potent quotables

Bigmouth Strikes Again: Michael Bloomberg’s Greatest Radio Hits

Photo: Linsey Fields,Patrick Semansky/? Copyright 2013 Corbis

For most of his three terms as New York City’s mayor, beginning more than a decade ago in February 2002, Michael Bloomberg and his big mouth have had a standing date on Friday mornings. In his weekly radio appearance on “The John Gambling Show,” Bloomberg holds forth for an hour with his host about all the city matters on his mind — and sometimes on the minds of listeners — from policing to restaurants to education to those fools in Washington. For a man who is commonly charged with being aloof, it’s very of-the-people.

But it’s also Bloomberg at his most Bloombergian: off-the-cuff, unfiltered, and often cranky. While the broadcasts have fed critics a steady flow of foot-in-mouth moments, the mayor has kept at it, either out of his trademark stubbornness or because the gaffes just don’t register with him at all. Or both: If the man is never wrong, there’s no reason for him to ever stop talking.

And yet, as with his famously prickly press conferences, the opportunities for Bloomberg to brush off or condescend to his public from an official position of authority are winding down. Bill de Blasio’s efforts to succeed him have been as much about a change in that intangible called tone as any concrete policy promises. The new era will almost certainly not be as entertaining, at least not in the old-man-ranting-at-the-dinner-table way.

To some extent, New Yorkers may have enjoyed being lectured, scolded, and told we don’t understand how it really is from a man who has proven to know, generally, what he’s talking about. But the acrimony has also built up over the years, accentuated every time Bloomberg spoke in out-of-touch absolutes — “nobody racially profiles,” “there is no medical [marijuana]” — or refused to acknowledge that some people are suffering and continue to suffer. Like Bloomberg’s New York City and the man himself, his sound bites, showcased in these radio appearances, have been both laughably frustrating and absurdly humorous at the same time. We’ll miss it and we won’t.

On the occasion of his final show before the election of his successor, we’ve gone digging through the proverbial crates for some of Bloomberg’s sweetest signature transmissions over city airwaves.

On cleaning house to start his first term: “‘Thousands of people working for the city, they’re about to be fired so I can make the 20 percent cut, but before they go out the door this afternoon, they’re going to make these notes.” (February 2002)

On education: “If the police damaged our children the way our educational system did, we’d go shoot the police commissioner.” (April 2002)

On ringing cell phones: “‘Nobody ever calls me. I mean, that’s always annoying. I’m the mayor and I never get a call, and there’s somebody always standing in the room with me. They get ten calls. Who calls them? I can’t figure it out.” (2003)

On healthy eating: “Me, I like a big hamburger and fries dipped in mayonnaise. I like some mayo and mustard, and ketchup and pickles and lettuce and tomato on my hamburger.” (2004)

On the Staten Island ferry: “When I first came to New York, my recollection is it was a nickel. And I think if you stayed on the same boat, it would take you back. And it’s a true story. I used to buy a pizza and a six-pack and have a date.” (June 2005)

On immigrants and golfing: “You and I both play golf. Who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course? Nobody wants to deport them, in the end, because people need them to take these jobs and do the things that nobody else is doing.” (April 2006)

On the term billionaire: “Am I thrilled that I started out working in a parking lot and made a lot of money? Yes. It’s annoying to me that people even use it. Listen, I started out, I made it honestly. It’s supposed to be the great American dream, and then they want to tar you with it.” (via NYT)

On killing geese: “There are people who care very much about the geese. But in the end, safety of the public is No. 1. They actually use carbon dioxide, and they just sort of … go to sleep with nice dreams.” (June 2009)

On big pharma: “You know, the last time I checked, pharmaceutical companies don’t make a lot of money, their executives don’t make a lot of money.” (August 2009)

On the old Tavern on the Green: “In those days, the streets weren’t safe and you couldn’t go to most restaurants. Today, the streets are safe and there’s lots of restaurants so you have to appeal to a different genre of food. And this is gonna be very elegant and fit into the park décor and the kind of food that people today who are in the park want.” (September 2009)

On enforcement against cigarette retailers on Indian reservation: “I said to David Paterson, I said, ‘You know, get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there’s ever a great video, it’s you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, ‘Read my lips: The law of the land is this and we’re going to enforce the law.’” (August 2010)

On loud Mister Softee trucks: “[I will] explain the law to Mister Softee.” (June 2010)

On former Health Commissioner Thomas Farley: “Tom Frieden’s with us. Friedman — yes, well, Foley. Friedman was the last guy. Frieden was the last guy. Friedman’s the columnist, and Foley’s the one we have now.” [Editor’s note: It was Thomas Farley. The previous health commissioner was Thomas Frieden. The writer is Thomas Friedman. There is no Foley.] (September 2010)

On Staten Island Chuck, who he’d previously called a “little son of a bitch” after being bitten: “I love groundhogs.” (February 2011)

On wealth: “You know, John, I work for one dollar a year so I really don’t have anything in common with A-Rod.” (November 2011)

On overly sticky parking violations: “I mean, don’t break the law. It’s almost like, you know, you murder your parents and then you say to the judge, ‘But I’m an orphan, you can’t put me in jail.’ Don’t murder your parents, you don’t have, you’re not an orphan, and in this case, don’t break the law you don’t have to worry about it.” (November 2011)

On his soda ban and smoking initiatives: “Just before you die, remember you got three extra years.” (June 2012)

On plumbing vs. Harvard: “The people who are going to have the biggest problem are college graduates who aren’t rocket scientists, if you will, not at the top of their class. Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College – being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal. You don’t spend … four years spending $40,000, $50,000 in tuition without earning income.” (May 2013)

On grammar: “Kids have to learn to speak grammar … If you don’t speak good grammar — English with good grammar — you’re not gonna get the kind of jobs that you want.” (June 2013)

On how many men of color are stopped and frisked: “It’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the [crime]. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying. I don’t know where they went to school, but they certainly didn’t take a math course. Or a logic course.” (June 2013)

On racial profiling: “Nobody racially profiles.” (June 2013)

On medical marijuana: “There is no medical. This is one of the great hoaxes of all time.” (June 2013)

On worth ethic: “I always tried to be the first one in in the morning and the last one to leave at night, take the fewest vacations and the least time away from the desk to go to the bathroom or have lunch.” (August 2013)

Michael Bloomberg’s Greatest Radio Hits