Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg's New York Legacy

Mayor Bloomberg's main accomplishment after six years in office has been to create 311, a one-stop phone service that consolidates all the government's resources into one place. It's been amazingly successful. I mean, before it existed, you had to call a Park Avenue plastic surgeon to be so completely ignored.

Somebody chained a bicycle to a "No Parking" sign outside my apartment, and after its basket became a makeshift trash can I called 311. My call was bounced around to three different departments before it ended up with the local police. "We can't do anything," the officer said. "Somebody owns that bike, and they might come back for it."

"It's been there four months," I replied. "Hasn't moved. Doesn't have any wheels."

He thought for a second. "Maybe whoever owns it went to buy some."

Across the street from my apartment is the ugliest condo building within eighty miles. Right smack in the middle of a cute Italian neighborhood, all fanciful bricks and wrought iron fences, sits a mammoth cement monstrosity that's twice the size of any other building on the block.

Seems odd. An anomaly. There are really strict rules architects have to follow to design a building in New York.

The catch is, they get to decide if they're following the rules or not.

Robert Scarano is the culprit for my local monstrosity, and apparently he's not the best judge of what's legal and what's not. He evidently claims the second floors that make his condos so huge are really "lofts." Second floors aren't allowed. "Lofts," though, are totally cool. And they pull in almost double what a legal, one-floor condo will get.

Every developer in the city ran to Mr. Scarano for more questionable blueprints, making him one of the most popular architects around. He's brilliant! the developers squealed. He'll design things nobody with a smidgen of scruples would draw!

Of course, there was an outcry. There goes the neighborhood, everybody said, as his monstrosities popped up like mushrooms. And finally the government acted: six years after his first questionable building went up, they've given Mr. Scarano a warning, and they're thinking about changing the law so architects can't approve their own plans.

Well, that'll sure take care of that.

The subway here is the worst in the world, and in today's New York Times we get a clue as to why. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is controlled by a dozen or so billionaires with numerals after their names who were appointed to their posts by the Governor. Everyone claimed these people served out of sheer altruism until the New York Daily News revealed that they're given little "gifts" for serving on the board. Like lifetime travel passes for themselves, their spouses, and even their girlfriends on every form on transportation that exists.

Naturally the MTA took exception. That's just a cheap little bonus! they claimed. Like giving a gift bag to Academy Award presenters. These kind-hearted billionaires would serve on the board for nothing, so what's a little token gift? When the scandal refused to go away, though, they swore they'd put an end to the practice . . . until one by one the billionaires stepped up and said, Are you crazy? We wouldn't serve on the board without our little gifts.

"[We board members are] invaluable," [Vice Chairman David S.] Mack said, speaking to reporters. . . . "If you saw something [on the streets, or on the subway] and called it in, it goes right there," he added, as he put his foot on top of a wastebasket. "When the normal public calls it in, you know what happens with the bureaucracy, they don't get the response that a board member would get."

Which confirms what we all suspected. The city acts immediately when billionaires talk. The "normal public"? Mayor Bloomberg has created a wall we can talk to, and it's called 311.

In his defense, I guess we should have seen in advance exactly what we'd get with Mr. Bloomberg. Because if you let a billionaire run a city, he's going to turn it into a city for billionaires.

1 comment:

Coach said...

Fr. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University in the Bronx is a member of the MTA Commission ( While not technically a billionaire, he is a little toady of a man who loves the perks of office. He can now add a free lifetime Metrocard to that growing list. I wonder if he's ever even taken the subway. Not a bad gig for someone who is supposed to take a vow of poverty in exchange for that collar he wears.