On Election Day, voters said something that might have moved a less sensible billionaire to succumb to the siren song of those urging him to spend, say, $500 million of his money on an independent presidential candidacy. But over lunch three days later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who does not do coyness, dismissed the idea as a "pipe dream." Sometimes nothing so validates a politician's wisdom as his ability to circumscribe, or to recognize that circumstances circumscribe, his ambitions.
Bloomberg has demonstrated, in both the public and private sectors, what the electorate cried out for on Election Day: "Competence, please." His business acumen has given him a net worth of $5.3 billion, making him No. 44 on Forbes magazine's list of richest Americans. After five years as mayor -- which began after eight years of dramatic improvement of the city under Rudy Giuliani -- Bloomberg's successes include:
The unemployment rate (4.1 percent) is the lowest on record, and the city's credit rating is at the highest level ever. With crime down 20 percent since Bloomberg took office -- after a 57 percent reduction during the Giuliani years -- the FBI rates this as the nation's safest large city, which is one reason for the sharp increase in applications to Columbia University and New York University. Welfare caseloads, which numbered 1.1 million a decade ago, are fewer than 400,000. In 2005, the percentage of high school students graduating on time was the highest since the city began keeping that statistic in 1986. Bloomberg credits his crusade against smoking with the decline in heart attacks that has helped make the life expectancy of city residents higher than that of the rest of the nation.
He talks about public policy with an agreeable lack of interest in being agreeable. About schools' accountability under the No Child Left Behind law: "It's pass-fail and they dumb down the standards." About there being no correlation in schools between financial inputs and cognitive outputs: "It's worse than that" -- unlike in business, government increases investments in failures, so there is no incentive to do well. About Republicans' recent misadventures: "The country is not as stupid as they think," with their grandstandings about flag burnings and Terri Schiavo. About crime: "Eighty-five percent of all murder victims have criminal records." Exaggerating, slightly, he adds: "If you're not a drug dealer, you won't get murdered." About illegal immigration: Citizens should have Social Security cards with their fingerprints; when employers are afraid to hire illegal immigrants, the problem will abate. Finally: "I am a supporter of the U.N. -- and of John Bolton."