The complicated legacy that is the billionaire mayoralty

In November, the city of New York will elect Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s replacement. During his tenure as mayor, Bloomberg proved to be a remarkably divisive figure among New Yorkers. Bloomberg’s successes were unimpeachable, but his shortcomings were hard to ignore. Ultimately, Bloomberg will leave behind a legacy that could shape the way New York and other large cities are governed for years to come.

Bloomberg took office at a sensitive time for New York. Less than three months removed from the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the city was facing a litany of problems. Lower Manhattan, a hub of commerce and business activity, was decimated.

Since then, a number of Bloomberg’s policies and projects have led to a revitalization of downtown New York. According to  The New York Times, in an address to the Downtown Alliance, Bloomberg referenced the population growth of the area, up from 23,000 in 2001 to 60,000 in 2013.

Perhaps the most noticeable impact of Bloomberg’s mayoralty is the city’s dramatic reduction in crime. Though crime rates started to dip under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, violent crimes including homicide, rape and assault continued to fall under Bloomberg, according to “PBS NewsHour.”

As crime rates dropped, many criticized the mayor for the New York Police Department’s overreach. Specifically, according to “PBS NewsHour,” the “stop and frisk” program, which Bloomberg has said he supports, and the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim organizations have left many New Yorkers with a negative impression of the mayor.

Most miraculous was Bloomberg’s salvage of the city’s finances even through the Great Recession. In 2003, Bloomberg introduced a $3 billion tax increase primarily aimed at property taxes. According to professor of Urban Policy and Planning Mitchel Moss, Bloomberg averted the economic crisis that befell cities like Los Angeles when the Great Recession hit in 2008 with the establishment of a stream of revenue tied to property tax. The revenue base of such cities was tied to income and sales tax, both of which decrease significantly during recessions.

Bloomberg’s legacy as mayor will be a complicated one, to say the least. For all of his successes, the city’s public education system is riddled with problems going all the way to the administrative level. Homelessness has been on the rise, and the aforementioned issues with the NYPD have made Bloomberg a target of civil rights groups, according to “PBS NewsHour.”

That is what makes it so difficult to call Bloomberg a good or bad mayor. Perhaps the best designation for Bloomberg would be effective. In spite of his failures, of which there are quite a few, Bloomberg firmly re-established New York as a center of commerce and culture at a time when New York was in danger of losing relevancy.

Bloomberg’s style of leadership would serve the multitude of failing United States cities well. Bloomberg’s mistakes are damning but can be avoided. Perhaps he could have done a better job with prioritizing.

Bloomberg’s proposed “soda ban,” for example, created more problems than it would have solved had it passed. Not that the proposal itself was necessarily bad, but vocal backlash from the liberty brigade should have been anticipated.

Bloomberg came so close to being that rare politician: ideologically consistent with a track record of unquestionable, quantifiable success. Though his failures were felt by many and should not be ignored, Bloomberg must be credited with pulling the city in from the brink. In the grand scheme of things, Bloomberg was the type of leader that the city of New York desperately needed.