From Cathie Black to Gay Marriage, 2011 Was a Busy Year for Bloomberg
MANHATTAN — 2011 was a tumultuous year for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
A series of public relations debacles sent his poll numbers tumbling mid-way through his third term, despite several major late-year triumphs including the arrival of the city's 50 millionth tourist and a historic low for the murder rate despite a dwindling police force.
Here are the 10 most notable moments of Bloomberg’s 2011:
1. The Cathie Black fiasco:
She had no education experience, cracked jokes about birth control as a remedy for school overcrowding, and hissed at frustrated parents at a public meeting. Is it any wonder Cathie Black was booted after just three months on the job in an embarrassing about-face for the mayor?
"I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped,” the mayor said during a press conference announcing the publishing exec’s resignation, weeks after hailing her as a “superstar.”
Her replacement, former Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, appears to have adjusted better to the job.
2. Deputy Mayor Goldsmith resigned after being tossed in jail on domestic violence charges:
Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith, who took much of the fall for the city's botched handling of 2010's post-Christmas blizzard, announced in August that he was stepping down after just 14 months on the job “to pursue private-sector opportunities in infrastructure finance.”
It turned out the mayor had failed to mention just one thing — Goldsmith had been arrested days earlier on domestic violence charges following a dispute with his wife in their home in Washington, D.C., reportedly landing him in jail.
After canceling his weekly radio appearance and ducking the press for days, the mayor eventually defended the concealment, arguing that his former deputy was entitled to his privacy. Goldsmith was never charged in the case.
3. Hurricane Irene provided a reprieve from the blizzard:
After being accused of failing to prepare for the post-Christmas blizzard that walloped the city in late 2010, leaving many stranded for days, the mayor was on hyper alert ahead of Hurricane Irene. He ordered a mandatory evacuation of nearly 300,000 New Yorkers living in low-lying areas and shut down the entire subway system — an historic first.
While the city was left relatively unscathed by the storm as it shifted course and some accused the city of overreacting to the threat, the planner-in-chief was praised by former critics for treating the potential disaster seriously and being clearly in charge.
4. Bloomberg took the stand:
It was a strange sight for the city — Mayor Bloomberg on the stand in Supreme Court, testifying as a witness in a trial against seasoned political operative John Haggerty, who was eventually convicted of ripping the mayor off for more than $1 million during his tough third term reelection campaign.
Haggerty's defense attorneys tried to lob just about every grenade they could muster to rile Bloomberg while he was on stand — the botched CityTime project, Goldsmith’s resignation scandal and even the contents of his autobiography.
But Bloomberg answered most of the questions with impressive restraint, and couldn’t remember the majority of the details he was asked.
5. Gay marriage legalized in New York:
The city was overwhelmed with cheering couples as the state officially legalized gay marriage this summer. One month later, hundreds of eager couples descended on the City Clerk’s Office to tie the knot in a jubilant celebration.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg marked the historic day by presiding over the wedding of his long-time staffers John Feinblatt and Jonathan Mintz, who exchanged their vows on the porch outside of Gracie Mansion with their young daughters, Maeve, 8, and Georgia, 6, serving as flower girls.
6. Bloomberg met his match in Albany — Andrew Cuomo:
After years of dysfunction, Albany’s wayward ship finally seemed to have a captain with the self-assured Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the helm.
But Cuomo has also proven to be a thorn in the mayor's side, wielding a budget axe against the city and besting the mayor on several key policy fights, including putting the kibosh on a push to overhaul the city’s “last in, first out” teacher seniority firing system, which the mayor pushed before dropping his threat to fire thousands of teachers following cuts in state funding.
7. NYPD scandals:
First, there was the ticket-fixing scandal, which led to the arraignment of sixteen cops in Bronx Criminal Court this fall for allegedly making tickets disappear for family and friends. More than 300 cops also face disciplinary action from the department following the three-year investigation, the extent of which was exclusively reported by DNAinfo.
Then came a stinging series from the Associated Press that accused the NYPD of spying on Muslim community leaders, mosques and businesses, even when there was no evidence those under surveillance had done anything wrong.
In both cases, the mayor stood by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and defended the department’s leadership and policies.
8. Occupy Wall Street protesters booted from Zuccotti Park. Hundreds arrested, along with the press:
It was just after 1 a.m. on Nov. 15 when hundreds of cops descended on the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park in a surprise raid, driving protesters out with bullhorns, dismantling tents, ripping through tarps — and forcibly keeping the press from documenting the events.
The decision to raid came after weeks of complaints from local business owners and residents as well as growing health and safety concerns. But the mayor said "the final decision to act was mine and mine alone."
While few other elected officials defended the tents and tarps, many expressed outrage at the dead-of-night raid and called for an internal investigation into the treatment of reporters, many of whom were arrested during the raid and its aftermath, including two NYPD-credentialed members of the DNAinfo team.
9. Wheelchair Accessible Taxis of the Future and Uptown Street Hail Controversy:
In his January State of the City address, the mayor proposed a plan to bring better taxi service to Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs by creating a new class of metered livery cabs licensed to legally pick up passengers on the street. He successfully pushed the measure though both the State Senate and Assembly, but hit a road block with disability advocates who demanded more accessible cabs.
For weeks, the mayor repeated that people in wheelchairs weren't capable of hailing cabs (“It’s just dangerous to take a wheelchair out in the streets,” he said on Dec. 2.) But when Gov. Cuomo threatened to veto the bill if it didn't include all-accessible cars, the mayor quickly changed his tune, later hailing the new accessibility rules as “an enormous improvement in the getting of service for people with disabilities that need to have the ability to get around."
10. Cornell won $100 million bid to build a new “genius school” in New York:
The mayor announced that Cornell and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology had won the city's $100 million competition to build a new state-of-the art engineering and applied science school on free city land, just weeks after Facebook announced it would begin engineering here.
He and others hailed the deal as an historic “game changer” for the city, bringing it one giant step closer to his legacy goal of rivaling Silicon Valley as a high-tech hub.
The deal has left the mayor closing the year on a high note.
“This has been, on balance, a good year,” he said during his last weekly radio appearance on WOR.
“The city is stronger than it was before. We’ve got this Cornell-Technion thing going... Tourism record, schools getting better, second lowest murder rate we’ve ever had, lowest for fires, death by fires and transportation. I mean, a lot of good things,” he said.