Mayor Mike's Panopticon


Over at The American Spectator, Former Reason intern Kerry Howley sticks it to Mike Bloomberg's vision of tidy, tightly controlled New York. After doing time at Bloomberg's plush media empire HQ at 499 Park Avenue, she started to observe a hidden agenda in the boss' generous offerings:

The free food keeps employees from staying home for breakfast or leaving for lunch. The single elevator forces everyone to come and go through the same doors—no sneaking out the back when the boss leaves early. The cubicles foster an illusion of equality among employees, while keeping everyone in sight of the boss. Far from a haven of spontaneity, Bloomberg created a tightly ordered productivity machine….I had the uncomfortable feeling of being watched, monitored, and controlled in some sort of maximum security toy store.

Bloomberg may or may not be trying to turn New York into a sprawling version of 499 Park Avenue, but he certainly wants more power to monitor the activities of New Yorkers than any recent predecessor. Under Bloomberg, laws restricting the New York Police Department's right to spy on citizens have been eased considerably. As a result, the nation's largest police force no longer has to establish criminal activity before surveilling its constituents. …

It would be a mistake to characterize Bloomberg as a power-hungry tyrant or a weak-willed panderer. His desire for control is firmly rooted in child-like zeal for positive reform and the genuine belief that he can make the city a better place to raise a family. The best way to help his constituents, he assumes, is to watch them closely, to obtain ever-more control over their school system, and to keep the streets quiet at night. But his reforms demonstrate a profound lack of understanding about a city rooted in chaos. New York is a city where freaks blend in, sex shops abound, and people do crazy things simply because they can. The city that never sleeps isn't supposed to have silent nights. That's what the suburbs are for.

Whole thing here.


NEXT: First Father of Booze

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. No way, the Koch era was the one to live in. Cheba was legal, Smoke? was heard everywhere, bars served 18 year olds, and the last car on the train was set aside for smokers.

    The cops only busted you if you were a rapist or murderer or something.

  2. Tim:

    As an visitor to New York, I noticed that most of the public areas of the city and the subways were much cleaner and more pleasant after Giuliani was elected. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

  3. “New York pizza is the best pizza in the world.” — every obnoxious New Yorker I ever met

  4. Yeah, I miss the old days. It was much more free market. For example, I was caught in a traffic jam up near around 100th or so. An open air drug market was going full tilt on the sidewalk. I was next to a cop car. My and my buddies, and the two cops, watched a bunch of guys drive up the sidewalk in a van, step out over the garbage piled up on the sidewalk (there was a strike, or else just the usual shitty service) and strip down a parked car, right down to the frame, in about ten minutes. They had pneumatic power tools in the van and even had an engine lift – so they were pros, probably tied to a major chop shop. My buddy leaned out the window and asked the cops if they were going to stop the looting. “They ain’t hurtin’ anybody” was the reply. We laughed our asses off. Then the van drove off down the sidewalk, and turned down an alley, scattering drug dealers and bums.

    Yeah, I bet the people who live in New York really miss the good old days.

  5. The subway revamp (including the switch to paint-resistant cars), the crackdown on graffiti and, yes, the big increase in policing, were all Dinkins initiatives. So were the tax incentives used to lure businesses back to Manhattan after a long exodus to the suburbs. The new tennis center was a Dinkins project (indeed, Giuliani famously boycotted its opening under his watch), and even the Times Square renewal tourists love got underway under Dinkins. Unfortunately for him, he only got to preside over the ugly, early phase of the project in which buildings went vacant one by one as leases ran out in preparation for the later work.

    Giuliani’s secret? He was no less competent than Dinkins, so when a nationwide economic boom and a parallel decline in urban crime landed in his lap, he looked pretty good. And when the economy’s booming in New York, it’s easy to go back to old pre-recession street-cleaning schedules.

    Other than that? Dinkins could sometimes be divisive, doing things that angered outer-borough conservatives like Italian and Irish Catholics and Orthodox Jews. For his part, Giuliani flipped things around, eventually antagonizing everyone else, sometimes nastily.

    Giuliani was not going to leave office as a well-liked mayor, unless maybe you were a third-generation cop from Staten Island.

    And then 9/11 came along, a crisis for which his tendency to attack every problem with police and fire personnel was finally an asset.

  6. Hear hear!

  7. The American Spectator? Have they gone upscale or something? This is not the type of commentary I’ve come to associate them with.

    This borders on fair and worthwhile.

  8. Yeah, I’m convinced…let’s go back to the Dinkins era, where the city had more of the Howley/Jimmy Breslin concept of “character,” i.e., more sex shops, freaks blending in, less silent nights and, by the way, a dangerously high crime rate and a record low standard of living.

  9. “Reason”? I took a wrong turn. Meant to go to:

  10. Bloomberg is just following in the footsteps of his political “Geppetto”…. It’s more of the same…. I lived in Manhattan through the previous admin’s quality of life campaign and while I agree that the decline in crime was a welcome thing I am not sure I prefer the Disnyified city to the raunchier days of old…. No matter to me – I left.

  11. Sounds like he’s simply managed to do some of the things Giuliani got beaten back on. Hacking away at the local school boards’ power has been near the top of every mayor’s agenda since, gosh, the 1960s? Longer?

    Though I’m against his law enforcement surveillance and dissent-management measures, I don’t see anything terribly wrong with a more tightly run workplace at City Hall. I’m surprised to see such a thing criticized by a Reason alumna in a conservative publication. Do she and the Spectator not want to see a city government make more efficient use of its workforce through cost-effective measures that discourage absenteeism? Would they prefer another layer of supervisory staff instead?

    If an actual conservative were mayor, these particular changes would probably be earning praise from the right-wing press. Bloomberg, alas, is a different animal: a Wall Street liberal, so even when he tries to squeeze efficiency from city bureaucracies amid budget cuts, he’s the bad guy.

    Looks like a political axe-grinding to me. Or is Ms. Howley secretly enamored of the chaotic, broken-down New York of the 1970s?

  12. New York was great under Dinkins, it was great under Giuliani, it’s great now, and it will be great 20 years from under Mayor Timberlake (provided it hasn’t been incinerated). Anybody who believes this idea that the city was really intolerable or suffering a “record low standard of living” (whatever that means) when Dinkins was in office just wasn’t around at the time. Mayors come and go; the only thing that makes changes you can actually see is how well or ill the economy’s doing.

  13. Tim, cities (and neighborhoods therein) often continued to decline during periods of overall national growth, due to structural problems. Similarly, my city has experienced a great deal of new investment throughout this recent downturn, due to local and metropolitan factors. So local conditions, and not just the overall economy, can influence a city’s success.

  14. Reagan’s War on Drugs is also responsible for the start of the clean up of neighborhoods after crack sellers took over all the pot sellers spots in autumn 1983, well before Dinkins was elected.

    Not to take anything away from DD. He did push for a family friendly city.

    I completely agree with SM Koppelman about Giuliani, however. At the 10pm newsconference on NY1 the night of 9/11, he looked like a confused old man, not “America’s mayor”.

  15. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/26/2004 08:20:23
    Unusual ideas can make enemies.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.