Tag Archives: Michael Bloomberg

What I Want My Mayor To Be

Well that was fun.  My column this morning on the Mayor missing the first day of the Big City Mayor’s Conference got a lot of feedback.  When I say feedback, what I am really saying is that most people hope I move out of the city soon.

One friend asked me that if I was Atch’s chief of staff, what would I do to make him a better mayor in 2016.  I really don’t have a problem with Atch personally and I think some things can’t change but here would be my list for what I think any mayor should do.

  1. Represent us on the national stage well.  That means showing up for things like the Big City Mayor’s Caucus when the federal government changes.
  2. Engage the population well.  Nenshi, Tory, Ivison, and a lot of other mayors use Twitter to not only communicate but listen to citizens.   He needs a website.  My preference would be that we did mayor.saskatoon.ca but even mayorofsaskatoon.ca would work as his platform for which to inform the public.  A couple of years ago I visited Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral website.  I was blown away but the design and the content.  I could find essential services information, New York City research, and all of his initiatives.  Really, how much does that cost?  It’s all being prepared anyways, so why not make it available to the citizens.  Using social media, you can not only talk to people but listen and make them feel heard and connection to their mayor.  Some do it better than others but there are people who have ideas, problems, and issues with the city.  Give them a voice and help them be heard.
  3. Be transparent: That debate over Atch posting his schedule online (which he did exactly once) was insane.  All he has to do is post the special interests he meets with.   Nenshi does this on this website.  It lists community groups, consular visitors, business leaders, and the occasional celebrity.  It doesn’t give away secret negotiations (which the Mayor doesn’t often do, city managers do) or even his lunch plans.  It does let Calgarians know what their mayor is up to and what people are shaping his decisions.  Why can’t Saskatoon’s mayor do the same thing?  Why can’t the Mayor of Saskatoon have the same disclosure as councilors do over travel and other expenses? 
  4. Acknowledge all of the data that is out there instead of going, “Saskatoon is different”.  This isn’t just about complete streets, density, homelessness, suburban sprawl, bike lanes, or policing.  It is all of them.  Other cities have fought our battles, been confronted by our problems (and found solutions) and many have researched the results.  Yet that kind of thinking if rarely shown in Saskatoon.  It is the kind of thinking that should come from a Mayor’s chair.  They are the one that is there full time, has a staff, and sets the tone.  Can you imagine a data driven City Hall adopting best practices from across the continent?  No I can’t either.  Is it too late to recruit Michael Bloomberg into Saskatoon?
  5. Be able to articulate where you want the city to go and become.  I am not just saying “1 million people” but do you want it to be a car driven city that is all about freeways or a city based around public transit and alternative forms of transportation?  You can’t be for everything, have a vision and drive it.  Let the people decide what they want, if it isn’t that vision, well that is the cost of leadership.
  6. Be financially responsible but understand the need for good investments that will save the city money down the line.
  7. Hire the best managers in the country.  Get managers who will push council as much as they will be directed by them.  Calgary’s manager calling for investment in the city was great.  Jen Keesmat calling out John Tory’s plan for the Gardiner Expressway is how cities are supposed to work.  Strong leaders bring conflict but they also bring out great ideas because they are all working on making Saskatoon a world class city.  I loved to see Mike Gutek battle with City Council, not because I liked to watch the fireworks but because I honestly felt that we were making progress as a city during those questions and answers.  Hard questions were asked and hard answers were given back.  That is often where progress is made.   On the flip side, the transit debacle showed that competence is hard to come by in our own City Council and administration when they locked out the ATU once illegally and then tried to do it again.   If you are going to lock out the transit drivers and make your own citizens going through hardships, at least do it correctly.  Maybe it is time to look outside the city for top talent.
  8. Speak bluntly about the city’s issues.  I miss Ralph Klein but we all know what Calgary was going through when I lived there.  The same thing with Nenshi today.  We are going to face some challenges ahead and some of them are because of the federal and provincial governments.  Others are going to be from the business and non-profit communities.  Call a spade a spade.  The Mayor doesn’t need to be everyone’s best friend, they need to be the leader of the city with our interests at heart.
  9. Go the galas but attend the community barbecues as well.  There are a lot of people in this city that will never be able to afford a Mayor’s Cultural Gala or Swinging with the Stars but things like a community barbecue mean a lot to them.  Be at the events on both sides of the river and for all economic classes.  There is more to the westside then the Farmer’s Market.

