Restless Bloomberg fueled by ‘prideful drive’
The man who would one day govern the nation’s largest city allegedly barked at a former female employee to “kill it!’’ when she informed him of her pregnancy. He passed a polygraph test in denying the accusations, contained in a sexual harassment suit that he settled without admitting guilt. Other harassment suits against Michael Bloomberg from when he ran his eponymous financial news and data company were dismissed or withdrawn.
But “there is no question that he told off-color jokes and made sexual comments, which intimidated some younger women around the office and offended even more secure women as insulting to their professionalism,’’ concludes Joyce Purnick in her breezy, balanced biography of Medford’s most famous son.
The foregoing summons the adjective “unlikely’’ to describe Bloomberg’s mayoralty, and Purnick, a former New York Times columnist, would not disagree. She calls Bloomberg “probably the most unusual and perplexing mayor New York has ever seen: diffident, unemotional, hard to like, yet so grounded that he is even harder to disrespect.’’ That a man so boorish in sexual etiquette could be so respectable stems from the superlatives that attach to his public performance. He is “one of the most effective mayors in the city’s history’’ and “could join the very small club of New York City’s best mayors.’’
He succeeded where past mayors had failed in taking control of and responsibility for the city’s famously dysfunctional school system. Graduation rates, standardized state test scores and the white student-black student performance divide have all improved under Bloomberg, Purnick says, though he oversells the results; critics say state tests are too easy, for example.
She notes that Bloomberg has leveraged success on the fulcrum of luck often in his life. New York’s economic recovery during his mayoralty had to do primarily with the national economy and Wall Street boom. Yet, handed that blessing, Bloomberg managed it well. After the dot-com recession and 9/11 terror attacks gave the city economy a one-two punch, he raised property taxes to a record level, breaking a campaign promise but sparing vital services from cuts and cushioning the city’s books for the future.
The book covers his pre-politics life: growing up in Medford, working on and being fired from Wall Street, and founding Bloomberg L.P. in 1981. The last venture made him a billionaire after he invented the Bloomberg computer terminal, which vacuumed up, spat out and analyzed information on public security prices and listed companies around the globe, financial records, and legal decisions. It runs the stories produced by Bloomberg’s army of journalists, deployed in 140 bureaus worldwide, Purnick reports.
Yet her biography, coming as it does amid Bloomberg’s controversial campaign for a third term - he’s nevertheless the front-runner - naturally focuses on his City Hall record. That is what made him nationally serious as he pondered, then passed on, a presidential run last year; it helped past missteps, from a bungled Olympics bid for New York to his haughty temper; and it is keeping him in contention for another term, which had been disallowed under city law - until Bloomberg rammed a repeal of the two-terms limit through the city council. Formerly a vociferous advocate of the limit, he said he reversed himself after the financial crisis descended and demanded his business acumen at the municipal helm. But Purnick quotes Mort Zuckerman, a fellow publishing mogul and Bloomberg supporter, who dismisses that as a cover for naked ambition.
Interviewing friends from Bloomberg’s youth to present, Purnick confirms Zuckerman’s judgment. Bloomberg is forever restless, not content with Medford, being a billionaire, being a philanthropist, being mayor for eight years. “A prideful drive defines his life at every turn, pushing him to make a difference in the world around him and to dominate that world.’’
Rich Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.