Last year, Mike Bloomberg was my hero. The way he stood up to the opponents of the lower Manhattan Islamic cultural center was eloquent, and courageous, and in the greatest traditions of New York and America. But this year, Bloomie is blowing it. His annoyed, prickly, dismissive, contentious treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park seems almost personal, and is exposing the plutocrat that the billionaire probably is at heart.
“It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis,” he said the other day.“It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I’m not saying I’m sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn’t have gotten them without that.”
Well that’s just silly. Anyone who has read Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner, or All the Devils Are Here by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera knows that Congressional policy played a role, as did the policy of the Clinton and Bush administrations, as did the corrupt and foolish practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as did the wholly dishonest and completely negligent practices of the ratings agencies. But to downplay or soft-peddle the role of the banks? Come on, Mike! The whole thing blew up because of the alchemical financial innovations that purported to turn crap loans into AAA-rated securities. And the banks are the ones who turned around and peddled hundreds and millions of dollars worth of that worthless paper to pension funds and retirement programs.
Mike obviously needs Wall Street, needs the jobs it provides and the taxes it pays in order to keep the city’s streets cleaned and its police on the beat and its teachers in the classroom. A little home town protection is in order. But Bloomberg should take a page from Vikram Pandit, the chairman of Citicorp, who has offered a statesmanlike response. Calling Occupy Wall Street’s complaints “completely understandable,” Pandit accepted the responsibility for the crisis. “I would also corroborate that trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the U.S. and that it’s Wall Street’s job to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust. . . .They should hold Citi and the financial institutions accountable for practicing responsible finance.”
Bloomberg needs to remember that he’s the protesters’ mayor, too.
[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]