed as the strongest opponent to Bloomberg, didn’t speak at the HDC conference.

Mr. Weiner spoke earnestly, addressing himself to preservation issues, but he left without a Q&A session. This was ascribed to a lack of time, but we wondered whether it should be attributed to an unease about whether the audience would be friendly. Among other things, it has been predicted that Mr. Weiner would, as mayor, be on the wrong side when it came to preserving a viable Coney Island amusement park.

More on our mind when Mr. Weiner spoke was the predication we had heard that he was about to drop out of the race. We were told by people apparently in the political know that he would drop out because Senator Schumer was telling him to, telling him it was not his time (and perhaps clearing the way for Bloomberg?). We can’t vouch for the accuracy of what we were told, but only a few days later Mr. Weiner did drop out as predicted.

(For other reporting on the candidates’ remarks at the conference see: Saturday, April 11, 2009, A few mayoral candidates (but not the big two) on historic preservation, plus more from the HDC conference.)

No Strong or Real Choice in the Field of Candidates?

The New York Times described Mr. Weiner’s dropping out more technically as a “move to the sidelines” since Mr. Weiner said he could possibly resume his campaign months from now. (See: Political Memo: Bloomberg and the Incredible Shrinking Mayor’s Race, by Michael Barbaro, March 13, 2009.)

One thing Mr. Weiner did very well when he was running was to speak eloquently against the way the mayor maneuvered to extend term limits against the public’s wishes. The above Times article begins by pointing out:

It was a central argument by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for re-engineering the city’s term limits law last year: Allowing him to seek re-election would give voters a bigger pool of candidates from which to choose . . .

“If anything, the public has more choice because there will be more candidates, at least one more in the mayor’s race,” he [Bloomberg] said the day after the City Council voted to rewrite the rule.
It then notes that choice was, instead, eliminated:

“We now know what Bloomberg meant when he said ‘choice’ — he meant himself,” said Bruce F. Berg, chairman of the political science department at Fordham University.

Rewriting term limits, Mr. Berg said, “has stifled choice. And if Thompson drops out, he may well have eliminated choice.”
An aid to a Republican interested in getting into the race:

. . . expressed bewilderment over Mr. Bloomberg’s contention that altering the term limits would create a wider pool of candidates. “Historically, in any race, you will see more candidates when it’s an open seat than when there is an incumbent,” he said.
The article concludes:

“The power of the mayor’s incumbency, coupled with the power of his money, makes a smart politician think, ‘Maybe I should take a pass on this,’ said Steven A. Cohen, a professor of public affairs at Columbia University.
And Bloomberg clearly wants the field to himself. This week a story has come out about Bloomberg’s fervor to eliminate Weiner as opposition even as Weiner was dropping out of the race. According to the Times, Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a telephone poll last month that spread derogatory information about Weiner. (See: ‘Survey’ Calls Attack Bloomberg Rival, by Raymond Hernandez, April 6, 2009.)

Speaking of the calls which were confirmed to be part of Bloomberg’s campaign:

One of the Congressman’s [Weiner’s] aides said that the calls seemed suspiciously like push-polling — a technique disavowed by reputable pollsters in which phone calls disguised as survey research are used to spread negative information about an opponent.

Joel Benenson, a senior campaign adviser to Mr. Weiner, described push-polling as “one of the most discredited and dishonorable forms of negative campaigning.”
Back to the article, “Bloomberg and the Incredible Shrinking Mayor’s Race,” we think it incorrectly experiments with giving Bloomberg credit, aside and apart from his money, for being the currently more popular candidate. It does so by offering a side-by-side comparison of Mr. Bloomberg to Governor Corzine of New Jersey:

Money alone does not explain his popularity, they said, even if it helps. After all, in New Jersey, another wealthy businessman-turned-politician, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, faces an uphill re-election race, no matter how much he is willing to spend on a campaign.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s popularity ratings, which dropped to the low 50s in February after being in the 60s last year, are higher than Mr. Corzine’s.

From this the article infers the Bloomberg may have governed better than Corzine. Comparison to Corzine is a worthwhile exercise, but is should be done with the proper rigor.

Yes, Corzine spent heavily on his own campaign, but Corzine’s wealth is measured in mere millions. Corzine’s total net worth is less than half of what Bloomberg “gives” away every year to “charity.” Bloomberg’s charitable giving is used to manipulate politics and public opinion, so Corzine’s total net worth is way below what Bloomberg spends on such manipulations each year.

Bloomberg has ongoing personal business affairs that routinely create conflicts of interest while he is stockpiling astronomical wealth. Bloomberg fails to recuse himself when he should. Corzine simply has no such comparable conflicts of interest.

To compare Bloomberg’s billions to Corzine’s paltry millions is simply to illustrate that you have seriously lost track of how outsized and beyond most people’s comprehension of Bloomberg’s wealth actually is.

Losing track of Bloomberg’s Incomprehensible Wealth: And Did Bloomberg Lose $4 Billion?

Here is an example of just how blithely inept we are at keeping track of Bloomberg’s wealth. The Times ran an article in March saying that Forbes was reporting that Bloomberg’s wealth went up this year- - to $16 billion. (World’s Richest Aren’t So Rich Anymore, Forbes Says, March 12, 2009.) It reported that to be a $4.5 billion dollar increase in Bloomberg’s net worth but, if it had been keeping track, it could likely have reported a $4 billion loss instead.

Indeed, in March as part of listing of the world’s richest men, Forbes did report Bloomberg’s wealth as $16 billion making him the 17th most wealthy man in the world. But only six months before in September of 2008 as part of listing of America’s richest individuals, Forbes reported Bloomberg’s wealth as $20 billion, making him the wealthiest New Yorker and the 8th most wealthy U.S. citizen at that time. (As of March he was the 5th wealthiest person in the country.) So when the Times reported his wealth was going UP despite hard economic times, did they miss what was actually a decline in the last six moths? The Forbes article did say that those whose wealth had declined only 20% in the past year were doing well. That may or may not apply to Bloomberg since the basis for setting the figure for his wealth at $20 million was only established in July so the decline is not for a full year.

There are plenty of possible reasons for Bloomberg’s wealth as reported in Forbes to have gone down and plenty of questions to be asked in connection with them. Did Forbes quietly evaluate the wealth of a campaigning mayor more conservatively? Or did Bloomberg actually start losing billions at a good clip just recently? $4 billion in six month loss would annualize to $8 billion over a year, something on the order of 40% or double the loss that would put Bloomberg in the lucky category in this downturn. That would comport well with the idea Bloomberg didn’t see this financial crisis coming and that he isn’t a financial genius.

We don’t know the answers that explain it, but we don’t even see anyone asking the questions. Has anyone besides us actually noticed that Bloomberg’s wealth figure went down? Is Bloomberg’s wealth now so stratospherically beyond our comprehension that noticing this eludes us? The Post and the even the Wall Street Journal simply reported the March story the way the Times did, as if Forbes was reporting another increase in Bloomberg’s wealth rather than a $4 billion decline. (See: Bloomberg Is the Richest Man in NYC: Mayor Raking it in - but Nobody Else is, by Kirsten Fleming, March 11, 2009 and, The Wealth report: These Billionaires Actually Got Richer in 2008, by Robert Frank, March 16, 2009.)

For our own quick reference with collected figures tracking Bloomberg’s wealth see: Bloomberg’s Increasing Annual Wealth: 1996 to 2008 (Tuesday, February 3, 2009). (We need to do an update to show that most recent Forbes reported decrease.)

(Click here to continue to Part II of this article.)

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