MIDTOWN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg may appear to be all business, but inside that tough exterior he hurts sometimes, too.
“It is not a job for the faint of heart. It is not a job for those who are sensitive," the mayor told a room of the city’s biggest movers and shakers gathered in Midtown Tuesday for a breakfast celebrating the 40th birthday of the Association for a Better New York.
"You just have to keep a straight upper lip and never let anybody know that they’re getting to you,” Bloomberg advised.
“Does criticism hurt? Of course it hurts. If the criticism didn’t hurt, you should see a psychiatrist. But it’s not a job where you can ever show that the criticism is getting to you. People want leadership," he said, as part of panel discussion with his predecessors, former mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch.
Still, Bloomberg, like his fellow mayors, raved about the position as “the greatest job in the world."
"I love every single day getting up, even if you know you’re going to get beaten up," he confessed. "It is just a thrill to get up. And the greater the challenge that day, the more the adrenaline goes and the more you look forward to getting in there," he said, echoing Dinkens and Koch.
But Bloomberg and Koch clashed when it came to their views on big banks.
Asked by moderator Charlie Rose what they thought about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, Bloomberg took his strongest stance yet defending Wall Street's role in the crash.
“It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was plain and simple Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp," he said, arguing that vilifying banks now only makes things worse.
“It’s fun and it’s cathartic, it’s entertaining to go and to blame people and look to the past. But it doesn’t do anything for the future,” he said.
But Koch insisted bankers must be held accountable and be forced to pay.
“I want to see some CEO… punished, criminally," said Koch, who slammed the system for sending one man who steals a bicycle to jail while slapping another who steals millions with a negligible fine.
“What the hell do they care? That’s the cost of doing businesses. What do you think they got fined for? Schmutz on the sidewalk?” he said.
The mayors also looked to the past, weighing in on their biggest successes and failures while in office.
Bloomberg pointed to his inability to pass congestion pricing as "far and away" his biggest failure.
His top successes, he said were improvements to the school system that he claims have made it “better than it ever was,” increasing the city's city’s life expectancy by more than a year and also diversifying the city’s economy beyond finance.
Koch said that one of the things he's most proud of were his efforts helping the city cope with the 1980 transit strike, when he said he personally visited city bridges every morning and evening to encourage people to march.
“Walk over the bridge! Walk over the bridge! We’re not going to let these bastards take us to our knees,” he said, crediting the action for helping to break the strike.
His biggest disappointment, he said, was the the way he went about closing Harlem's Sydenham Hospital, which sparked outraged in the community because of its history as the first place to admit black doctors.
“I didn’t understand at the time,” he said.
Dinkins, meanwhile, pointed to smaller successes, saying he was most proud of keeping libraries open six days a week in the face of a meager budget, having Nelson Mandela visit the city, pushing through Safe Streets, Safe City, and retaining the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, Queens, which he said generates more revenue than the city than the Rangers, Knicks and Yankees combined.
His biggest disappointment?
“The all-time biggie, of course, was Crown Heights,” he said, adding that he was especially hurt by accusations that he and police permitted blacks to attack Jews.
“That’s kind of painful,” he said.