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The Mayor and His Money

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Bloomberg was fired by Salomon in 1981 after losing an internal power struggle, but got handed $10 million on his way out the door. He used $4 million of it to launch a computerized financial-information company that became Bloomberg L.P. In 1994, with the company a phenomenal success, Bloomberg hired Patti Harris to organize and expand his largesse, focusing on education, public health, and the arts. Some money was directed to people and organizations with social connections to Bloomberg, like the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research, whose fund-raising was spearheaded by his neighbor Lauren Veronis. Other Bloomberg gifts have gone to causes traceable to his upbringing and heritage. “Being charitable is an important part of Jewish identity,” says Joan Rosenbaum, director of the Jewish Museum. “And Michael has been an extraordinarily generous supporter of the museum since 1988.”

Besides prolific contributions, Bloomberg used another tool to become a force in philanthropic and social circles. In 1986, he bought a $3.5 million, five-story townhouse on East 79th Street and hired interior designer Jamie Drake, who fitted it out with velvet-covered chairs, billowing draperies, French Savonnerie carpets, and landscape paintings in ornate frames. He hosted frequent dinner parties there, which were often pretentious in their unpretentiousness: Bloomberg made a point of serving fried chicken and coleslaw. He created an eclectic salon where Beverly Sills might be seated next to a cancer specialist. Typically, he’d make a few remarks to loosen up the room, then work his way around the table quizzing the guests on current events and their work. “He has a very quirky sense of humor, and he’s very flirtatious,” Sills says. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, chubby, skinny. If you’re female, he can get your attention.”

Out of Bloomberg’s social activities, he began to construct his political being. Meanwhile, he was growing bored with his work at the company. “I knew he wanted to do something with his life besides making money,” says his friend Barbara Walters. “This was not a man who used his money because he was going to take us all out on a yacht.”

Bloomberg has given well over $150 million to Johns Hopkins, his alma mater, with much of it directed to the school of public health—which in April 2001 was renamed the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Alfred Sommer, the dean, remembers long dinners with Bloomberg, debating the mogul’s next move. According to Sommer, “He said, ‘The company is going to be a going concern whether I’m here or not, and I need another challenge, and it’s not building another company. I don’t need any more money. Where can I make a difference?’ ”

Paul Schervish, a professor at Boston College, doesn’t know Bloomberg directly. But he’s studied him in great detail. Schervish is an expert on the psychology of the wealthy. “Bloomberg is an entrepreneur, and for many of them, it’s a difficult thing to view yourself as lazy or profligate,” Schervish says. “Money, to many entrepreneurs, is a statement of their moral rectitude. Bloomberg had conquered the business world, but he still had in his soul this command to use his talents and his will in another arena. And entrepreneurs are looking for a place where there is more demand than supply. In his case, more demand for a good mayor than there is supply.”

As mayor, Bloomberg hasn’t wheeled out the tired cliché about “running government like a business.” He’s simply incorporated a lifetime of business-world friends, contacts, and beliefs into the choices he makes for the city. He’s not interested in using his position to enrich his friends, or himself. What unites Bloomberg and his inner circle is their view of the city as a product to be marketed.

Bloomberg first met Dan Doctoroff in the late nineties, when Doctoroff was soliciting contributions for his New York Olympics committee. In 2001, Bloomberg recruited the former investment banker to be deputy mayor for economic development. “Before I took the job, we agreed that we had to look at the city the way you would look at the problem in the private sector,” Doctoroff says. “So within the first few weeks, we were able to get McKinsey to agree to help us do a huge pro bono study of New York’s competitive position. In many ways, the work that resulted from that formed the strategic plan that we’ve been pursuing for the last four years,” Doctoroff says. As a result, Bloomberg has pushed to exploit New York’s edge as a tourist destination—a major rationale for luring the 2004 Republican convention and the 2012 Olympics—and as a potential center for biotech firms, leading to the recent announcement of a city-backed bioscience campus near Bellevue. Since he and Doctoroff saw affordable housing as the city’s greatest immediate need, Bloomberg has promised 167,000 new units.


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