I don’t know if anyone running has those traits but the more they do, the better off the city will be.

When One Has No Policies…

All you have is image

His body is his temple: no pollutants shall enter. When the Trudeau family wants some kicks, they all crowd into a canoe and go floating down the nearest river (where photographers just happen to pop up to record the occasion). Between family outings he installs dimmer switches in their typically suburban home, wearing his typical weekend garb of T-shirt and cargo shorts, (carefully recording it on Twitter, if a video crew doesn’t happen by.)

Raising the question: is this guy really one of us? He has no vices. He never enters the sort of places most average Canadians hang out. If he was somehow forced to visit a Timmies, he’d order a dry multigrain bagel and a small green tea. Remember when Stephane Dion was accused of eating a hot dog with a knife and fork? He never did connect with voters.

Seriously, the core of the emerging Liberal strategy is to position Justin Trudeau as a representative of a younger generation of middle class Canadians, in tune with their needs, concerns and aspirations. But, four months into his leadership, he seems about as middle class as Michael Bloomberg. He’s the millionaire son of a famous Canadian, who grew up with a trust fund and earned $277,000 in four years just giving speeches. He’s been in the public eye since birth. His wife is a model and TV host. You couldn’t sit down with him to discuss the issues over a beer or a coffee. Does he really understand what it is to deal with student debt, a hefty mortgage, maxed-out credit cards, an obnoxious boss or the simple, excruciating struggle to find a job?

Of course Bloomberg became a pretty good mayor of New York City and the same could be said about Trudeau’s father who ran on the idea of a just society.

Even Michael Bloomberg thinks Saskatoon is doing it wrong

As Richard Florida points out

As Michael Bloomberg recently wrote in the Financial Times, great urban centres, like New York, London and Toronto, can’t outpace the rapidly growing cities of Asia or Latin America simply by offering lower costs, tax breaks or other subsidies. “For cities to have sustained success, they must compete for the grand prize: intellectual capital and talent,” he said. “I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities.”

Florida also asks the bigger question of why the best and brightest are not thinking about running in municipal politics in some cities.

A while back, at a dinner party, a friend who occupies a vaunted position in Toronto’s entertainment industry asked me: why is it that Toronto can’t attract the best and brightest to local office? World-class global cities face thorny problems that require top-flight leadership. In Boris Johnson, London has a media-savvy, Oxford-educated conservative mayor who cares deeply about the quality and diversity of his city. Rahm Emanuel in Chicago is an immensely experienced, extraordinarily capable former U.S. congressman and chief of staff to Barack Obama who is governing effectively from the left of the political spectrum. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman, is a pragmatic moderate who calls on the best minds from all sectors and strata. Even Newark, the city of my birth, one of the most economically disadvantaged cities in America, now has the dynamic Cory Booker, a Stanford grad and Rhodes scholar with a law degree from Yale University, as its mayor. Here in Canada, Vancouver has Gregor Robertson, a former organic farmer and businessman who’s delivering on a green agenda and actively addressing homelessness, public health and affordable housing. And Calgary—to which Torontonians love to feel superior—has in Mayor Naheed Nenshi a young, Harvard-educated Muslim who’s intent on reforming council and growing his prosperous city in a fair and sustainable way.

While other cities are attracting effective mayors from across the political spectrum, our mayor has become a symbol of Toronto’s plight. Yet that plight is not of his making. Municipal governments across Canada have limited powers. Times are lean, which leads to shrill debate about how best to achieve these goals. Battles about bike lanes and library hours and plastic bags fill the daily media, but they distract us from the reality that the city’s future is being shaped by global forces we ignore at our peril.

