Michael Bloomberg doesn’t usually pose for pictures with New York City mayoral candidates Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio. In September, the mayor declared that he has decided not to endorse either of the men who want his job in City Hall – he wants to make sure his successor is "ready to succeed, to take what we’ve done and build on that," he says. At The Atlantic’s CityLab summit on Tuesday, though, the mayor was all handshakes and smiles. It was a small but notable signal: He’s ready to step down.
On the campaign trail, both candidates have been careful about how they align themselves with Bloomberg. Lhota has been more eager, praising the mayor’s policies on business development and public safety, while de Blasio has kept his distance, on education policy in particular. Still, de Blasio used very Bloombergian language to talk about the future of his city.
"As of 2010, for the first time in history, more people in the world live in cities and the urban areas that support them than outside of them," de Blasio said. "This isn’t just a phenomenon at work in China, India, and other developing countries. In the United States, a similar development is underway."
De Blasio also framed the current mess in Washington in the larger context of the floundering nation-state, an approach Bloomberg has taken time and again. "National governments are failing to serve as catalysts for action, requiring cities to fill the void of creativity and innovation," he said.
Like de Blasio, Lhota invoked "innovation" as a touchstone throughout his speech. But less than a month out from the general election, even Lhota admits that the numbers don’t bode well for his campaign. “If you look at the polls, my current situation reminds me of the Grand Canyon: The spread between where I and where my opponent, Bill de Blasio, are, is extraordinary," he said. He pointed to a recent New York Times poll indicating that that New Yorkers actually agree with his ideas more than his opponent’s, even if they’re not planning to vote for him. He patiently outlined the points of his platform, laying out promises to reclaim unused Metropolitan Transit Authority property and kill the city’s corporate income tax.
But compared with Lhota’s stump speech, Bill de Blasio’s comments seemed geared toward another audience entirely: a group of elites who expect New York’s City Hall to set a strong example of municipal leadership for the world. Even if de Blasio hasn’t embraced all of Bloomberg’s record, he seems more comfortable with the role Bloomberg has carved out for his office: the default leader of mayors around the world.