2001-07-21 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk by Howard Schwach

When you get an invitation to a lunch from a guy with a couple of million bucks, you figure that you are in for a decent spread, even if that guy is a would-be politician who is running for mayor.

So, when Mike Bloomberg invited all of the editors of the Queens weekly newspapers to a luncheon meeting at a Flushing diner, I decided to take him up on his offer.

Little did I know as I transversed the traffic on Main Street that I was in for an hour of soggy onion rings, coffee and political platitudes.

The first thing you have to know is that Mike (he wants everybody, including the people who work for him, to call him by his first name) is a nice guy who built his own business empire from scratch to a thriving business empire and now genuinely believes that he can do the same for the city.

The second thing you have to know is that he knows absolutely nothing about the borough of Queens.

One of the questions he was asked was to talk about his vision for Queens.

"My vision for Queens is my vision for all of the other boroughs," he said. I want affordable housing (ouch), better transportation (he wants buses over cars), safe streets and commercial development (all of the business should not be in Manhattan and all of the housing in the "other" boroughs).

Does he understand that each of the boroughs have specific problems not faced by the other four? Not really.

I tried to pin him down on some Rockaway specifics.

I asked him if he would help Rockaway get its ferry service up and running by providing a subsidy until the service built a ridership that could support it financially.

"I’m not going to be trapped into backing this particular ferry because I don’t know enough about it," Mike told me. "I believe in private enterprise. There is a place for government, however, in doing things to jump-start private enterprise. Government should jump start private enterprise and then know when to walk away."

Later, I asked him about the development of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area.

He looked at me blankly and asked what I was talking about.

I told him that we had 128 acres of waterfront property that has been awaiting development for more than 35 years.

He looked as if he did not believe me.

"Why hasn’t it been developed," he asked.

I told him.

"We certainly should develop it," he said, "but the question is what should we put there."

He asked me if everybody in the community could agree on what should be put into the Arverne area and I laughed.

Perhaps, I suggested, it might be a good place for him to put his corporate headquarters.

He blanched.

Now, I do not expect any candidate to know everything about every area of the city, but I do expect that a man running for mayor and holding a meeting with editors of Queens papers would be briefed a bit on some of the major problems of each of the borough’s major areas.

Not only did he not know about Rockaway’s problems, he did not know about the specific problems of Western Queens nor of Northern Queens.

I did, however, like some of his ideas, even if I did not like his soggy onion rings.

"We have to pay city workers more," Mike said at one point. "God knows, they deserve it, but it also makes sense from a competitive standpoint. If any business wants to stay viable it has to pay its workers and keep them."

He also defended spending millions of his own money on the campaign.

He quoted a Kennedy spokesperson who was asked about Bobby spending so much on his New York Senate campaign.

"It’s his money," the statement went. "Why shouldn’t he be allowed to spend it any way he wants."

Mike ended by defending his lack of political experience.

"You don’t need political experience to be the mayor," he laughed. "You need managerial experience and I have proven that I certainly have more than an adequate supply of that."

When I pointed out that Chancellor Levy said more or less the same thing and that he has not been able to turn that experience into a positive for the school system, Mike looked pained.

"Levy has not been doing that badly," he said. "Remember, he has to answer to the Board of Education and can’t do the things he needs to do."

Levy not doing badly? I closed my notebook and turned to the soggy onion rings. For me, the meeting was definitely over.

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