Bloomberg pitches the city and Ratner’s Nets, reacts un-positively to the Cuomo tax plan

Mayor Bloomberg in the Mercury Rotunda. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in his element this morning at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue and 53rd Street, where a ballroom full of real estate executives gave him a standing ovation.

The occasion was the yearly convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group representing the shopping mall industry. As it so happens, the ICSC is also, like the mayor, staunchly opposed to the "living wage" bill now under consideration in the City Council, and provided testimony against the legislation during a City Council hearing last month.

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner sat in the front row, in the center, and won plaudits for getting the mayor to attend.

“This year, we said we wanted to ask you, so I asked Bruce to give you a call,” said Harold Nafash, head of this year’s speakers committee, addressing the mayor. “And so Bruce, thank you very much for inviting the mayor. And mayor, thank you for accepting the invitation.”

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The New York ICSC convention is an important one on the retail circuit, allowing brokers, landlords and retailers to mingle and make deals. But it's tame in comparison to the organization's annual conference in Las Vegas, an event known for its multimillion-dollar exhibition booths, frenzied dealmaking and equally frenzied debauchery.

Following an adulatory introduction from Nafash, in which he wondered why a successful businessman would willingly enter politics (he attributed the bizarre decision to something "beating in Mayor Bloomberg's heart that told him it was something he could do to help many people"), the mayor took the stage and pitched New York.

“New York City has had a far more robust recovery than the nation as a whole,” said the mayor. “We’ve regained two thirds of the jobs lost during the recession, while the rest of the nation has only regained about a third. Our commercial real estate market is the strongest in the nation. And people are clearly confident in New York’s future and want to be part of that future themselves.”

As an example, he pointed to the city’s record-high population (8.4 million), its record-high tourism (48.7 million tourists in 2010), its growing hotel industry (90,000 rooms by year’s end), and its status as the nation’s number one destination for international visitors.

The mayor said retail sales were growing more quickly here than in the rest of the nation and that “major retailers are moving in, and expanding, to get in on this growth.”

He made a pitch for Downtown Brooklyn, Willets Point, Homeport, Hudson Yards, and, of course, Atlantic Yards.

“Close to a quarter of a million square feet of new retail space is going up at the nearby Atlantic Yards development, Bruce Ratner’s development, and it’s also the future home of Brooklyn’s N.B.A. franchise, the largest private-sector project the borough has ever seen,” said Bloomberg.

He encouraged the crowd to buy Nets tickets while they still can.

"I bought mine," he said, eying Ratner. "Did you send me a bill yet?"

Later, during a question-and-answer session with reporters in the hotel's Mercury Rotunda, the mayor tried hard not to criticize Governor Andrew Cuomo's reported plan to institute a new tax on high earners, as part of a larger deal to let the millionaire's tax lapse.

It took three tries for reporters to elicit a substantive reaction from the mayor. When it came, it was tepid. 

"I think you have to look at everything," said the mayor. "But fundamentally, you cannot tax your ways out of problems. You’ve got to get your expenses under control and build the economic base, so that if you have tax-revenue increases, they should come from an expanded economy, as opposed to, uh, expanded—to tax rates."

The mayor was also asked about a meeting in New York today between poll-topping presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump.

Reporter: Mr. Gingrich is apparently coming to see Mr. Trump today.

Mayor Bloomberg: Way to go.

The reporter asks him how valuable Mr. Trump’s advice might be.

Bloomberg: You’ll have to ask Mr. Gingrich. Donald Trump’s a smart guy, an interesting guy. And he’s done a lot in this city. And, he ... was at one point a presidential candidate. So he can probably give Newt a lot of advice. Although Newt’s been around a long time. Whether you agree with him or not, he is certainly a smart guy. And we’ll see what happens. It’s a strange world out there.