ROOSEVELT ISLAND — Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of his predecessor Michael Bloomberg's administration on everything from crime strategies to affordable housing.
But de Blasio had nothing but praise for Bloomberg as they stood together at the groundbreaking for Cornell University's tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
“I want to give Michael Bloomberg a true compliment because he doesn’t usually do things halfway," de Blasio said. "He believed in this vision, this possibility for New York City and largely due to his will and his sense of vision we are here today.”
Bloomberg donated $100 million to the project in honor of his two daughters. The news began slipping out Monday evening.
De Blasio said he found out about it right before it happened.
“That was….something they kept close to the vest, and I don’t blame them,” de Blasio said at a press conference after the event. “And we found out in the last 24 hours, and I am thrilled by it.”
The two men have never had a close relationship.
It was de Blasio’s criticism of Bloomberg’s use of stop-and-frisk and the characterization of Bloomberg’s New York as a “Tale of Two Cities,” that catapulted de Blasio into office. The former mayor's tenure and policies were also soundly criticized in his presence during de Blasio's inauguration in January 2014.
"Bloomberg is very proud of his accomplishments as mayor and [de Blasio's] campaign mangled him," said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, who described the relationship between the two men as "chilly."
"I'm certain Cornell and Bloomberg knew about the donation for more than 24 hours because you don't do $100 million donations overnight," added Sherrill. "It isn't easy for either one to conceal his distaste for the other."
Still Bloomberg has declined to bluntly criticize his successor. But some of the former mayor’s allies have publicly defended his legacy on policing and development from criticism by the de Blasio administration.
When de Blasio criticized Bloomberg on workforce development, saying the former mayor did it wrong, Bloomberg's spokesperson said the former mayor had created the department de Blasio was using to enact his plans.
That distance between the two showed during the groundbreaking. During a photo-op near the construction site, de Blasio and Bloomberg walked up a straw path to the event with a group but de Blasio remained near the front while Bloomberg was in the rear of the pack.
Once there, Bloomberg played the background as de Blasio asked questions about the project in front of two giant renderings as photographers snapped away.
The two mayors were later moved together by their staffs for a picture where de Blasio towered over a cross-armed Bloomberg.
City Hall staff pointed out that de Blasio and Bloomberg shared a stage at least twice last year, both times at 9/11-related events.
De Blasio said he had a chance to chat with Bloomberg before the event.
‘We talked a lot about this project, and what it is going to mean for the city,” de Blasio said.
He described his relationship with Bloomberg as casual at best.
“You know, as we’ve seen each other at different events, you know, we chat, we catch up. And again, I appreciate his commitment to this city,” said de Blasio.
Asked if there relationship would ever improve, de Blasio said he looked forward to working on with Bloomberg "on things where we have common beliefs."
Bloomberg also praised De Blasio during brief comments at the groundbreaking. Bloomberg thanked de Blasio for his "kind words" and for becoming a strong supporter of the Cornell Tech campus that's scheduled to open in 2017.
“They’re going to need a lot of support from you and your successors down the road," Bloomberg said. "We’re all in this together and we should all take great pride in what we've accomplished."