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In Conversation: Michael Bloomberg

So if that’s what you describe as income inequality—that’s just not an apt description. One of the things that’s different today is the poor—80 percent [nationally] have air-conditioning. Seventy percent have cars. When we grew up we didn’t have air-conditioning. Air-conditioning in the schools, the subways. Are you crazy? Now, by most of the world’s standards, you ain’t poor. The old measure just looked at your income. It didn’t look at what services you need. I’m not being cavalier about it, but most places in the world our poor are wealthy. There’s a lot of tragedy around the world.

People still say, “Bloomberg is in the tank for Wall Street.”
I’m in the tank for industries in New York City! That’s my job. That’s the way people here eat!

But you have defended the financial industry when it’s done bad things.
Oh, yes, sure. And they have done some bad things. I suppose everybody has, every industry has. But the mortgage crisis was not the exclusive creation of the banks. We all wanted everybody to get a mortgage regardless of whether they could afford it, and that eventually leads to euphoria and exaggeration and to sloppiness and a variety of those things. But Fannie and Freddie were as guilty as everybody. I’m not taking the banks off the hook. But I don’t think that just because you’re a banker you should be vilified.

Do you think Congress has vilified Wall Street?
If you want to come out of a recession, you need banks out there being expansive and making loans. Not “Let’s protect the country so that banks don’t take any risks”! The result of Dodd-Frank is that we are more vulnerable to a handful of banks going belly-up than we were before. Thank you very much! It didn’t accomplish anything, because it wasn’t a well-thought-out piece of legislation. I’m not opposed to legislation. This was just a terrible bill.

Looking at Washington: Is there a way the gridlock ends?
Well, if you go back 235 years, there’ve been plenty of times where we’ve had gridlock, okay? This is nothing new.

But how do we get out of it?
Part of it is the public getting fed up with inaction. Part of it is just who happens to get elected. At some point, the other Republicans—not the real crazy, crazy right—are going to step on the crazy, crazy right and say, “Enough! You may be safe in your district, because we redistricted it to make it just you and your friends, but it’s going to hurt the rest of us.”

In the end, though, it is the job of the chief executive in any organization to bring along the board of directors or the city council or the state legislature or the federal legislature.

So you put it on Obama?
Obama will get it done, or the next guy will. But we’ll come out of this, sure.

Of course, there are people that would argue that some inability to pass legislation is not a bad thing. If you want to be a cynic, you can say, “Wait a second, everybody predicted, including the administration, that the world would come to an end with sequestering.” It did not come to an end with sequestering. The military isn’t leaving this country defenseless. They are spending less money, and that maybe is a good discipline.

A lot of us said, “Oh, they should enact Simpson-Bowles.” Erskine and Alan are friends—Erskine’s a good golfing buddy. But if you read their program, nobody would be in favor of it. It had big cuts, it had revenue raises, it had all the tough stuff. So let’s not get too carried away.

But not only does Boehner not want to pass anything, he wants to repeal laws.
Well, keep in mind, his job is to please his members. It’s like blaming Shelly Silver, which I don’t in a lot of cases—he’s working for his members, not for the public.

I think you analyzed a big part of the problem right there.
Whether you are in favor of Chris Quinn becoming mayor or not, I will tell you this: She did a very good job for seven and a half years of keeping legislation that never should have made it to the floor, that would have been damaging to the city, from ever getting there. And she deserves a lot of the credit for what’s gone on in the city in the last seven and a half years.

I thought the Times was right in their editorials on Lhota and Quinn. I’m very pleased about that.

Then there’s Bill de Blasio, who’s become the Democratic front-runner. He has in some ways been running a class-warfare campaign—
Class-warfare and racist.