Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is among the most paradoxical political characters in modern memory. His opponents have often labeled him as a free-spending oligarch who embraced Wall Street and enacted nanny-state policies such as bans on sugary drinks and e-cigarettes. In fact, there have been several postmortem pieces detailing how he blew through $650 million of his own personal funds during his 12 years in office, all while collecting a whopping $12 from city taxpayers due to his pledge to only accept $1 per year in salary.
It's easy to make the broad characterization that Bloomberg's desire to hold elected office was a pure manifestation of his ego. Especially after he spent roughly $175 per vote to defeat Bill Thompson in his last election in 2009. However, if you dig into exactly where that $650 million was spent, a different portrait of Mayor Mike emerges, and it's of someone who sought public office because of a deep and selfless desire to serve the public.
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Bloomberg made $5 million worth of structural improvements to Gracie Mansion, yet he never lived there. While he preferred the solitude of his own home, he felt compelled to give the mayor's formal residence a face-lift. Bloomberg also flew his staff around the country on private jets, eschewing taxpayer funded transportation options. He also bought them breakfast and lunch each work day. Truly, these are the actions of a selfish billionaire hell-bent on satiating his own hubris.
Because of his vast personal wealth, Bloomberg never had to partake in the painful slog that is political fundraising. As a result, he was not beholden to interest groups, corporations, or labor unions. So why then, did he spend $23 million in political contributions while in office? He didn't need to buy influence, but rather he wanted to help advance public policy in which he believes.
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Notably, Bloomberg wrote huge checks to supporters of marriage equality and gun control not just in New York State, but across the country.
Of the $650 million sum, at least one-third of it — some $263 million — was given to various cultural institutions around the city. Notably, a whopping $30 million went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hundreds of other museums, parks, and cultural entities have been partially or wholly subsidized by Bloomberg himself or his corporate interests. Does this sound like the actions of a power-hungry egomaniac?
No, it does not.
Bloomberg's desire to presumably enhance the public good does not end with his tenure in public office. He's founded Bloomberg Associates, a consulting firm that will assist municipalities in tackling issues such as transportation, infrastructure, and crime at no cost to it's clients.
It's hard to find anything remotely capitalistic about wanting to duplicate some of the successful policies he implemented while in office and use them elsewhere. Don't forget that New York City is light years ahead of comparable world cities when it comes to environmental protection, sustainable development, and overall public safety.
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It is politically pragmatic for the incoming mayor to take shots at his predecessor as he assumes office — and there are plenty of flaws to point out, since any 12-year stint in office will involve some missteps. However, the overarching criticism of Bloomberg being driven to seek the mayor's office as a result of a selfish desire for power as opposed to a selfless desire to serve the public falls flat once the facts are examined.