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Columnist gives Bloomberg passing grade as mayor

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
By Tom Allon

OK, class. It’s near the end of 12 years of school (in this case, City Hall High), and now it’s time for you to graduate and receive your final grades.

The Bloomberg era in New York is about to sunset in less than six months, and a report card on different subjects will help define what worked, what worked less well, and what we want our next mayor to continue to build upon.

It is indisputable that Mike Bloomberg and his administration have changed New York in many ways — largely for the good — and he will be a tough act to follow.

It is hard to imagine that any of his potential successors will wield as much power and influence on such wide-ranging policies as curbing obesity to gun control in quite the grandiose way he has.

We’re going to give Bloomberg his grades now, however, knowing that this hardworking mayor and his team at City Hall will not slow down for a victory lap in the next six months. He still has time to come up with more game-changing ideas.

SAFETY: A+. When Rudy Giuliani left office in 2001, could anyone have imagined that his successor would continue to bring down crime so precipitously that New York is now the safest city in America? Metropolises like Philly, Chicago and L.A. slid back during the last decade, while Bloomberg and Ray Kelly kept New Yorkers safe from crime and terrorism. They deserve more than the highest grade: They deserve our gratitude.

EDUCATION: B. Even Mike Bloomberg, not generally a self-critic, admitted that “we didn’t move the needle enough” in education in an interview with The Atlantic earlier this year, but he did some bold things. He won mayoral control of education, created hundreds of small high schools by breaking up big ones, expanded charter schools dramatically and won a hard-earned and bloody fight over teacher evaluations. But there was little progress on teacher training and recruitment of the “best and brightest” to our teacher corps. Testing became too emphasized at the expense of learning. Job readiness and vocational education, while expanding, have not been accelerated enough to help the 35 percent of high school dropouts who need job-skills training.

HEALTH: A+. This may be Bloomberg’s best subject. He has been visionary with his smoking ban, which even those restaurant owners who originally opposed it hail as a good move. Calorie counts on menus, expanding parkspace around the city and his seeming overreach on limiting big gulp sugary drinks will insure our citizens will be healthier and live longer and with a better quality of life. This is a revolutionary paradigm shift from a man criticized by some as “Nanny Bloomberg.”

CITY BUDGET: C. Yes, the mayor was able to balance the city budget each year without major cuts, but property taxes were mishandled and need to be recalculated so they are charged more equitably, pensions have ballooned and we probably have a structural problem with a $70 billion annual budget, which has skyrocketed from $42 billion in 2002 when Bloomberg took over.

TRANSPORTATION: B. The only two big ideas here were the recent bike rental program and the hard-fought expansion of cabs to other boroughs. No significant capital improvements (although this is more MTA responsibility than mayoral) were made, and the city needs to rapidly expand bus rapid transit and try monorail or light rail to get 8 million people around more efficiently.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: B+. The mayor and his first-term deputy, Dan Doctoroff, did some bold and creative things to unlock waterfront development and rezone parts of the city that are now thriving. New York suffered less than the rest of the country during the recession, but inequality, poverty and homelessness increased during the past decade. The next mayor has to figure out how to lift the bottom quartile of New Yorkers while ensuring job creators and entrepreneurs who keep this city great.

This is a good enough report card to earn the mayor a gold star, but will his successor be as good a student as the Johns Hopkins and Harvard graduate who has left his stamp on New York?

Class begins in January. This year’s crop of wannabe mayors should study what Bloomberg did right (as well as predecessors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani) and then work hard to get to the head of the class.

Tom Allon, a former public school teacher, is president of City & State media and a former Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 and can be reached at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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