New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg denounced the party gridlock in the federal government, speaking at the Kennedy School of Government last Friday after accepting the Pathfinder Award for public leadership.
Bloomberg said that Washington is “dysfunctional” and too preoccupied with “what their little constituency wants.”
The mayor was especially critical of Washington’s treatment of issues surrounding education, saying that the national government is “all talk” but no action.
“Children are so far down the list when decisions are made,” Bloomberg said, while lauding his own efforts to raise teacher salaries and increase graduation standards.
These changes, according to Bloomberg, have decreased the quitting rate of teachers from 12,000 annually to 5,000 this year. Bloomberg added that his tax hike and controversial smoking ban were other “investments” that had turned out to be “good for the people of New York.”
“The public is a lot smarter than we give them credit for, so maybe we can stop pandering to them,” said Bloomberg, echoing his disapproval of Washington party politics.
The mayor was more optimistic about state and municipal governments. He evoked the words of Harvard Law School graduate and former Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who dubbed state governments “laboratories” of government innovation.
“At the state and city level, more and more, we’re getting away from that partisanship,” Bloomberg said. “It’s in local governments where maybe we are making some progress.”
Bloomberg received the Pathfinder Award for blazing the trail for technology-enabled improvements in America’s most populous city; his initiatives as mayor have included the NYC 311 Citizen Service Center and a new wireless public safety network.
“The city and the mayor have done amazingly important things in terms of technology,” said Jerry E. Mechling ’65, a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School and faculty chair of the Leadership for a Networked World program, which administered the award.
Mechling said he found Bloomberg’s speech very genuine, but added that Bloomberg could have addressed issues relating to leadership in a technological world more thoroughly.
“I think the speech was an important speech by a person who was willing to say what he thinks and not give a canned speech his office had prepared for him,” Mechling said. But “if I were to have 10 more speeches, I would encourage [Bloomberg] to address those issues a bit more directly.”
Bloomberg, a graduate of Harvard Business School and founder of the financial software service company Bloomberg L.P., drew many parallels between business and government during the exclusive ceremony.
“Business is a dog-eat-dog world and government’s just worse,” Bloomberg said. “In business you have to build consensus. If the staff doesn’t want it to work it can stop you just like in the bureaucracy and government world.”
Bloomberg also treated the occasion as an opportunity to reminisce about his time at the Business School, deeming his visit a “homecoming.”
“I had a theory that if you raised your hand, they would never call on you,” Bloomberg said of his time at Harvard.
Bloomberg ended his speech on a welcoming note.
To “anybody who wants to become a taxpayer or citizen,” New York would “love to have you,” he said.