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Shrinking Mike

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While there’s ongoing disdain between rank-and-file cops and firefighters, the supposed power struggle between the PD and the FD is now over—and the police won. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is an unparalleled bureaucratic infighter, and he’s been victorious in nearly every battle with the FDNY over funding and operational primacy, a fact that’s reflected in Bloomberg’s emergency-response plan. During the first afternoon of hearings, when the commissioners were directing nearly every question at Kelly, and Kelly was laboring to make deferential references to Bloomberg, it was easy to forget who was actually mayor.

The next day, Bloomberg tried hard to remind everyone he’s in charge (a dance he’ll have to repeat in August, when the Republican convention arrives and Kelly’s profile rises again). When Giuliani left the hearing, so did the tension in the room; many seats emptied. Bloomberg sometimes sounded like the head of the Chamber of Commerce—“Our status as the world’s financial capital, driven not only by Wall Street but our international prominence in such fields as broadcasting, the arts, entertainment, and medicine . . . ”—and he repeatedly fumbled words as he read his statement. But the mayor showed that he is slowly learning the dark arts of politicking. After reluctantly agreeing to testify again (he’d appeared before the commission in March 2003), Bloomberg used the spotlight craftily. By beating up on Congress over the lack of counterterrorism money for the city—“pork-barrel politics at its worst”—Bloomberg grabbed some media space.

Not nearly as much as Rudy, of course. Bloomberg spoke to the commission for just twenty minutes, and wasn’t questioned. “They had a tight schedule with Tom Ridge appearing next,” Bloomberg said afterward. This seemed disingenuous: Surely Bloomberg didn’t mind avoiding a public quiz over the new emergency protocol. But Bloomberg could have used the nationally televised forum to explain how, unlike Giuliani’s, his administration is methodically improving the Fire Department’s radios, and how his emergency command centers (there are now two) won’t be located in obvious terrorist bull’s-eyes. Bloomberg, however, is unwilling to draw the kind of sharp contrast that would score him these points: He owes Giuliani, eternally, for his election in 2001, and Bloomberg, like the commission, seems to feel compelled to leave Rudy the Hero untarnished.

Bloomberg could also have used a Q&A session to defend his emergency chain-of-command policy, which had been attacked mercilessly the day before. The plan, hammered out by new OEM chief Joe Bruno, doesn’t specify who’s in charge at every conceivable disaster, but the document is an improvement over the Giuliani system—in which the real authority, in all matters, was Rudy. “The police and firefighters know who should do what,” Bloomberg said afterward, standing half in and half out of the rain. “You don’t want the second-, third-, or fourth-removed person making the decisions.” So even though it’s a political problem for Bloomberg to be upstaged by his police commissioner, this is the way the mayor—consistent with his corporate worldview—wants his government to work: Bloomberg allows his subordinates to assume authority over their own areas of expertise, something Giuliani could never do.

“I need to do what’s right for New York City,” Bloomberg said before coming fully out of the rain. “I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.” He will try, of course, in November 2005. And even if he’s cleaned up all his predecessor’s messes by then, Bloomberg is lucky that he won’t be running against Rudy.


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