Farewell to Bloomberg’s outsider model
In one respect, at least, Bill de Blasio is delivering on his promise to make a clean break from the Bloomberg years: He seems to have made public-sector experience a firm prerequisite for high-level service in his administration.
This strikes some government-watchers as a return to normalcy, in keeping with de Blasio's stated belief that "people who understand government run government best."
But it is also something of a shift from the past twelve years.
"Bloomberg apart, anyone who knows about local public management would look for people with good experience in the systems that they're going to be running, or something closely related," said John Mollenkopf, director of CUNY's Center for Urban Research and a de Blasio supporter. "The idea that you would not do this strikes me as strange. What would be newsworthy would be appointing people with no government experience as if some sort of technology transfer from the private sector was sure to work."
De Blasio's use of private-sector management consultants on the transition notwithstanding, every appointee he's actually named to a prominent post in his administration thus far has had meaningful public-sector experience.
The public credentials are there in abundance for graybeards like de Blasio's first deputy mayor Tony Shorris, whose government service goes back to the Koch administration. But they're there as well for young stars like his intergovernmental affairs director Emma Wolfe, a labor organizer who was de Blasio's chief of staff in the public advocate's office.
Something similar is true of longtime Goldman Sachs executive Alicia Glen, named by de Blasio last week as deputy mayor for housing and economic development, in a move that delighted a business establishment watching his initial moves with trepidation. Like Bloomberg's first deputy mayor for economic development Dan Doctoroff, Glen built her career in finance. Unlike him, Glen has worked in government before. She started as an aide to then-Manhattan borough president David Dinkins and also served as an assistant commissioner for housing finance under Rudy Giuliani.
One of de Blasio budget director Dean Fuleihan's main recommendations is his familiarity with Albany politics. He was the Assembly's negotiator under Speaker Sheldon Silver and its adviser on fiscal matters and other policies.
"They found a person who really understands Albany," said Mollenkopf. "One of Bloomberg’s difficulties was that after Marc Shaw, who had deep experience in Albany, most of the top people in his subsequent administrations didn’t really have a good understanding of Albany and he lost some important battles up there."
De Blasio's Administration for Children's Services director Gladys Carrion has similar Albany-centric experience, having worked there for the past seven years. His chief of staff Laura Santucci, whose background is mostly political, also worked as a special assistant at the White House.
"In many cases, they are going to be supervising people who are doing what they used to do," said Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherrill.
De Blasio's so-far absolute preference for experienced officials is a reminder that the businessman mayor before him was actually something of an aberration.
Before becoming mayor, Bloomberg spent a lengthy career in the private sector, and never concealed his disdain for professional politicians.
"We don't need politicians today," said Bloomberg 2010, back when he was campaigning for businesswoman and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. "We need problem-solvers."
Bloomberg didn't end up with an administration of entirely public-sector novices.
Doctoroff came from the private sector, as did NYCHA chairman John Rhea, and, memorably, Education chancellor Cathie Black. On the other hand, his Health and Human Services Commissioner Linda Gibbs was a government lifer, as was police commissioner Ray Kelly and parks commissioner Adrian Benepe.
De Blasio rejects Bloomberg's problem-solver/politician dichotomy.
Shorris, who will be leading the operational side of the de Blasio regime, served in the Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, and also as Eliot Spitzer's man at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
De Blasio's police commissioner, Bill Bratton, worked for Giuliani, before decamping to L.A.
Shorris' chief of staff Dominic Williams, like Wolfe, worked for de Blasio when he was public advocate.
Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, de Blasio's deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, worked in the Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations.
One of the highest-profile appointments de Blasio has left is for the position of schools chancellor. The favorite at the moment seems to be Carmen Farina, a former teacher who went on to serve, to pretty serious acclaim, as superintendent and deputy chancellor.