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Mayor Gets Jolt of Goodwill for Blackout Response

As New York returns to normal, Bloomberg basks in the glow of praise for his leadership. It is welcome relief after dim poll ratings.

August 18, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg -- wearing a pink shirt, tan pants, an honorary sash and a big smile -- marched down Madison Avenue on Sunday in the city's Indian Independence Day parade.

He had a lot to smile about.

New York had returned to normal, and his visible and calm leadership during the crippling blackout won praise from politicians, pundits and pollsters.

"Clearly, Mayor Bloomberg, in his presence and message, provided reassurance in a crisis, which does him nothing but good," said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion.

The New York Times applauded the mayor in an editorial titled "Mr. Bloomberg's Moment."

"When New York City lost its power, Mayor Michael Bloomberg exercised his," the newspaper said, "leading the city relatively unscarred through a situation rife with potential disaster.

"He did it with a reasoned calm that was commanding, catching, and for those fortunate to have a working television, seemingly omnipresent," the paper said.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a potential rival in the next election, also said the mayor handled the crisis well.

Inevitably, there were comparisons to Bloomberg predecessor Rudolph W. Giuliani's demeanor after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Bloomberg's "cool manner -- often interpreted as uncaring on days when the public yearned for some Giuliani-era combativeness -- struck the right chords while the city was frazzled by the heat and no relief," the newspaper said.

While there are similarities (both mayors had little support in the polls when crisis struck), political analysts pointed to significant differences.

The blackout, while serious, was a limited event unlike the post-Sept. 11 environment, when Giuliani dominated the media for months as he provided hope and leadership for the stricken city.

Giuliani's approval rating soared. He became America's Mayor, and was named Time magazine's person of the year.

"There is little doubt [Bloomberg's] leadership came to the fore," Miringoff said, "and in the short run will be recognized."

What will happen in the long run is uncertain.

Generations of New York mayors have called the job the second-toughest in America (after the presidency), and the description contains a measure of truth.

The day after the power came back on, Bloomberg was in Brooklyn taking part in a march against violence with the family of former City Councilman James E. Davis, who was murdered by a rival last month at City Hall.

Unlike Giuliani, who faced the trauma of Sept. 11 as his term was drawing to a close, Bloomberg doesn't face reelection until 2005.

Miringoff and other analysts noted that major problems, including the economy, remained in New York.

"When the economy is bad, people are in a grumpy mood, and the mayor will be a target for that," Miringoff said.

But for the moment, it was Bloomberg's turn to bask in the glow of good reviews.

It is welcome relief. A Quinnipiac University poll in July showed 31% of voters in the city approved of his job performance.

As he strode down Madison Avenue, Bloomberg posed for pictures with parade participants. He shook hands with cheering spectators.

"Today is just a wonderful occasion for everybody of Indian heritage," the 61-year-old mayor said from a speakers' stand at the parade's finish line. "There are 170,000 people of Indian heritage who live in New York City and come from what people forget is the world's largest democracy.

"And if you go to parts of New York you will find large Indian communities living with communities from every other part of this world," he said to cheers. "That's what's so beautiful about New York: No matter what differences there may be elsewhere, here, we're all New Yorkers."

Then it was on to Queens to attend the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs festival and picnic.

Today, Bloomberg will convene a task force to examine the performance of municipal agencies during the blackout.

"We actually did a great job. There were no major failures in what the city tried to do," Bloomberg said. "But you can always do better, and the next event, the next emergency, is not going to be the same as this one.

"We should not rest on our laurels."

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