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Mayor Fri Sep 13 2013

Bloomberg Already Has a Mayoral Successor: Rahm Emanuel

Photo Credit: CBS

During Tuesday's high-profile Democratic primary (and far less dramatic Republican counterpart) in New York City, one name loomed over all the would-be mayoral candidates: Michael Bloomberg.

As recent articles and interactive infographics have demonstrated, the billionaire Republican-turned-independent three-term NYC mayor will leave behind a towering, complicated, and divisive legacy once he steps down.

The likely Democratic challenger, current NYC public advocate Bill de Blasio, emerged on a campaign slamming Bloomberg on education, taxes, poverty, and a "tale of two cities" mayoral legacy. His Republican opponent, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Joe Lhota, has begun to echo Bloomberg's own critiques of De Blasio, by dismissing the Democrat's campaign as "class warfare."

Regardless of who wins the November 5th election, Bloomberg's true mayoral successor -- in both style and substance -- doesn't even live in New York. In fact, Bloomberg's political heir is a face quite familiar to Chicago and the rest of the United States... Rahm Emanuel.

While a Wall Street billionaire and one of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party may seem at odds on paper, there are important similarities between Bloomberg and Emanuel. Like his NYC counterpart, Emanuel spent time as an investment banker, and both men continue to have close ties to their respective business and financial sectors (Bloomberg's namesake media company even has a publication called Businessweek). And both men have larger-than-life reputations as tough, frank, "my-way-or-the-highway" style leaders.

Beyond demeanor and background (or perhaps as a result), Rahm's comparatively shorter two years as mayor bear more than a striking resemblance to 12 years of Bloomberg's policies.

Alongside their business-friendly reputations in the country's two major financial centers, both mayors have pursued a similar political balance fitting for Democratic-leaning cities. Both are social liberals when it comes to supporting gay marriage and abortion. Similarly, both have pushed for tighter regulations against guns as mayors.

On a broader urban policy scale, the men are remarkably like-minded. Bloomberg and Emanuel have openly advocated for their cities' respective cultural assets and tourist appeal, as well as for the vast economic potential of both. Beyond luring companies of all sizes, both have sought to cultivate and grow tech sectors to compete with Silicon Valley and remain globally competitive in an increasingly post-industrial American economy.

The mayors have also used their power and influence to push for greener, sustainable urban landscapes, ranging from investments that reduce energy consumption to completing major improvements to their respective metropolitan water systems. Four of Bloomberg's specific initiatives -- expanded waterfront parks, expanded bike lines, a citywide bike-sharing program, and converting abandoned elevated train tracks into a public park -- currently, or soon will, have their Chicago equivalents.

Both mayors are major advocates of public-private partnerships, and of what GB's own Ramsin Canon has referred to as the "Entrepreneur-in-Chief" model of city governance. Perhaps the most controversial, high-profile parallel choice between the two mayors in this area has been the decision to allow millions of taxpayer dollars to be spent on privately-operated basketball stadiums (for the Brooklyn Nets and DePaul University, respectively) in order to economically boost their surrounding neighborhoods.

Similarly, both have blended public and private in the realm of education. Bloomberg and Emanuel have clashed with teachers unions while closing schools deemed to be under-performing and simultaneously promoting the spread of charter schools.

Although writers like David Sirota noted the trend towards privatization in Democratic cities under the veneer of social liberalism two years ago, both Bloomberg and Emanuel are still extremely unpopular across wide portions of their cities, particularly over perception that their pro-growth and corporate subsidization policies disproportionately impact lower-income neighborhoods and minorities. This perception is widely viewed as the reason behind De Blasio's recent ascendance, and it remains to be seen how it affects Rahm's re-election prospects in 2015.

However, these similarities aren't coincidental. After all, Bloomberg's philanthropic arm donated $6 million to Emanuel's mayoral campaign fund.

Since then, they've appeared together in public on several occasions. Emanuel is the chairman of Bloomberg's Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Network. Bloomberg also publicly supported Emanuel's decision to lengthen the public school day and push for teacher evaluations. So it's probable that Emanuel considers Bloomberg a role model -- along with his own predecessor and former boss, Richard M. Daley -- for leadership.

Speaking of Daley, Bloomberg has endorsed his brother for the Illinois governor's race, who also has close political and personal ties to Emanuel.

Of course, the mayors aren't in completely similar situations, or of the same mindset on all issues. For one, Bloomberg and Emanuel have nearly opposite controversies over how they've handled crime -- namely, the recently-ruled unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy unapologetically supported by Bloomberg as a key to NYC's lowered crime rate vs. Chicago's international reputation for gun violence (though, Emanuel did hire away former NYC deputy commissioner Garry McCarthy to run the Chicago Police Department). Bloomberg also criticized Emanuel and other mayors over attempts to dissuade Chick-Fil-A from opening in their cities. And while Bloomberg is wrapping up his career as mayor, Rahm is only midway through his first term.

Whatever Bloomberg's ultimate legacy ends up being in New York, it's already had major ripple effects on urban policies across the country, particularly in Chicago. And as Edward McClelland points out, Emanuel may soon be the last of the nationally-recognized American mayors of this political era, and subsequently wielding tremendous influence on the future shape of American cities... in turn, ensuring Bloomberg's continued impact on American politics beyond his own vast philanthropic and political campaign funding efforts for years to come.

Based on the numerous copycat policies and initiatives he's applied to Chicago, you can expect Rahm Emanuel to draw from the Bloomberg playbook for the rest of his tenure as mayor.

Just don't expect him to endorse De Blasio any time soon.

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Catherine / September 13, 2013 12:54 PM

Emanuel has done nothing to "green" Chicago. But if you mean he is turning it into a mausoleum fit only for yuppies you are correct, they are spiritual twins.

Emily Brosious / September 13, 2013 2:29 PM

Great piece. Another reminder that Dem's & Repub's are all to often just opposite sides of the same dirty coin.

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