Mayor Michael Bloomberg is bidding farewell to New York in much the same style in which he has governed it: outspoken, unsentimental and more than a touch cranky.
Mr. Bloomberg famously installed a clock at City Hall that counts down the days remaining in his tenure. On Wednesday, that number stood at just 13.
By many metrics, New York is much safer, greener and healthier than when he took office in 2002. Earlier this week, he kicked off a five-day tour of New York’s five boroughs aimed at highlighting the progress made during his 12 years as mayor.
And while this may be farewell, it’s not goodbye. Mr. Bloomberg, 71, has big plans for his next chapter, including a consulting firm – Bloomberg Associates – that will counsel city governments around the world on how to recreate some of his successes.
On Wednesday, he delivered what’s expected to be his final major speech as mayor to a packed ballroom of a midtown Manhattan hotel. It lasted 20 minutes and was free of misty-eyed reflections on his tenure or his imminent return to the status of private citizen.
“I will look back on this for the rest of my life,” said Mr. Bloomberg at the start of his remarks, singling out the chance to “have been able to do something, hopefully, for my kids.”
Then he proceeded to the heart of the matter: a list of his accomplishments and a frank warning to his successor, Bill de Blasio, who takes office on Jan. 1. Cities face “a growing fiscal crisis,” he said, in the form of growing pension costs for employees.
“The costs of today’s benefits cannot be sustained for another generation – not without inflicting real harm on our citizens,” Mr. Bloomberg continued, cautioning against “a labour-electoral complex that is undermining our collective future.”
The broadside against pension costs and public-sector unions took up most of Mr. Bloomberg’s speech and seemed to be aimed directly at Mr. de Blasio, an unabashed liberal Democrat who benefited from the backing of organized labour during his campaign.
Wrapping up more than a decade as mayor is hard to do. For Mr. Bloomberg, an iconoclastic billionaire, it represents a particular challenge: New Yorkers truly appreciate the job he has done, but they’re also truly ready for a change.
In the waning weeks of his time at City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg has faced one last controversy, courtesy of The New York Times. The newspaper published a lengthy multipart feature on the life of an 11-year old living in New York’s system of shelters for the homeless.
The poignant piece carried an implicit indictment of Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure, during which the poverty rate has not declined and the number of homeless people in the city has increased.
On Tuesday, when asked about the story on the inaugural day of his farewell tour, Mr. Bloomberg noted that the girl’s family situation was “extremely atypical.” He continued: “This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not.” (He later berated the reporter who posed the question for ostensibly smirking while he answered, according to the Associated Press.)
Mr. Bloomberg is planning to stick around for his successor’s inauguration, and then take an extended vacation – his first in 12 years, he says – to Hawaii and New Zealand with his long-time girlfriend Diana Taylor.
A self-confessed workaholic, he will not be content to enjoy his new free time.
He’s expected to take a more active role at his eponymous data-and-media giant, Bloomberg LP, and particularly at Bloomberg View, the arm that churns out opinion pieces. His new consulting firm, composed of veterans of his years in City Hall, will be available to advise mayors around the world. And then there is his long list of policy preoccupations: gun control, immigration reform, combatting climate change, improving public health.
“No one is more skilled at finding ways to make a contribution than he is,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University. “I would give him an ‘A’ for managing his career.”
Prof. Moss sounded sanguine about the end of the Bloomberg era, noting that so far Mr. de Blasio has appointed seasoned professionals to join his team. “It’s going to be a different tone, with different values articulated, but the day-to-day life of New York will go on, no matter who the mayor is.”
There is one more transformation awaiting Mr. Bloomberg in his post-mayoral life: He’s about to become a grandfather for the first time. Talking about that prospect earlier this month, he allowed a glimpse of a softer side.
In a speech to a business group, he said it was his hope that New York’s fundamental values – respect for diversity, religious freedom, equality, economic opportunity – continue to endure. Choking up slightly, he continued: “That is what I want, more than anything else, for my little grandson and all the generations to come.”