Saturday, April 9, 2011

Add To Bloomberg’s Other Mistakes: Mistakes In NOT Acknowledging Mistakes, Including A Certain Ratner Mega-Monopoly

The blood is in the water. Right now Michael Bloomberg’s poll numbers are way down in the dumps and the press is finally picking away at the tatters of the myth of his infallibility. The New York Times says that Cathie Black’s forced resignation on the 95th day of her ever so brief (but hard fought) tenure is Bloomberg’s “most embarrassing reversal yet.” It then adds to the list of his recent reputational woes “botched snow removal” (not mentioning the exacerbation of Bloomberg insistence on keeping secret* all information about his plane’s concurrent trip to sunny Bermuda) and the “CityTime automated-payroll scandal, with its hundreds of millions of dollars wasted and tens of millions allegedly stolen by contractors.” (See: News Analysis, Ever-Growing Image of a Stumbling Third Term for Bloomberg, by David M. Halbfinger, April 7, 2011.)

(* Public Advocate Bill de Blasio may even have officially been acting mayor for a while without ever having been informed about it!)

Atlantic Yards on the Parade of Hits

The list of Bloomberg’s errors in the Times analysis continues together with additional toothsome details about why those various failures should especially rankle and irk the public. The top-listed complaints in the Times article coincide with those cited by City Council Member Tish James, who adds as an additional headliner (in a website statement) the ever more ill-fated Atlantic Yards Ratner/Prokhorov mega-monopoly, describing how “many would consider this the third term curse.” (Friday, April 08, 2011, Council Member James: departure of Cathie Black, along with Atlantic Yards, a sign of Bloomberg's "third-term curse")

A Curse Paid For Upfront

The third term suffering this curse is, of course, the one Bloomberg earned so disreputably first by overturning the City Charter provisions prohibiting it and then by spending over a hundred million dollars of his own money to campaign, more than ten-fold what his opponent, William C. Thompson, was able to spend. In fact, depending upon what spending you included in Bloomberg’s expenditure to assume office (including charities and targeted contributions to various other politicians, political parties and potential endorsers) the ultimate tally is potentially far higher, verging on the order of a billion. Bloomberg even gave between$43 million and $51 million in public and personal subsidies into a museum project led by the wife of his opponent worked (some of it very late in the campaign).

All of this money needed to be spent by Bloomberg to promote the ostensible rationale by which, with a City Charter change, Bloomberg needed to elected to his accursed third term: That no one else had the management expertise to guide the city at that time.

Previous Myth Debunking

Noticing New York has often tackled the task of debunking Bloomberg’s myth of managerial magnificence. The most recent reviews of the subject (linking back to prior NNY posts similarly analyzing the myth) were occasioned by recent CityTime mismanagement schedule which hits very close to the core area of Bloomberg’s (formerly) vaunted private sector expertise: the development of computer management and information systems. (See: Saturday, March 26, 2011, The Myth Of Bloomberg’s Management Expertise Reexamined: What Happens When Government Doesn’t Manage Its Programs and Monday, March 28, 2011, Take TWO (AYR’s) On Times Coverage- Revisiting Light Shed by CityTime Outsourcing Scandal When Reexamining Bloomberg Management Myth.) The second of those two recent articles compares the strongest attributes for which publishing executive Cathie Black might have been picked with publishing executive Michael Bloomberg’s: A facility with sales and promotion, in both Ms. Black’s and Mr. Bloomberg’s case, particularly an unabashed willingness to self-promote. (Check out Bloomberg's "," "," and "")

Atlantic Yards Mixed Deep Into the Stew of Mistakes

The first of those Noticing New York two stories focuses on Bloomberg’s willingness to delegate to the private sector tasks that inherently need to be done by government and thus makes a link to Bloomberg’s misguided practice of delegating, with virtually no oversight, the development of large swaths of the city to private developers. The prime example is the city’s grant of a 30-acre monopoly over prime Brooklyn real estate to Forest City Ratner, when it gave the Atlantic Yards mega-project to Ratner without bid. The second story cemented the Atlantic Yards connection, picking up on Atlantic Yards Report’s observation that Bloomberg's budget director, Mark Page, was responsible for pushing through both: i.) the scandal-ridden CityTime contracts, and ii.) the continued uncontrolled outsourcing of the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (again as a monopoly and again without bid) to Forest City Ratner in June 2009, in a very substantial revamping of the project, a revamping entirely for the developer's benefit.

That brings us to Bloomberg’s mistakes overlaying all his others, the failure to acknowledge mistakes.

