The Rockaway Beat
Not too long ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that he would like to be known as the best New York City mayor in history.
I know that it will take historians a decade or more to place Bloomberg in his correct slot in our city’s history, but I would like to jump the gun and opine that Bloomberg might well be the worst mayor in the last century.
That says volumes, when you consider that Abe Beame, Ed Koch and David Dinkins, all of whom served during the time period from 1910 to the present, and are three men I have long considered the worst-ever mayors.
That 100-year run also includes Jimmy Walker, the playboy mayor who jumped a ship for Europe just ahead of the federal prosecutors; Fiorello LaGuardia (of airport fame, who might really be the best mayor ever, especially for reading the funny papers over the radio during a newspaper strike); William O’Dwyer (who served for 12 years during World War II and had to run to Mexico over a police scandal); Robert Wagner (right up there in the running for number one); John Lindsay (who destroyed Rockaway just as surely as he did not plow the snow in Queens); Beame, Koch, Dinkins (what a run of bad luck, from 1974 to 1993); Rudy Giuliani and now Bloomberg.
Now, Walker was a crook, but that was the thing to do in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Even though everybody knew he was corrupt and a skirtchaser, he was beloved in the city where he earned the appellation “Gentleman Jimmy.”
Not the best of the century, but far from the worst.
O’Dwyer was beloved of the Irish voters in the city and served during a very difficult time in our history. He ran the city well, but got tangled up in a number of political scandals. A police corruption scandal finally did him in and he fled to Mexico, where he was made the U.S. Ambassador by President Harry Truman.
John Lindsay is famous for failing to plow the snow and for his liberalism, but he is more infamous in Rockaway for being the mayor who decided to place all of the city housing projects in Rockaway and then mandating that “troubled welfare families” be situated only in those projects. He is my least favorite mayor of the last 100 years, but that doesn’t make him the worst.
Then, we have the triumvirate of Beame, Koch and Dinkins.
Beame ruled the city during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression – one that should have great resonance today. The fact is, he had no idea of what to do and he virtually turned the city over to the bankers to get him out of the jam.
I really liked Koch for his first term or so. He was (and remains, although sometimes I think he has dementia because his political ideas today are so far from what they were in the 1970s and 1980s, when he ruled the political roost) the quintessential New Yorker, Jewish, brash, always good for a quip or a quote. He began getting old, however, when he began to give the city to special interest groups and minority power brokers. At the end, he was only a shell of his former self, something that has not aged well since.
Dinkins was what we in the military would have called FUBAR. I’ll leave you to decipher what that means, because this is a family paper.
Look back over the daily papers during his mayoralty (1990 to 1993) and you’ll see what I mean.
He left the city in shambles and increased racial tension to the Nth degree.
Then came Giuliani (1994 to 2001), who was exactly the opposite. He was disdainful of minority groups and downright nasty. He did, however, end the welfare state in New York City and moved the city away from the Koch- Dinkins years that I would rather forget.
Then, we have Bloomberg.
Our nanny mayor came to the city with a couple of definite goals.
The first was to make the school system over to his vision of how a good business tycoon would run the system.
In doing so, he wanted to destroy the UFT, the largest and most powerful of the city’s unions, and he wanted to turn the public schools over to his business friends.
Thus, the business-oriented chancellors who would do his bidding; the proliferation of charter schools, most of them run by political friends such as Eva Moskowitz and Malcolm Smith, people who only want to make a profit center from the education marketplace.
For five or six years, Bloomberg sold the idea that he was actually making the schools better.
Reading and math scores were up, as was the high school graduation rate.
That all came to an end last year, when the state was forced to admit that it had been cooking the books by lowering the cut score, thereby making it much easier to reach a higher level. When the cut scores were put back the way they were, it became clear that the scores were only marginally better than they were when he took over, and that small rise came at the expense of teaching subjects such as social studies, science and foreign language.
As for the high school graduation rate, a recent study found that kids were graduating, but they were not ready for either college or life beyond school. In fact, only 22 percent of those who graduated from city high schools were prepared to move on, a new study shows.
More about that next week.