A full in-box for New York's next mayor

For New York's new billionaire mayor-elect, the first item on the agenda will be billion-dollar budget problems.

Political novice Michael Bloomberg tapped into the city's economic anxiety - and touted his own business acumen - to overcome a double-digit deficit in the polls that just a week ago analysts thought was insurmountable.

Indeed, the Red Sox fan from Massachusetts had been largely written off by many in the political establishment, including his Democratic opponent, Mark Green.

But this is a place where nothing is taken for granted anymore. The hole blown in the city and its budget by the Sept. 11 attacks propelled leadership and the economy to the top of voter priorities.

And Bloomberg, with a self-funded $50 million campaign, plus the endorsement of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, overrode Mr. Green's 5-to-1 partisan advantage to win in a nail-biter of a race.

"New York is alive and well and open for business," he told a cheering crowd early Wednesday morning in the basement of a blues club on 42nd Street.

And that business, for a man whom opponents just this week accused of not knowing a "union leader from a political leader," will be daunting. The city is facing a $9 billion deficit that could keep growing, because the economy is continuing on its downward spiral. At the same time, the downtown needs to be rebuilt, which will cost tens of billions of dollars. And the schools still need to be overhauled, which is at least a multimillion-dollar undertaking.

When the voters chose Bloomberg for the job, they put their trust in his business skills over the political experience of Green, the city's public advocate. But some political analysts contend that Bloomberg also offered another intangible asset that's key to New York's survival, as well as its sense of self: his own larger-than-life image.

"When you're mayor of New York, you're mayor of the world," says political analyst John Zogby. "Mike Bloomberg is already a brand name in São Paulo, Brazil, and Vienna, Austria. He's already global."

That's thanks to the success of his company, Bloomberg LP. But the ease with which he runs that business also gives other analysts pause about his future in City Hall. Joseph Mercurio contends that Bloomberg is still "a little naive" about what it takes to run a government. "It's like what they said about Eisenhower when he came in: 'He's going to give orders, and nothing is going to happen,' " says Mr. Mercurio.

Indeed, the city's powerful unions, which mostly supported Green, have the potential to immobilize New York if they don't get the raises and benefits they deem necessary. Dealing with them requires expert political skill. But others see Bloomberg's managerial acumen as very important as the city tries to keep businesses and lure others.

"He knows the information economy and can sit down with an entrepreneur and say, 'Hey, I see your vision, and I know your pain,' because he's done that," says Mr. Zogby. "That's a huge asset."

Despite a series of verbal gaffes, Bloomberg proved himself a conscientious student throughout the campaign, analyzing everything from the city's traffic patterns to its school system. He also touted himself as the man best suited to carry on the mayor's legacy, even before Sept. 11 elevated Mr. Giuliani's political status.

Bloomberg is expected to keep many staffers from the current administration, leaving some people to conclude the next four years could be "Rudy-Redux." But they add that Bloomberg could have a more sensitive approach to minority communities.

"He's been very active and cooperative in my neighborhood," says Bienvenido Toribio, a Republican in Washington Heights, a predominantly Hispanic area. "He will keep people together here."

Bloomberg, who was an unabashed liberal Democrat until deciding he could win New York only as a Republican, succeeded by cobbling together an unusual coalition. He won the support of conservative white Catholics, who were Giuliani supporters, and liberal Jews and Hispanics.

He was aided in part by the Democratic candidates themselves. During a bitter primary runoff, Green suddenly found himself in a tight horse race with Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who was angling to become the city's first Hispanic mayor. Green turned negative. Some within the Hispanic and black communities charged that he used race in order to win. The lingering resentment cost Green dearly: He lost half of the Hispanic vote to Bloomberg.

For the political novice, who prides himself on having parked cars to pay for college and having come to the city with "debts and a dream," the victory represents another chapter in an already improbable life.

Whether his success is based on supreme self-assurance - or arrogance, as some see it - he appears confident he will fit just fine into Giuliani's dauntingly big shoes.

"I want to be able to take what Rudy's done and carry it forward," he told a cheering crowd on Election Day eve. He says he plans on doing it by putting together "the best team anybody ever assembled to run City Hall."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.