The Bloomberg Machine in New York City

By Maurice Pinzon
On January 17, 2008, while temperatures outside were close to freezing, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg seemingly melted ice and opened swimming pools. When cued, children clad in bathing suits ran onto the stage past the mayor and towards the second-story swimming pool before Mayor Bloomberg had detailed his vision for a new form of municipal government.

Inside, at the soon-to-be iced, first-floor skating rink at the new Indoor Pool and Ice Rink Complex at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Mayor Bloomberg sent a message to his audience and the world beyond that he had irreversibly altered municipal government in New York City. This was being achieved, he suggested, by building a techno-administrated government that was inspired by his years spent building Bloomberg L.P., his successful business information company.

At one point in describing his data measurement of city agencies, Mr. Bloomberg said, “I like to think of it as a Bloomberg Terminal for city government – except that it’s free to the public. And no future mayor will ever be able to walk away from it because the public won’t let them, and rightly so. Good government is about transparency and accountability. We’re doing everything we can to make them both permanent.”

Mr. Bloomberg began his speech by describing how “Keeping New York City and America at the front of the pack begins with an openness to new energy, meaning immigration, and new ideas, meaning innovation. It means thinking about problems in new ways and using the most powerful new technology from every place to solve them.”

This in a world that he said he had traveled and understood to be dynamic and challenging. Sounding like a capitalist Karl Marx describing a world struggle, Mr. Bloomberg said, “We are in a competitive struggle,” with “cities from London to Paris to Shanghai, pushing the frontiers of progress.”

With former mayors Edward I. Koch and David N. Dinkins sitting a few feet away, Mr. Bloomberg said he had brought his business knowledge and transformed how the city does business. The city government before him, Mr. Bloomberg said, “Was insular and provincial and married to the conventional.” What was previously disassembled data and information sharing, his administration has assembled into an efficient system of government.

With large development projects already set in motion by former Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff, who just moved to head Bloomberg, L.P., and in the midst of a darkening economic picture, the mayor focused on technology to transform, streamline and make government more accountable to the people.

With his “technology is the solution” mentality, Mr. Bloomberg focused on agencies that protect citizen’s health and safety. He spoke of the development of a new fire simulator for firefighters, modernization of emergency communications with a GPS system in fire trucks and ambulances and the implementation of a wireless network that allows “first responders” to access maps, mug shots and rap sheets.

Those new systems, Mr. Bloomberg said, “Will move us from slow dial-up to high-speed broadband, with 100 times the capacity of the old analog system.” He indicated that the wireless network would allow the city to read water meters remotely and control traffic signals more effectively. “Digital 911” will allow New Yorkers to send in pictures from their cell phones to the police. Mr. Bloomberg added, “These new communication tools will enable the NYPD to continue driving crime down to historic lows.”

Mr. Bloomberg announced that he would ask Albany to allow for the collection of “fingerprint DNA” from everyone who is arrested. Previously, the mayor had convinced the state to allow the city to extract DNA from felons and only some people who had committed misdemeanors.

Mr. Bloomberg promised that soon New Yorkers calling 311 would be able to find out the status of their complaints. “By this summer, the public will also be able to go online to monitor the progress of SCOUT, our roving team of quality-of-life inspectors who hit the streets last fall. SCOUT has already covered every city street three times over,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg also said, “This year, in a first for any municipal government, we will link the computer systems at more than a dozen city agencies. They’ll be able to share client information without compromising confidentiality.”

The description on the Bloomberg L.P website of the Bloomberg Terminal describes a “service [that] seamlessly integrates real-time and historical information on about five million bonds, equities, commodities, currencies and funds. Our electronic library also comprises data on almost every publicly traded company and biographies of more than one million people. And because everything is provided in a single source — your terminal, PC, laptop or mobile device — information can be accessed, analyzed or archived with just a few keystrokes or clicks.”

Replace the word “bonds” with “crime statistics,” “commodities” with “311 complaints,” “biographies” with “DNA and social services personal information,” “one million people” with “eight million people,” and it all seems logical that the mayor is attempting to build a Bloomberg machine for government.

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