February 2, 2006

Rebuilding NY skyline may be Bloomberg’s legacy

By Christian Wiessner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The political legacy of New York Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire who has styled
himself more as a chief executive than politician, may
ultimately be measured by the height of the city's skyline.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday showed 72
percent of voters approve of Bloomberg, making him among
America's most popular politicians.

The mayor has said he will not run for higher office when
his second term at City Hall ends in 2010. Instead, the
life-long Democrat who became a Republican for the 2001 mayoral
election said he will devote his life to philanthropy.

He owes his popularity in New York -- traditionally
Democratic despite its recent penchant for Republican mayors --
to his work on schools, housing, gun control and protecting the
city from another terrorist attack.

Yet Bloomberg's legacy may be something he does not
directly control -- rebuilding the World Trade Center site.

"We cannot allow the Trade Center to be a construction site
for the next 15 years," Bloomberg said in his recent State of
the City address, calling for an end to bickering over
rebuilding the area leveled on September 11.

Ground Zero is controlled by a joint New York and New
Jersey state agency. But Doug Muzzio, professor of public
affairs at The City University of New York's Baruch College,
said Bloomberg's legacy would be linked with the World Trade
Center if he can bring the parties together and ensure that the
site is rebuilt.

"Given the bully pulpit of being mayor, he does have the
power to structure the debate on the future of Ground Zero,"
Muzzio said. "If he can facilitate it, it would be ... a major
accomplishment and would be a part of his legacy. It's all
contingent on what he does."

Bloomberg, 63, won re-election in 2005 by one of the
largest margins in New York history after guiding the city back
to financial health after the September 11 attacks.

Pundits say Bloomberg, a former Salomon Brothers trader who
used $10 million of severance pay to found news company
Bloomberg LP in 1981, has used his business skills to manage
the city.

Experts say economic expansion, including rebuilding lower
Manhattan, will be the foundation of Bloomberg's second term.

"Michael Bloomberg wants to be a stimulator and a provider
and to leave a city that has major development ongoing," said
Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based political strategist. "It's
business, business and business. He wants to force development
and in doing so help the private sector in creating jobs."

Former Mayor Ed Koch, who spent 12 years at City Hall after
his 1977 election, said Bloomberg's business savvy was key.

"He's doing a terrific job," Koch said, adding that the
mayor is "in total control of the budget."

Some New Yorkers in 2001 were skeptical Bloomberg was just
another rich man buying public office.

"The initial criticism was that this is politics, not
business, but he's someone who has learned over time to merge
his business background with his politics," said Lee Miringoff,
director of the Marist College Poll.

Crime has fallen steadily under Bloomberg, a statistic that
has enticed more tourists to visit.

"We take it for granted that crime continues to go down,
the economy is strong and tourism has grown," said Tim Tompkins
of the Times Square Alliance. "Those things weren't assured
four years ago."