For Bloomberg, Race Questions Are New

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Recent high-level appointments by Mayor Bloomberg include (clockwise from top left): Robert K. Steel as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Dr. Dora B. Schriro as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, <a href=Stephen Goldsmith as Deputy Mayor for Operations, John B. Rhea as chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, Salvatore J. Cassano as Fire Commissioner and Seth Diamond to head the City's Department of Homeless Services.” width=”600″ height=”400″>

Photo by: City Hall photos arranged by J. Murphy

Recent high-level appointments by Mayor Bloomberg include (clockwise from top left): Robert K. Steel as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Dr. Dora B. Schriro as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, Stephen Goldsmith as Deputy Mayor for Operations, John B. Rhea as chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, Salvatore J. Cassano as Fire Commissioner and Seth Diamond to head the City's Department of Homeless Services.

In one poll just before the 2005 municipal election, Mayor Bloomberg claimed the support of 58 percent of black New Yorkers. In the aftermath of a 2006 police shooting of an unarmed black man, the mayor bucked tradition and questioned the cops’ actions rather than the victims’. When he launched his 2009 re-election campaign, the mayor’s first endorsement—in a race against a black candidate—came from a black minister.

Criticism this week of a lack of diversity in Mayor Bloomberg’s hiring could represent the first significant controversy involving race in the mayor’s nearly nine years in City Hall—a sharp change from Rudolph Giuliani, who frequently sparred with opponents over issues involving race.

And mayors before Giuliani—whether it was David Dinkins squaring off with white cops, Ed Koch closing Sydenham Hospital in Harlem or John Lindsay wrestling with the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school controversy—also evoked stronger emotions around race than Bloomberg has.

But while this week’s discussion about race and gender in city hiring poses the loudest question to date involving Bloomberg and race, it is not the first.

As City Limits reported last month, the “>we reported on the interplay between the mayor’s inclusive language and deft handling of race in public and the more complex impact of his policies. Supporters pointed to the mayor’s focus on schools and poverty as disproportionately benefitting New Yorkers of color. Critics said police tactics, like intense stop-and-frisk efforts and an emphasis on arrests for low-level marijuana use, hurt minorities more than others.

To date, Bloomberg’s record on race—and the delicacy of the topic itself—have helped extinguish potential controversies.

At one point during the 2009 campaign, for example, while he was stumping for Bloomberg, Giuliani told a crowd: “I worry daily that the city might be turned back to the way it was – to the way it was before 1993 … and you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Critics saw it as a reference to Dinkins, Giuliani’s black predecessor, and a thinly veiled attempt to race-bait. But the campaign of Bloomberg’s challenger, then-Comptroller Bill Thompson, did little to link Bloomberg to the remarks.

At a post-election forum at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs last fall, Thompson’s campaign manager Eduardo Castell, explained that “… to wrap that around Bloomberg, I think was going to be both difficult and could be dangerous in a way that you’re getting into, again, what is then a sort of very racialized sort of issue. … And it could cut both ways, and we knew that. It could cut both ways.”

“Certainly a surge in folks who would have been, African-American voters, let’s say, in particular, would have been helpful,” Castell continued. “But once you press that button, you have to be really, really, really careful.”

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