A New Ball Game at City Hall

By Gabe Pressman
|  Saturday, Sep 17, 2011  |  Updated 2:50 PM EDT
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A New Ball Game at City Hall

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Public Advocate Bill de Blasio listens during his inauguration this week.

They've just taken office, but they've already trained their oratorical guns on Michael Bloomberg.

Both the new comptroller, John Liu, and the new Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio, made it clear in their inaugural speeches that they were gunning for Bloomberg.

It should make things interesting at City Hall.

De Blasio strongly criticized the Bloomberg administration on homelessness, education, unbridled development and not paying enough attention to the needs of the people. Liu has an army of hundreds of auditors who can descend on the Mayor's agencies, looking for waste, inefficiency, fraud. And he may well start doing it soon. A particular target: no-bid contracts.

DeBlasio has served notice that he wants to organize petition drives and demonstrations to give the city's parents a greater voice in educational policy.

While Liu has a big budget for staff -- de Blasio starts out with a meager budget. Bloomberg, who didn't believe a public advocate's office was necessary, made it difficult for the former public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, to operate -- slashing her budget, forcing her to get along with fewer people.

Gotbaum tried to influence City Hall to do what she perceived to be the right thing. The soft approach didn't work with Mike Bloomberg, although Betsy Gotbaum managed to get some reforms instituted. And she deserves credit for trying for eight years to improve city government.

DeBlasio apparently is going to try a street fighter's approach. If City Hall won't come up with the money for him to run his office adequately, he says he'll go to the people, asking them for help.

In an interview published on NBCNewYork.com last week, de Blasio told me his goal for the parents of the city's 1.1 million school children: "I'm going out to go out in the communities and organize them so the full power of those millions of parents and family members of pubic school children ...that full power is felt." The purpose of the public advocate, historically, is to scrutinize the operations of government and be an ombudsman, an advocate, for the people.

 Liu and de Blasio clearly will make their presence felt down at City Hall -- and how Mayor Bloomberg reacts to this pressure will be interesting to see. Our mayor is used to an autocratic approach to government. Like the CEO he used to be, he wants to run the show -- and get advice but not admonitions from the people who advise him.

It's a new ball game, perhaps a rebirth of democracy at City Hall. We can watch and wonder whether, in the days to come, these two new players will change things for the better.
 

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