Narrowly overcoming discord over his manipulation of the city’s term limits law, with the benefit of a record-breaking self-financed war chest, a re-elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to take quick action on the looming budget deficit as he heads into his third term.
The first mayor to win three terms since Ed Koch was re-elected in 1985, Bloomberg is faced with reducing a shortfall as high as $12 billion in his first two years in office, causing great anticipation, and anxiety, about his post-election budget cuts.
“My guess is he is not going to wait until January to deal with the fiscal situation, but will find it easier to do it now,” said the chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, David Jewish Theological Seminary Weprin. As Gov. David Paterson promises to cut more than 10 percent across the board in state spending, New York City may be forced to take similar draconian measures.
That has led some to wonder how the mayor can pledge, as he has recently done, to uphold programs like day care vouchers for working parents that he announced with great fanfare during the campaign, and how he can avoid more cuts.
“Depending on the size of the deficit and the strength of his backbone, he will close the gap by cutting spending, raising taxes and fees, and all kinds of gimmicks and one-shots,” said Douglas Muzzio, chair of the political science department at Baruch College. “His spine should be strengthened now that he doesn’t have to play politics as usual with the unions and can cut without concern for vote totals — assuming he doesn’t decide that ‘apres moi, le deluge’ again in 2012.”
Muzzio was referring to the quote attributed to France’s King Louis XV in the 18th century, a comment on his indispensability in suggesting the mayor may seek a fourth term. Bloomberg has said he would not. Throughout his tenure, despite a few bumps in the road, Bloomberg has upheld funding to programs for the city’s needy, including the millions that enable nonsectarian programs through the Jewish nonprofit sector, such as aid to the elderly, immigrants, unemployed and disabled.
But he has also looked for efficiency, like consolidating the number of contractors, such as meals-on-wheels programs, who provide services.
“The mayor has had nonprofit initiatives where he has tried to move the contract more quickly to increase the funds available for nonprofits and provided cost-of-living adjustments for the sector,” said one communal professional who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being seen as partisan. “Unfortunately he’s also had to make some painful cuts. But we can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend there isn’t a fiscal crisis.”
William Rapfogel, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, said that “the mayor, to his credit, has taken on the issue of the near poor and working poor,” by “giving attention to their social service needs. Groups like Met Council are then able to better serve those people who don’t get any government benefits.”
The Jewish community is disproportionately represented in the near-poor and working-poor category, Rapfogel said.
Bloomberg, who raised property taxes and fees early in his administration, has pledged not to raise taxes again.
“I don’t believe that raising taxes is an option because New Yorkers have reached the limit when it comes to taxation,” the mayor told The Jewish Week last week, mentioning instead efforts to implement a new tier of the city pension system that would require newer workers to serve longer before receiving benefits.
But Rapfogel said he worried that any across-the-board cuts would lead to the elimination of programs already at the breaking point.
“Would there be cuts in the hours a recipient of home care receives?” Rapfogel asked on Tuesday. “Whatever program it is, some can’t afford a 3 percent cut before you begin to cut into the ability to do the program. You have to look at programs on a case-by-case basis.”
City Hall spokesman Stuart Loeser said the mayor had a history of protecting services. “Under the city charter, the mayor is required to do a detailed budget update on revenue and expenditures in the middle of every November. That said, we’ve been able to cut the city’s budget seven times while protecting essential services, and if need be, we will do it again.”
Weprin, a Democrat who has sparred with the formerly Republican (now independent) mayor over eight budgets and who supported his party’s candidate for mayor, Comptroller William C. Thompson, said he was confident that even as a lame duck Bloomberg would not make unpopular cuts in city services. “He has some tough decision to make, no question, over the next four years,” said Weprin on Tuesday. “Hopefully in the next year or two the economy will turn around. But he is the type of individual who really cares what people think. He’s not like Ed Koch saying ‘How am I doing?’ but he does respond to public opinion and I don’t think he wants to see people demonstrating and booing him. ”
Koch said Tuesday that dire predictions of looming deficits have a way of being overblown. “When I was mayor, the out years always seemed impossible to deal with as projected,” he said, referring to the period after the beginning of a new term. “You have to provide a public statement about the next four years. The next three years were always incredible in terms of the [deficits] projected, but it never turned out that way. The economy got better. I’m not necessarily saying that’s going to happen, but you take one year at a time.”
Reports from the boroughs late Tuesday suggested turnout was low, likely because polls showed Bloomberg with a commanding lead throughout the campaign.
Late on Tuesday afternoon Bloomberg’s campaign, which had a bustling phone operation for months, was still calling voters to tell them that turnout was low in their district and ask them to support the mayor.
But some said the turnout was better than that of the primary, which also lacked drama. Weprin said that when he showed up at his polling place in Queens at 9:30 a.m., he was the 53rd person to sign in at his election district. “That’s about as many as voted [all day] in the runoff,” said Weprin.
In Forest Hills, Leonard Levy said he waited in line about five minutes. “It was not [crowded] like last year,” he said, noting that most people he knows voted for Bloomberg. “I’ve never heard anyone say he hasn’t done a good job.”
Mark Vogel of Riverdale said his polling place at 4 p.m. was “mostly empty.”
A key focus of the mayor’s campaign was in neighborhoods with large Orthodox populations, who tend to vote in blocs and conservatively. But in many he found that residents were upset about higher taxes, water rates, fees and fines.
“Turnout was as low as you can get,” said chasidic activist Isaac Abraham of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primaries for City Council this year. “There is a lot of frustration out there against the mayor. He found some people in my district in the last few weeks to talk to that he hadn’t found in the last eight years.”
Abraham said that when he arrived to vote in the September primary at 8 a.m. he was No. 67. At the same time Tuesday he was No. 6.
Staff Writer Steve Lipman contributed to this article.