By Ellen Wulfhorst
Love him or hate him, one thing is for sure: New Yorkers will not forget outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg anytime soon.
As the independent billionaire politician bids farewell to City Hall by touting his accomplishments during 12 years in office, academics, urban planning experts and political pundits say the mark he made on New York is indelible and strong.
While Bloomberg’s final term was marred by a failed attempt to outlaw large sugary drinks and the furor over stop-and-frisk policing, he stands as one of the most successful mayors in New York history, they contend.
The former Wall Street executive and founder of a media company that bears his name leaves a city with lower crime rates, more parks, and new urban landmarks such as the Barclays Center, an indoor arena built over a Brooklyn train yard.
“This will go down as, without question, one of the most influential and successful mayoralties in the history of the city,” said David Birdsell, dean of the School of Public Affairs at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.
Bloomberg – a longtime Democrat who became a Republican in 2001 to get on the ballot, and later dropped his party affiliation – ranked No. 2 on a list of the greatest New York mayors published recently by City & State, a website that covers government and politics.
If a tie were permitted, he would have tied with top-ranking Fiorello LaGuardia, said Birdsell who helped compile the City & State list. LaGuardia, so legendary that not just an airport but a Broadway musical took his name, governed the city during the Great Depression and World War II.
“Rarely are individuals in any field recognized among the greats of history during their own lifetimes, so the fact that our panel ranked Michael Bloomberg nearly at the top of this list while he is still in office is striking,” City & State wrote.
Experts can tick off a long list of accomplishments. The 10-year-old anti-smoking campaign is credited with some 10,000 fewer deaths and served as a blueprint for other cities; more than 850 acres of land was added to city parks; and the decade-old 311 call center has grown to handle millions of non-emergency requests each year.