First Published in the Riverdale Review, November 6, 2008
By Andrew Wolf
Residents of a certain age may remember the administration of the late Mayor Abraham D. Beame. Abe Beame was an accountant, who worked as Budget Director under Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., before being tapped to run for Comptroller as Wagner’s running mate during his last term.
In 1965, Beame won a hard fought primary battle and won the nomination to become the Democratic candidate for mayor against Republican John V. Lindsay. He lost.
Four years later, Beame re-entered public life, running for Comptroller during Mayor Lindsay’s second term. When Lindsay declined to run for re-election in 1973, Beame again tried for the city’s top job, and, finally, was successful.
Abe Beame’s slogan was simple. “He Knows the Buck,” a reference to his skills as an accountant and the city’s top financial watchdog.
The trouble was that the affable Mr. Beame, much liked and respected, didn’t really know the buck. The truth is that during Lindsay’s final term, Beame watched silently as the mayor spent the city into oblivion. Once Mr. Beame took over, it was business as usual. Budgets were balanced through fiscal gimmicks and irresponsible borrowing. The result was the city’s financial crisis that brought us to the brink of bankruptcy.
Once the dust cleared, New York had many bitter pills to swallow. Enormous cutbacks and layoffs crippled the schools for a generation. All sorts of services were cut back on as the number of city employees plummeted. At the same time control of the city’s finances was surrendered to an “Emergency Financial Control Board” for a generation. Tax increases were imposed, resulting in more pain, and plunging the city into a desperate crisis of rising crime, housing abandonment, and the exodus of much of the city’s middle class.
Today we have a mayor who, similar to Mr. Beame, tells us of his legendary management and financial skills. This is the deceptive excuse Mr. Bloomberg used to convince the editorial boards and other opinion shapers to back his democracy-busting initiative to abandon the term limits overwhelmingly approved by City voters in two referenda.
We are told that only Mr. Bloomberg has the knowledge and expertise to lead us through these difficult times. He knows the buck, after all.
But evidence suggests that he doesn’t. New York is in much worse shape, we believe, because Mr. Bloomberg’s skills as a manager have been greatly exaggerated. In many ways he is today’s slicker, richer Abe Beame, but just as inept.
I note that the mayor voted, as a trustee of the city’s pension funds, just this past September to increase the fund’s investments in risky Hedge Funds. Shouldn’t he have been sounding the alarm over the impending global financial crisis? Truth is, that for all his money and influence, he was clueless about the further risks he was exposing current and former city employees to, when he okayed this risky investment of their hard-earned money.
The fact is that during the past seven “fat” years, Mr, Bloomberg, like Mayor Beame before him, has engaged in an unrestrained orgy of spending that has left us extraordinarily vulnerable to inevitable budget cuts, layoffs and new and higher taxes.
And as for management, let’s just look at our schools. Mayor Bloomberg has increased expenditures for education by 79%, over eight billion dollars a year, despite a decrease of 60,000 students. What have we gotten for this? Scores on national tests over the past six years have been flat. No progress. S.A.T. scores have actually declined.
Now teacher salaries have increased by an average of 42%, certainly a good thing. But what of the remaining 37% of the huge increase in education spending? Down a black hole of poor management by the administration of King Michael I, his imperial majesty.
Trouble is the King Mike may have the bucks, but he doesn’t know them any better than the hapless Abe Beame.