Michael Bloomberg walked out of City Hall for the final time as mayor late Wednesday, leaving behind him throngs of cheering staffers and an unquestioned impact on the nation's largest city.
The 108th mayor of New York, with gold balloons inflated to read "1-0-8" leading the way, paused briefly at the top of the stairs at 5:11 p.m. and smiled broadly at the hundreds of staffers and well-wishers who lined his path out of the building.
Waving as he walked, Bloomberg thanked the crowd, wished everyone happy new year and answered a reporter's question about how he was feeling with his 12 years in office down to their final hours.
"If I wasn't happy today, I don't know when I would be happy," he said.
But even as many in the crowd clamored for handshakes and photos and others tried to engage in conversation, Bloomberg kept moving, never fully stopping as he made his way across the City Hall plaza. He frequently boasted that as mayor he only looked to the future, never back with regrets, so it was perhaps fitting that the rarely sentimental billionaire remained clear-eyed as he moved quickly through the crowd, not looking back at the building where he served three terms.
After greeting a few firefighters gathered outside the City Hall gates, Bloomberg disappeared down the subway steps and boarded a train toward his Manhattan home.
Unlike in the other years of his mayoralty, Bloomberg chose not to ring in the new year at Times Square. Instead, he was opting for an evening with family and friends before he returns to City Hall on Wednesday to attend the inauguration of his successor, Democrat Bill de Blasio, who was to officially become mayor at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
Bloomberg, an independent, bade farewell to his inner circle in his famed bullpen, the wall-less space on City Hall's second floor meant to resemble a Wall Street trading firm.
"I think it's fair to say we've done some amazing things," Bloomberg said in a video released by his staff. "But hopefully it's just the beginning. Now we're going to leave a good hand to play for the next administration."
Hours earlier, he gave his final speech to a group of religious leaders, thanking them for helping people in need and praising the city's diversity.
He also cited remarks by Pope Francis about the importance of cities, then quipped, "The fact that a Jewish kid can quote the pope in a secular building built by Protestants in front of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh leaders really says all you need to know about New York City."
Bloomberg dramatically reshaped the city, which has never been safer or cleaner. But his data-driven style sometimes left him unable to connect with those who felt left behind, and the gap between the city's privileged and poor grew dramatically during his terms.
Bloomberg has said he will go on a two-week vacation before resuming a role at the business media company that bears his name. He also plans to continue to fund his pet political causes, including gun control and immigration reform.