New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declared Thursday that higher taxes and tighter belts are better than a return to the high crime and grim fears of years past.
The mayor’s comments came in the traditional “State of the City” address in which he outlined his plans for his second year in office and made light of recent polls showing his popularity declining.
“Where are the pollsters when I need them?” he asked in response to a loud round of applause. He delivered the annual address to the City Council at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Quickly turning more serious, he attributed his drop in popularity to his raising taxes and cutting budgets to keep city services afloat in an ailing economy.
“Taxes and frugality are far better than crime, filth and abandonment,” he said. “I would rather be less popular knowing that New Yorkers are safe than promise a rose garden I know we can’t deliver.”
But many political observers say that his problems neither begin nor end with the obvious economic concerns.
“It’s not that he’s done anything wrong. The problem is people can’t get a feel for him.” said political strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “No one is giving him credit because he is not connecting with the average New Yorker.”
Filling the job once held by such characters as the often-argumentative Rudolph W. Giuliani and the outspoken Edward I. Koch, the businesslike Bloomberg pales in comparison, he said.
“He’s not bombastic, he’s not cutting. What New Yorkers are looking for is color,” Sheinkopf said. “New Yorkers like to yell at their mayor, they like to argue and they like to feel it’s personal.”
Getting elected by one of the narrowest margins in history, switching to the Republican Party to bypass a crowded Democratic field of candidates and skipping the people-oriented task of fund raising by campaigning with his own money, the self-made billionaire has no natural constituency to back him up when times get tough, former Mayor Koch said.
“There’s not one group that says, ‘He’s our candidate,’ ” he said. “He’s not a real Republican and he’s not a real Democrat.”
Political strategist Joseph Mercurio said Bloomberg’s polling numbers come as no surprise.
“It was a very close election and a very low turnout. Why would anybody expect him to be going gangbusters when so few people voted for him in the first place?” he said.
Koch, a tough critic of his successors, gave Bloomberg high marks nonetheless.
“He’s not responding to special interests,” Koch said. “He’s doing things in the interest of the whole city. And when you do things in the interest of the whole city, nobody knows you’re doing it for them, so they’re all screaming.”
Bloomberg used his speech to outline plans for boosting economic growth, attracting jobs, increasing affordable housing, revitalizing the city’s waterfront and improving schools while the city faces a $3-billion deficit next year.
“Everything has a season, including great cities. Right now it is winter in New York,” he said -- on one of the chilliest days of the city’s recent cold streak. “I’m here to tell you spring and a time of renewal is on its way.
“In spite of a current painful economic slowdown, in terms of long-term trends, we are flourishing,” he said.
He shrugged off contention as a sign of a vital New York.
“Argument, discussion, controversy? Naturally. This is New York. But who among us would want to live elsewhere?” he said.