Echoes of Bloomberg Heard in Obama's State of the Union

By Jill Colvin on February 14, 2013 6:57am 

NEW YORK CITY — Public-private partnerships. Corporate-style contests that tie funding with innovation. Calls for gun control. Overhauling the immigration system to open the door to more engineers and entrepreneurs.

No, it’s not Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy agenda. It was President Barack Obama’s State of the Union.

“There are a lot of similarities for those of us who live here and have been listening to the mayor for 12 years," said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, after watching Obama's speech.

As Bloomberg prepares to give his final State of the City address Thursday after three terms in office, he will leave the city's budget strategies dramatically transformed.

Throughout his tenure, Bloomberg has stressed the benefits of public-private partnerships, which he has used to fund everything from the High Line to a series of initiatives designed to help young black and Latino men.

Bloomberg has also embraced the idea of competition as a tool for everything from how the city will allocate its first round of federal Hurricane Sandy aid to selecting which university would operate the city’s new tech campus.

Much of the same approach was on display as Obama rolled out his agenda for his second term.

He announced a new “Partnership to Rebuild America” that will use public-private partnerships to invest in aging infrastructure, including roads, ports and bridges.

He also pointed to P-Tech, a Brooklyn school announced by Bloomberg in 2011, which launched a collaboration with the City University of New York and IBM. Students at the school graduate from "grade 14" with a high school diploma as well as an associate's degree in computers or engineering.

“We need to give every American student opportunities like this,” Obama said.

To help spawn similar projects, Obama took another chapter from the Bloomberg playbook, proposing a new competition to decide which high schools should get new funds.

“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” he said, proposing to reward schools that develop partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math —  "the skills today’s employers are looking for."

Gelinas said Obama had also embraced Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s technique of filling their policy agendas with small, creative proposals that are relatively uncontroversial on their own.

“The president has kind of adopted these New York-style micro-initiatives where the government doesn’t seem big because it’s doing a lot of different things all at once,” she said.

She also saw parallels on other issues, like the President's push to raise the minimum wage which “comes straight from the governor,” she said.

“That stuff really comes from New York,” she said.

Bloomberg’s spokesman, Marc La Vorgna, declined to comment on the shared approaches, but touted the city as a model for education reform, despite frequent criticism from parents, advocates and other elected officials over a slew of policies.

“A State of the Union mention is not only an honor, but a major stamp of validation for the reforms the Mayor has implemented and fought for over the last 11 years,” he said.”

Gelinas said she expects to hear Bloomberg reference Obama's shout-outs during Thursday's State of the City speech, along with an announcement of new proposals to cement his legacy.

“He’ll be taking kind of a victory lap,” she said.

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