Of course he ignores, that many did run but could not beat Ford but he does get around to the answer.

To start, Toronto requires the rudimentary governance tools needed to chart its future course. It makes little sense that this nation’s largest city can’t govern itself and plan its future. The mayors of U.S. cities have considerably more power, which is one reason the Bloombergs and Emanuels are attracted to the job. The political theorist Benjamin Barber has charted the highly innovative, pragmatic solutions on everything from fighting crime and improving schools to economic growth and climate change developed by this new breed of mayoral talent, and argues that much of economic and social life would be better “if mayors ruled the world.” Canada’s mayors cannot even rule their own cities.

Over the years, the federal government and provinces have downloaded many costs and obligations to the cities, but little authority. As the philanthropist and Maytree Foundation chair Alan Broadbent has pointed out, Canada’s cities essentially “rely on the kindness of strangers,” notably the provincial and federal governments. This, he suggests, leaves cities with essentially no control over their destinies. Canada’s cities need to become more like provinces—with real power and real revenue to solve their problems and build their economies.

Toronto has a wealth of city builders and city-building organizations. What it needs is more effective leadership vehicles that can braid their myriad efforts together as a real force for change. Richard Daley Jr., the Democratic mayor who spearheaded Chicago’s global rise for more than two decades, told me recently that the key to much of the success he had was progressive business leadership. In Chicago, that type of leadership goes back more than a century. The 1909 Burnham Plan, which envisioned a revitalized city centre, was supported by the Commercial Club of Chicago, a group of businessmen who responded to the need to make improvements to their fast-growing city. Today, a group of private sector leaders called World Business Chicago, whose mission is to build a “global economic powerhouse,” is focused on attracting new corporations to the city.

He also talks about the need for regional planning

One illustrative example comes from Silicon Valley. Not too long ago, this area south of San Francisco had little long-term strategy or vision, just a welter of competitive entrepreneurs intent on developing the next big thing. After the recession in the early 1990s, the entrepreneurs came together to form an organization called Joint Venture: Silicon Valley. As its name implies, it was formed as an inclusive network of business, political, labour and civic leaders, and organizations from multiple cities and jurisdictions—a stark contrast to the top-down organizations and old boys’ clubs found in older cities. It based its deliberation on data-driven analyses of the local economy, measuring variables that shape the region’s prosperity. Armed with such facts, and backed by many of the major institutions and players in Silicon Valley, Joint Venture became a highly effective agent of change, identifying key issues the region faced, and bringing state and federal attention to problems and opportunities it identified. It focuses on issues like unaffordable housing, transit, growing inequality and a burgeoning class divide. Sound familiar?

Toronto needs to act in harmony as one region, not a city versus its suburbs. Joint economic development would enable municipalities to grow together. It makes no sense for separate towns to compete for businesses that are going to locate in a shared region. Daley organized the mayors of greater Chicago’s municipalities and would actively help them land new business prospects rather than compete against them. By working together as a single region, we can stretch our boundaries, leveraging the broader capabilities that can enable greater Toronto to compete with much larger cities around the world.

There is a path to greater prosperity in Saskatoon but we just don’t want to take it.  Instead we hang on the mantra of lower and lower spending and taxes.  We are the Walmart of North American cities.

New York City Report Shows a Growing Number Are Near Poverty

Interesting report in the New York Times

The rise in New York City’s poverty rate as a result of the recession has apparently eased, but not before pushing nearly half of the city’s population into the ranks of the poor or near-poor in 2011, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg administration.

That year, according to the city’s measure, about 46 percent of New Yorkers were making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold, a benchmark used to describe people who are not officially poor but who still struggle to get by. That represents a rise of more than three percentage points since 2009, when the nation’s recession officially ended.

By the city’s definition, a family with two adults and two children could earn $46,416 a year and still fall within 150 percent of the city’s poverty level. Unlike the official but rigid federal poverty level, the city’s measure balances the added value of tax credits, food stamps, rent subsidies and other benefits against expenses like health and day care, housing and commuting that reflect New York’s higher living costs. The city says a two-adult, two-child family is poor if it earns less than $30,949 a year. The federal government sets the level at $22,811.