Bloomberg's Admission of a Mistake Billed as Something New

The recent Times article about Bloomberg’s mounting third term stumbles contains the following about Bloomberg’s acknowledgment of mistakes:
William C. Thompson Jr., the former comptroller who lost the mayor’s race to Mr. Bloomberg in 2009, said he also noted a change in the mayor’s tone on Thursday as he announced Ms. Black’s departure.

“It is a different Mike Bloomberg who finally admits to failure, and failure on this public a position,” Mr. Thompson said. “This is him saying he was wrong about Cathie Black, and that everyone else was right.”
Do we now have a different Bloomberg who is finally acknowledging mistakes? Then what about Atlantic Yards?

Bloomberg's Opportunities to Come to Terms With Mistakes Go Back At Least to 2008

This brings us back to Noticing New York coverage on the subject of Bloomberg’s acknowledging his Atlantic Yards mistakes, circa October of 2008. The article was critical of Bloomberg’s then-recent announcement that he was seeking a third term. (See: Wednesday, October 1, 2008, Coming to Terms With Mistakes.)

Here are some quotes:
Coming to Terms with Mistakes

The most pronounced downside of a Bloomberg third term involves a need to acknowledge and correct mistakes. . . .

* * *

Here is a press conference question for Mayor Bloomberg: Does he acknowledge any mistakes and, if so, is he willing to correct them?

* * *

There is another philosophy of decision-making to which I suspect Bloomberg subscribes. It is more prevalent in the less bureaucratic business world: “Better a bad decision than no decision at all.”

The question is, when you have made a bad decision, what do you do about it?

Should we have to live with the mistakes produced by badly made decisions? No matter what?

* * *

The Uncorrected Mistake of Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards is probably Bloomberg’s supreme mistake. . . . Atlantic Yards is a spectacular example of a decision that was rushed through with improperly forced haste and it is a spectacular example of just how bad the consequences of such thoughtless haste can be.

The Bloomberg administration has implicitly acknowledged the ignominy of its failure with respect to Atlantic Yards. It did so in the way it handled the departure of Deputy Mayor for Development Daniel Doctoroff (see: Atlantic Yards As Political Hot Potato.)

However disgraceful all its lapses, the Bloomberg administration has done nothing to correct the misreckoned Atlantic Yards course it is on. Correction could be made with less difficulty than continuing through the bog in which the city is now steeped. It would be relatively easy to do what is needed which is to take the project back to the drawing board and bid it out to multiple developers. (Yes, this time the megaproject, currently 17 separate building sites, should actually be bid out.) The project is adrift, amorphously ill-defined and the developer repeatedly transgresses with unacceptable behavior that should long ago have disqualified the developer from Bloomberg’s ongoing accommodation and indulgence.
Bloomberg Mistakes Then and Now

That was then. This is now. Since that time Atlantic Yards has progressively deteriorated, each incremental degradation giving Bloomberg the opportunity to walk away from it. But that is precisely the opportunity that Bloomberg missed when, through his CityTime scandal-tarred budget director, Mark Page, Bloomberg piled additional subsidized on Ratner in June of 2009 for an even less publicly desirable version of Atlantic Yards. Those additional subsidies were piled on just weeks after Bloomberg told the press it was time to turn off the spigot and that no additional public funds should be poured into Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards. He said: “We’re not putting money in. We’re going to invest our money in better schools and in safer streets and in better parks and everything else.” (See: Friday, June 26, 2009, Deciphering Words of a (Campaigning) Bloomberg on Atlantic Yards: “Enough Already” Means, “Bruce, We Have Another $180 Million Plus To Give You!)

Bloomberg still has the opportunity to walk away from the Atlantic Yards mega-project and declare it a recognized mistake. Bloomberg’s recently departed housing commissioner Rafael Cestero said that Atlantic Yards is not deserving of additional housing subsidies (it, "was not a good public investment"). Such subsidies would be disproportionate and greater than the subsidies that other more deserving projects would be eligible for elsewhere in the city. Nevertheless, given Bloomberg's very recent defense of the megadevelopment (immediately after talking with Bruce Ratner), Atlantic Yards Report is predicting that we should all gird for the awfulness of yet more subsidies for Atlantic Yards courtesy of Mr. Bloomberg. Atlantic Yards Report has an excellent record in making such calls.

Do we have a new, different Mike Bloomberg who finally acknowledges mistakes? Is Mr. Thompson correct when he says that Bloomberg is now a man finally willing to admit to failure on a public position. . and acknowledge, as Mr. Thompson puts it about Cathie Black, “that everyone else was right”?

It would be nice if we had a new Bloomberg who admits and corrects mistakes. But don’t hold your breath.

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