Two voter surveys, conducted three years apart, illustrate what's at stake politically in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's economic policies.
The first is an exit poll from his razor-close mayoral election in November 2001.
"Education took a back seat to the economy as the most pressing concern for the city electorate," pollster Lee Miringoff said just after that election.
"Bloomberg became for more voters the right man for these unusual times." Of 43 percent who described jobs and the economy as their top concern, more than half chose Bloomberg for mayor, he said.
By last November, the Quinnipiac poll found 77 percent of New York voters opposed sinking tax money into the most publicized and vilified economic development proposal of Bloomberg's term: Construction of a West Side stadium for the Olympics, the New York Jets, and whomever else would lease the facility.
Did voters get what they bargained for when they elected the savvy self-made billionaire businessman, in hopes he'd rescue jobs in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster? Despite an uptick in city employment in 2004 of about 21,000 jobs, or 0.6 percent, and a boom in property values, Bloomberg's detractors this election year are trying to build a case that the mayor has failed to deliver. And Democrats see the stadium controversy as fertile ground for scoring populist points.
Team Bloomberg points to the flip side of the poll results. Fifty-seven percent of the same respondents told Quinnipiac that if -- as Bloomberg maintains -- the domed facility were to pay for itself and turn a profit, they'd support its construction. And so day after day, in forum after forum, Bloomberg assures audiences that the Jets' commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars -- combined with a bigger Javits Center, an extended No. 7 train line, and new housing -- would pump up jobs and revenue for the city.
Inside and outside Manhattan
Critics say they see too much emphasis on the stadium. Notably, so do Bloomberg's economic aides -- who say the drama surrounding it is eclipsing budding success stories around the city. In the commercial and industrial park at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for example, businesses and employment have expanded under new leadership. Rezoning, transportation improvements and other measures are enhancing the Hunts Point food market in the Bronx. And newly negotiated leases with the Port Authority for the two Queens airports promise to accelerate capital improvements.
"I'd give Mayor Bloomberg largely positive marks on economic development," said Jonathan Bowles, who heads the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for an Urban Future. "Wall Street remains very much a centerpiece of the city's economic strategy, but the administration has focused on the need to get beyond that.
"There's more of a focus outside Manhattan" than in previous administrations, he said.
Before he became deputy mayor for economic development, Dan Doctoroff -- who like Bloomberg is wealthy enough to forgo his city salary -- founded the 2012 Olympic committee. Not surprisingly, he focuses on tourism as a key industry.
"We don't think we have another industry where we have that much growth potential," Doctoroff said in an interview last week. "It serves an under-served segment of our population in terms of employment. It's really critical."
Tourism -- which some consider a volatile investment -- also drives the mayor's cruise-ship plans for Red Hook, Brooklyn. For citywide impact, Doctoroff cites creation of a unique "chief marketing officer" post to sell the city as a brand name. He also boasts that the administration has revamped the film office, added business improvement districts and energized the Department of Small Business Services. Then there's the other arena -- Forest City Ratner's plan for a new home for Nets basketball at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Critics find fault
What defines beneficial development is, of course, open to debate. "We're concerned that to this day most of the development that happens on city-owned land or land being rezoned is not for low-income folks," said Jon Kest of the activist group ACORN, a housing advocacy group. Thousands of demonstrators said so by their presence at a rally last week near City Hall.
Other critics find other faults. The Flushing-based Small Business Congress complains its members are squeezed by city fiscal policies that bring a crush of regulatory fines. And when Bloomberg expressed support for Wal-Mart's planned move to Rego Park, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn-Queens), a possible Bloomberg election foe, warned that the company offers the city "lower wages and no health care" and that it "attacks unions and crushes small local stores."
Some businessmen look dubiously upon Doctoroff's friendship with developer and ex-partner Stephen Ross, whose Related Companies played a role in shaping the city's South Street and Bronx Terminal Market projects -- without having undergone bid processes. Bloomberg's office denies any preferential treatment.
The new marketing office also drew heat. Comptroller William Thompson in 2003 resisted the city's deals to make Snapple the exclusive provider of beverages to the school system and other city agencies. Thompson charged a conflict of interest stemming from a past relationship between marketing office head Joseph Perello and Snapple's parent firm, Cadbury Schweppes. Bloomberg said the deal was innovative and profitable to the city.
The administration beat Thompson's legal challenge in court; today the Snapple is flowing in city buildings.
But to listen to Doctoroff, all the noise is just the sound of progress and the by-product of the city's aggressiveness. "We're very proud to have laid out a very, very ambitious agenda, based on a very thoughtful strategy that took into account the city's strengths and weaknesses," he said. In a second Bloomberg term, he said, "There will be some new things." But true to the promoter's creed, he declined to kill the suspense of just what those things would be.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times