Those are really low numbers considering the crazy cost of living in New York City.  Then when you consider that about 46% of it’s population is living close to those numbers…. wow.  What’s really interesting is that it is in the best political interests of the city to avoid talking about these numbers but here is the Bloomberg administration not only being open about it but it was them who dug up the numbers in the first place.  I would love to see leadership like this out of more governments, including those closer to home.

Homelessness under Michael Bloomberg

After a bout with depression, author Steven Boone finds himself homeless in New York City

Three months later, the last of my small savings ran out, and I went to my landlady in Castle Hill to tell her that I would be leaving at the end of the week, so that she could get a new room renter lined up right away. She asked where I was going. I lied, and told her I would stay with family until I got back on my feet. On Friday, I went to 30th Street Intake Shelter (better known as the Bellevue homeless shelter) for the first time and got assigned to Ready Willing and Able shelter in Brooklyn.

The next morning, I met my father to load his van up with my belongings and store them in an uncle’s garage. He asked me where I was going. I lied again.

This man was 72 years old, living in a small apartment with his wife and supplementing his fixed income by working in a high school cafeteria. All my life, he’d worked seven days a week—six for the U.S. Postal Service, and Sundays cleaning up at a beauty school. (Growing up, I used to be his assistant at the school, paid in movie money and donuts.)

Decades later, I hadn’t managed to do anything to ease his burden. All my adult life in New York, working simply meant paying the rent and keeping the lights on. So, to the extent that I was committed to living, I was committed to making the next transaction between us be a check for some outrageous sum of money, from me to him. If I told him as much, I knew what he would say: “Sport, I never cared that you kids would become king of the hill or any kind of bigshot, so long as I raised y’all to be good people in this world. That’s all I ever wanted, and I got what I wanted.” And in fact that’s how he put it a couple years later, during one of our annual shy, stare-at-the-floor heart-to-hearts.

I spent the weekend at Ready Willing and Able, a private shelter run by the DOE Fund that offers job training in immaculate facilities. Lunch and dinner are served on bleach-white ceramic plates with heavy, sparkling silverware. The food is fresh and diner quality. By Monday it was time to leave.

A housing liaison gathered all the newcomers in a room to give us the rundown. We had four options: join Ready Willing and Able’s program, which prepared men to become street sweepers and janitors; sign up for a Bloomberg administration program which presents participants with a one-way ticket out of town, so long as the applicants could provide a contact person in the destination city who would agree to host them; enter the city’s shelter system, which the liaison accurately portrayed as a horror show, with gang-and-drug-infested death traps like Wards Island (Said one of my brethren, “Yo, I was at Wards Island one night, woke up and a dude was laying there dead, all cut the fuck up.”); or hop in the van with him to tour Brooklyn’s three-quarter sober houses, which were private residences that sounded a lot more promising than a shelter.

It was a tough ride

Mayor Bloomberg has been tinkering with New York City’s homeless problem since his first days in office nine years ago. No matter what his administration tries, it seems, the homeless population in New York just keeps rising. But there are certain basic realities that make homelessness in New York so intractable: The rent is too high, and wages are too low. Just the other day here at Bowery Mission Transitional Center, a job counselor I was talking to made it plain: “The reality? A living wage in New York is $13 an hour and above. It’s not $8 an hour. A living wage is in the $26K-a-year-and- up bracket, so you can pay rent and at least have a little something left over to save or spend.”

Yet, last year, when I attended the mandatory Back to Work “job readiness” program administered by Goodwill, an HRA (Human Resources Administration) client, counselors pushed participants to jump on the first $7.75-an-hour job that came down the pike. Just get to work right away, save, and rent a room somewhere, as quickly as possible, they said.

The thing is, you can rent a room in Harlem for $150 a week. And, at near-minimum wage, your life will become devoted to keeping that room. If after a few weeks, you don’t find a job through one of the city’s “job readiness” contractors like Goodwill or Workforce 1, you must then report to a Work Experience Program assignment.

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