Prior to 9/11 Giuliani’s administration was characterized by dramatic decreases in crime rates and sharp increases in racial tensions; he was a controversial Mayor leaving behind a polarized city. The events of 9/11 changed the world perception of Giuliani; he will forever be associated with that momentous event. Nixon and Watergate are synonymous; Clinton and a sex scandal frame his presidency.
Elected officials do everything possible to create their own place in history, oftentimes it is done to them. John Lindsay was a shining light among mayors. Cities across the nation were burning and Lindsay managed to keep the cap on New York. In the turbulent late sixties, amidst anti-war demonstrations and increasingly militant public employee unions New York seemed the exception and Lindsay’s future beyond New York seemed bright. A two month teachers strike and a failed reform of the education system framed the Lindsay heritage. When he attempted to gain the Republican presidential nomination in 1972 he was plagued by teachers, their friends and supporters. All of Lindsay’s achievements, and they were many, are forgotten, he is the Mayor who failed to avoid a brutal strike and who created a decentralized school system that was rife with corruption and incompetence.
It will take years to determine whether the Bloomberg structural changes to the system result in positive outcomes. The Bloomberg administration has mastered the art of controlling the flow of educational data. School Report Card information is more than a year old, any request for data is rebuffed and Freedom of Information requests, that take many months, are the norm. The NY Post and the NY Daily News turn Bloomberg press releases into news stories and Newsday is downsizing and not covering the Ed beat on a regular basis. The NY Times is the only source of information to the public. Electronic media has been reduced to ten second sound bites, with an occasional story on NY 1.
Bloomberg’s failure to negotiate a contract and his “top down” management approach has alienated teachers. “Kleinberg” has become a curse word. For the first time in thirty years the city is moving toward a teachers strike. How will history frame the Bloomberg era? In spite of his attempts to manage the news, to manage data and to manage outcomes history has a way creating its own outcomes. Will the mere mention of the name “Bloomberg” be reviled? Will Bloomberg learn from the disastrous miscalculations of Lindsay, or, are we fated to relive the errors of the past?