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Is 12 years of Bloomberg akin to ‘12 Years a Slave?'

Herb Boyd | 11/21/2013, 3:19 p.m.
Bloomberg

When asked recently if he had seen “12 Years a Slave,” a young man said no, but responded, “I have lived in New York City under 12 years of Bloomberg.”

Comparing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy to Solomon Northup’s abduction may be a nice conversation starter, but evaluating his tenure in office depends largely on who is asked and what questions are asked.

If you ask any one of the 50,000 homeless people in the city, his legacy is akin to trying to find a decent place to rest your head—it’s nothing to commend. On the other hand, for the Park Avenue crowd and those who spend their days and nights on Wall Street, everything is comparatively rosy.

Sticking to the mayor’s legacy like an unwanted barnacle will be stop-and-frisk, which he has adamantly defended with the same passion with which he has supported Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. But for the millions of Black and Latino youth who have been accosted by the police on the streets of New York, the practice amounts to harassing and racial profiling under the pretext of curbing crime.

Curbing crime wasn’t the only issue on the mayor’s micromanaging agenda—he curbed our smoking habits, at least inside restaurants, parks and bars; curbed our intake of calories and decided upon the amount of soda we can or cannot consume; and dictated the nature of our educational regimen in laying off teachers and closing schools he deemed not up to par.

Then he proposed that residents of the New York City Housing Authority be fingerprinted in order to make them safer. Residents in the housing units might be better served if he had proposed the installation of security cameras rather than another means of criminalizing certain portions of our community.

Nothing mars the mayor’s legacy like the number of public unions with contracts. The scourge of gentrification from Brooklyn to Queens, to say nothing of Harlem, has accelerated under Bloomberg, and this has practically eliminated women- and minority-owned businesses across the city.

Bloomberg has been the lord of education, and his support of charter schools has finally come home in test results that are not overwhelmingly satisfactory. And this presumption of power would not have occurred without his purchase of a third term.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has repeatedly declared that New York is a “tale of two cities,” and the evidence of this is irrefutable. Here’s how David Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York, summarized the situation in a recent column in the Amsterdam News: “Increasingly, New York is a city of the rich and the poor,” he wrote. “The middle class is disappearing as incomes stagnate, jobs are lost and the amount of affordable housing shrinks.

“This growing inequality,” he continued, “is not sustainable over time without serious consequences to the nation’s economic and social fabric. Unfortunately, those consequences are already hitting home here in New York City.”

Jones observed that the city’s poverty rate rose 21.2 percent in 2012 and there are over 1.7 million New Yorkers living below the official federal poverty line—$23, 314 for a family of four. “Thirty percent of New Yorkers pay more than half of their income in rent,” Jones added.

But like so much of New York City and its issues, be it Bloomberg’s legacy or gentrification, you get mixed reports. For every respondent who approves the bike lanes and the greening of the city, you have one who is annoyed by the bikers who ride so recklessly throughout the city or they pooh-pooh the mayor’s planting of trees rather than providing decent housing for the thousands without a place to sleep in comfort.

How Bloomberg’s plan will pan out to shore up the city’s defenses against another massive storm like Hurricane Sandy rests on the succeeding administration; of course, a good chunk of the $20 billion ticket for this infrastructure fortification could be forked over by the outgoing mayor and not culled from city and federal funds.

A sizable down payment on the plan would dramatically improve how Bloomberg is seen years after he leaves office and remove the possibility of his legacy ever being compared to the ordeal Solomon Northup endured.