Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Arts lover, Independent, has shit together

Who are some of your favorite New Yorkers?
Michael Bloomberg: What I didn’t know before I became mayor—I don’t think I ever appreciated what the 300,000 people who work for the city do. The cops, the firefighters, those who save our lives, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, EMS workers, sanitation workers and correction workers. If you want to pick an individual in the private sector, there are people who keep giving back. David Rockefeller, I’ve gotten to know—he gave us $5 million toward trees. That’s the spectrum, from one end to the other.

There are other workers—I gave a eulogy yesterday at a funeral for this traffic agent who got hit by a truck and pushed under a bus. It’s very sad: She had a baby and they were buried together. You and I sit here and wonder why everything works in the city. It’s because of a bunch of people.

What’s the biggest thing that’s happened to New York in the past 13 years?
Michael Bloomberg: It’s easy to say 9/11. It was a great tragedy and killed 3,000 people between here, Shanksville and the Pentagon. But the coming together of New Yorkers after that—maybe it would have happened anyways, even if 9/11 hadn’t happened. But crime, for example, continues to go down. Why? It’s the police. It’s also corrections, probation, the DAs, the courts; but it’s also the people.

Today I was up in Highbridge Park, and some reporter asked me, “How are you going to keep this park from being ridden with crime?” It used to be filthy and with deserted cars—to say there are bodies there is not overstating it. Prostitution and everything else. I said, “Well, the police are doing a good job. There’s a good commander and good statistics.” But the bottom line is, the people of New York City won’t tolerate that kind of behavior anymore. There are still idiots who go kill each other. But generally speaking, New Yorkers came together with respect to each other.

What’s the difference between New York and London?
Michael Bloomberg: The difference between New York and not just London but any other diverse city—there are cities that are as diverse if you measure how many languages are spoken or where people come from—but there’s no city like New York, where our police department, for example, mirrors the diversity of our population. I swore in a class of 1,000 police officers a couple months ago. They were born in something like 58 different countries and they all live in the same block. People here hail a cab at the same corner, go in the same subway station, buy their paper at the same kiosk, their coffee at the same Starbucks. We mix in a way other cities don’t. If you go to these other cities, they have areas for each ethnicity, religion, race, whatever. New York tends not to have that. Chinatown isn’t Chinese if you go one block away from the restaurants. Arthur Avenue up in the Bronx isn’t Italian if you go one block away from Arthur Avenue. It’s different, and it’s the reason why other cities’ crime is going up, or why they have racial tensions that we don’t have.

Well, you could say development has priced out some of those people, so while we work together, we go home to different—
Michael Bloomberg: Well, we worked very hard on affordable housing. But if you bring crime down and improve the schools, you will have fewer people moving out when their kids get to be school age, and you’ll have people from around the world wanting to move in. So a higher cost of housing is what you’d call a problem of success. You’re gonna have that pressure, and that’s something we have to focus on to make sure the people who built this city don’t get pushed out. But on the other hand, we live in a capitalist society, and the economics say the people who want something more than others are going to find a way to make the money, pay for it and get it.

What’s the balance between being a city that thrives culturally and one that becomes a McCity with a Red Lobster on every corner?
Michael Bloomberg: That’s not the question. The question is, Are you going to be a city where culture is just the handful of big, well-known, well-funded traditional museums or performing-arts centers, which most cities have? But in New York, you have that, but then you have these small, individual, ethnic museums and cultural centers spread across all five boroughs. That’s what’s different in New York. I don’t know what the next big thing is, but it’s gonna come from, like, Mark Morris at BAM or Snug Harbor in Staten Island or some Chinese thing out in Flushing. It’s that—that’s the difference. Culture is a part of New York and mixed in. Culture in other cities is a specific destination with a line drawn around it. Universities in other cities, they try to build barriers as big as they can to keep the city out of the campus. In New York City, we go to great pains to make sure the city is open and part of the community. Sometimes, the communities don’t like that. I once made the mistake of saying something nice at a town meeting about NYU down in the Village and thought they were going to lynch me. Nevertheless, people want to come to Columbia, Pace, Yeshiva, NYU because they’re part of the city. That’s the great strength of New York.

Let’s say your bodyguards leave, you have a fake mustache—where do you go in New York?
Michael Bloomberg: I don’t even care if they see me. If I had to eat every meal for the rest of my life at a Greek diner, I’d be very happy. If God told me I was going to die tomorrow, I’d have white toast, burnt, with a quarter inch of Skippy Super Chunk melted on it, and then slices of overripe banana and burnt-crisp bacon in a sandwich.

Like Elvis.
Michael Bloomberg: See, he could sing and he was a connoisseur.

What’s your favorite moment in your past 13 years here?
Michael Bloomberg: On the one hand, it’s tempting to say I was in the Super Bowl parade with confetti and I held the Vince Lombardi trophy. But I’ll give you an example of something I’ll take to my grave with me. I was coming up, three or four months ago, the 86th Street station on Lex, on some rainy afternoon, and this woman cop was there holding a baby, sort of in her late twenties, early thirties, and she said, “Great job, Mayor.” I was coochie-cooing with the baby and I said, “Good news is, our public schools are getting better, and when your daughter is ready for school, the schools will be really good.” And she looked at me very earnestly and said, “Mayor, I know as long as you’re mayor, the schools will get better.” And I thought, the last six years have been worth it. I could have been on the Riviera or something, but this made it all worthwhile.

Which of these other Top 40 people would you want to have a drink with: Pat Kiernan, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Tim Gunn, Spider-Man or Jay-Z?
Michael Bloomberg: I’d be crazy if I didn’t pick Tina Fey. I’d have to be out of my mind not to.

What would you guys talk about?
Michael Bloomberg: That’d be private.

Your girlfriend wouldn’t mind?
Michael Bloomberg: Sometimes you don’t care. [Laughs]

Next: Adam Rapp >

The New York 40:

Adam Rapp
Amy Sedaris
Anderson Cooper
Basil Twist
Christine Quinn
Christopher Wheeldon
Danny Meyer
David Cross
David Remnick
Derek Jeter
Dick Zigun
Elizabeth LeCompte
Elizabeth Marvel
Eliot Spitzer
Gavin Brown
James Murphy
Joe Torre
John Zorn
Jonathan Lethem
Junot Díaz
Kelly Reichardt
Kiki & Herb
Liev Schreiber
Lisa Phillips
Michael Bloomberg
Nellie McKay
Pat Kiernan
Patti LuPone
Peter Gelb
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Richard Serra
Sarah Michelson
Stephen Colbert
Tim Gunn
Tina Fey
Tony Kushner
Upright Citizens Brigade