2011-07-01 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Another Myth: Bloomberg As Perfect Manager
Commentary By Howard Schwach

There are lots of myths surrounding Mayor Michael Bloomberg, most of which turn out not to be true.

Many of the myths center around his stewardship of the public school system and his handling of both the testing mess and siting charter schools free of charge in public school buildings.

Some of them have to do with the way he managed (from long distance) such crises as the holiday snowstorm in 2010 and other minor situations.

The core of the myths around Bloomberg deal with his management skills – the self-made billionaire who single-handedly built a media conglomerate out of nothing and who knows everything there is about management and is the best man possible for running both a company and a city.

That myth was largely perpetrated on the city by the daily papers during the period that Bloomberg sought to overturn the will of the people to get himself (and his City Council drones) a third time at bat.

The fact is that Bloomberg is a terrible manager, inattentive to anything he disdains, interested in only his core constituency, willing to bully or bribe anybody who doesn’t agree with him and blind to what has been going on around him in several areas, including the schools, where his only interests in education are destroying the UFT and turning over the “education business,” as he calls it, to his millionaire friends, some of whom are the publishers of the very newspapers that gave him the third term in the first place.

You might say that city government has always been corrupt starting with Boss Tweed, who bought 300 benches for $5 each and sold them to the city for $600 each. He said that rebuilding City Hall Park would cost $350,000, but the job went to all of his friends and political allies, and it wound up costing $13 million.

It’s interesting that Bloomberg made the old Tweed Courthouse the headquarters for the Department of Education when he moved them from Livingston Street in Brooklyn a decade ago.

There is a lot of symbolism there.

While scandals come and go, the present CityTime ripoff could be the biggest scandal of all – even bigger than Ed Koch’s parking bureau scandal.

Prosecutor’s said last week that the entire $600 million paid to the main contractor by Bloomberg and his appointees is tainted.

“The project was corrupted to its core by one of the largest and most brazen frauds ever committed against New York,” said federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney. “The corruption on CityTime was epic in duration, magnitude and scope.”

Yet, none of Bloomberg’s managers nor the big man himself ever noticed.

They call that good management only in places where corruption is prized and members of government look the other way as their friends steal billions from the public pot.

The scam included kickbacks and payoffs laundered through shell corporations from Europe to India, prosecutors said.

CityTime makes Boss Tweed look like a petty thief, stealing penny candy from the corner store.

And, it’s all on Bloomberg’s watch.

In fact, the whole fraud started in 2003, not long after Bloomberg took over the city.

While no city officials have yet been implicated by the prosecutors, investigators have publicly suggested that the Bloomberg administration, which said that they were deeply involved in the project, failed to notice a massive crime being committed right before their eyes and kept pumping money into the phony project even when news of the scam began to break.

In fact, when stories of the fraud began to break in columns and blogs around the city, Bloomberg was dismissive of the stories, saying, “You can’t look everywhere. I’m not trying to excuse it. It certainly is something we should focus on. On the other hand, if you want to know how big projects have things that slip through the cracks, this is as good an example as you need.”

Super-manager to the rescue, closing the barn several years after the horses have gone to India.

“The individuals charged understood, exploited and preyed upon the city’s desire to modernize its timekeeping and payroll operations,” said Rose Gill Hearn, the city’s own investigations commissioner.

And nobody in super manager’s city noticed.

In fact, the two men the city hired to monitor the contract with CityTime were in on the fraud and have been charged with fraud and trying to steal $80 million through inflated bills to the city.

There is no way to excuse the fact that everybody in the city, including our super-manager mayor was asleep at the switch.

Bloomberg made a statement earlier this week that shows he still doesn’t understand the depth of the scandal and his part in allowing it to happen stating that the biggest problem with the program was not the scandal, but the cost overruns that created it.

“The biggest expense is that they started out by underestimating the complexity and cost of the project and then, as they went along, kept adding things,” Bloomberg said in his radio program, adding that there was a fraud involved as well only as an afterthought.

Fraud and mismanagement are nothing new on the Bloomberg watch.

In fact, there have been several cases of fraud and cronyism on Bloomberg’s watch.

Just a short time ago, the education company owned by Post owner Rupert Murdoch and which employs former School Chancellor Joel Klein, was awarded multi-million dollar contracts from both the city and state to develop software to track student achievement and weaknesses.

Talk about cronyism.

Does anybody believe that other companies with better products have a chance when Klien enters the game?

A month ago, the comptroller turned down a contract between the Department of Education and Teach for America that would have spent $20 million on consultants to find and recruit 500 new teachers, at the same time that the mayor and chancellor are planning to lay off thousands of people who are already teaching. Last year, that program recruited hundreds of teachers.

At the end of this year, only 17 are still in the system.

You get the picture.

Bloomberg is either a fool or a terrible manager. You decide which.

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