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Bloomberg, Michael

The mayor’s tough, crucial attitude: Get over it.

Though 9/11 made Michael Bloomberg mayor, he’s sometimes seemed insensitive about its aftereffects on others—he once memorably said he wanted to tell widows they needed to “suck it up” and move on. What came across as cold-blooded bluster had an idea behind it, however, one that’s been of surprising importance in coming to grips with the tragedy: The past is past, but we can do something about the future. “What I say to parents at memorial services is ‘You can’t do anything about Johnny. The priest says he’s in a better place. Okay, you believe that, you believe that,’ ” Bloomberg said inside City Hall this past August 15. “ ‘But you can build a better world for him. So start a memorial fund, or just have a good life. And make sure his kids don’t grieve.’ ”

That attitude has been most conspicuous in the mayor’s dealings with the memorial. He wanted schools and apartments at the site instead of a “cemetery.” The irony is that in ten years, he’s gone from being the most prominent critic of a grand memorial to the central player in finally getting the $700 million memorial and museum built. State politics kept the mayor largely on the sidelines until 2006, when cost estimates for the memorial soared to nearly $1 billion and fund-raising efforts stalled. Bloomberg stepped in, streamlined the decision-making, and pulled in more than $400 million, $15 million of which came out of his own pocket. “There was overwhelming sentiment for building something enormous, and I think we got it down to a more practical level,” he said. Resolving the memorial’s problems also gave him political leverage to shape the larger rebuilding plan and revitalize lower Manhattan. “My responsibility is to try to promote development for the whole city. This is business, this is tourism, this is jobs. This is taking care of the families.”

Which wasn’t how it felt to many of the families, particularly when the mayor insisted on having victims’ names listed randomly and unadorned. “Some people wanted titles: ‘Second vice-president for short-dated munis.’ I mean, come on! What’s the difference? They were human beings,” he said. Still, he eventually compromised, agreeing to have names listed according to “meaningful adjacencies” requested by families. Bloomberg may have been motivated by pragmatism instead of emotion, but he’s delivered ground zero’s greatest emotional tribute. Even Monica Iken, one of the fiercest advocates for preserving the whole site as hallowed ground, said she’s satisfied: “Without the mayor, the memorial wouldn’t have happened. I’m grateful to him, and five years ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever say that.”

From the archives
Shrinking Mike (New York Magazine, May 21, 2005)
The City in Bloom(berg) (New York Magazine, April 15, 2002)