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12th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 12, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Mayor Bloomberg kicked off his reelection effort in what might be described as “enemy” territory, the depths of the South Bronx. Delivering his annual State of the City talk at Hostos Community College, the mayor threw down the gauntlet in defense of his accomplishments, a clear challenge to the man the polls say is his likeliest opponent, Fernando Ferrer.

Mr. Ferrer was president of the borough for 14 years and is wildly popular among the huge Latino population that calls the Bronx home.That the mayor is serious in his challenge of Mr. Ferrer was driven home in the first minute of the program, as salsa icon Willie Colon introduced Mr. Bloomberg as the “hardest working mayor in America,” and referred to him as “Alcalde” Bloomberg.

Also on stage in the packed auditorium was another former Bronx borough president, Herman Badillo, the first Puerto Rican to hold that post and later the first to sit in Congress.

Mr. Bloomberg’s message didn’t seem much different from that of any of the Democratic candidates.This was clearly a speech designed to strike the right notes in a city dominated by liberal Democrats. The theme of his talk was “Building a City of Opportunity,” and the mayor had much to say that one would not expect from a Republican.

Mr. Bloomberg pledged to eliminate chronic homelessness in five years,build “affordable” housing for 200,000 city residents (presumably a more impressive number than the 50,000 units that probably represents), and expand affirmative-action programs, and he beamed over the public-health benefits of the workplace smoking ban.

More impressive was his laundry list of economic-development projects in every borough and his plans to direct tens of thousands of over-age high school students toward a new vocational-education program. It is Bloomberg the Businessman and Builder that the voters elected three years ago. And he did not disappoint those who were looking for hope that the city will not return to the culture of dependency and crime that nearly brought it down in the 1980s and early 1990s.

When he was not fudging figures, as he unfortunately did in the segment of his speech devoted to education, the numbers were downright impressive.After the miracle of crime reduction the city experienced during the Giuliani years, the further 14% decline during Mr. Bloomberg’s first three years was very good news that even his harshest critic will find hard to dismiss.

The mayor devoted a significant part of the end of his speech to his education reforms, asserting “we’ve only just begun” and lashing back at his critics who seek to “politicize” the issue. His moral high ground evaporated when he chose to focus on a young Bronx girl who was successfully promoted to the fourth grade after attending the Summer Success Academy. The mayor did move toward public sentiment when he pledged none of the city’s gifted-and-talented programs will be eliminated and pledged new ones in underserved areas.

In all, it was a virtuoso performance, the mayor gaining momentum and energy throughout, until he ended the speech and strode from the auditorium to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” — much as they do after ballgames at Yankee Stadium, just half a mile to the north.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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