Does Big Business Understand that NYC Has Five Boroughs?

Ester R. Fuchs

Many New Yorkers, including the folks at the Center for an Urban Future, believe that the city’s economy must diversify geographically and industrially for its middle class —and the city — to survive. Whether this happens will depend on whether local political power reflects a five-borough perspective. The current relationship between the mayor and the City Council does not suggest that this will occur soon; nor does a recent move by Professor Ester R. Fuchs to the Partnership for New York City.

The Partnership, the influential voice of New York’s corporate community, announced on January 11 that Fuchs will join it as a Fellow. Professor Fuchs, who served as Special Advisor to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg from 2001 to 2005, and as chair of his 2005 charter revision commission, will serve out the fellowship while on sabbatical from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

It can be expected that Fuchs will play a prominent role at the mayor’s anticipated 2010 charter commission, thereby ensuring that the interests of the Partnership — and its big business membership— will be well-represented in the commission’s 2010 proposals. Among the Partnership’s probable goals will be additional power for the mayor’s office.

Fuchs’ support for more mayoral power can be inferred from something she wrote in 1992, while contrasting politics in NYC and Chicago: “New York’s mayors are weak politically and need to placate interest groups in order to get re-elected…. [NYC] Mayors end up giving in to the loudest interest groups. They resolve political conflict by spending money. That’s why city spending rose dramatically in the 1980s….”

More power for the mayor — and his insulation from the loudest interest groups (a euphemism for municipal unions and social service advocates) — would trouble as many New Yorkers as it would please the business community, whose primary focus is on the city’s fiscal solvency. And, while solvency is essential to the city’s future, continuing the progressive loss of borough-based and community influence in NYC seen over the past two decades and the city’s increasingly centralized government during the Bloomberg administration, may not be.

The trends of growing mayoral power and shrinking borough and community influence have been quietly supported by the Partnership, whose President and CEO, Kathryn Wylde, resides in Brooklyn, but whose policies clearly center on the Manhattan interests of some of its most influential members. Fuchs’ appointment to her fellowship could presage a continuation of the Partnership’s agenda via the charter revision process.

From a long-range perspective, further centralization could prove fatal to the city’s economy. Much will rest on whether the 2010 charter commission will be sufficiently diverse — and sufficiently independent of mayoral influence — to balance the importance of a five-borough economic strategy for New York’s future against the presumed need for mayoral control to maintain fiscal solvency. This presumption has been severely tested by recent events during the Bloomberg administration.

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