Advice, if smart, is welcomed.
Timeliness is valuable.
Calhoun County, meet Michael R. Bloomberg.
He’s the mayor of New York City, soon to depart after three terms in office. Calhoun County, our home, is quintessential Alabama; in mayor-speak, that means it wields big dreams but hardly overflows with fiscal means.
Bloomberg is hopelessly liberal. Calhoun County, by and large, is as conservative as a Ted Nugent fan club meeting. The pairing is as unlikely as it seems.
But there’s wisdom in such a hypothetical marriage.
The billionaire mayor wants to help cities improve their lot. Even if you despise his politics, his track record of successful city-level policies is impressive. He’s created a new consulting group, Bloomberg Associates, that, as The New York Times reports, will resemble a government in exile. A good many of the mayor’s NYC City Hall staff will join the BA team.
Bloomberg Associates “will act as an urban SWAT team, deployed at the invitation of local governments to solve knotty, long-term challenges, like turning a blighted waterfront into a gleaming public space, or building subway-friendly residential neighborhoods,” according to The Times.
“In a twist on the traditional business model of consulting, clients will not be charged.”
Well, Calhoun County has knotty, long-term problems and needs — improvement of public schools, crime reduction, retail growth, McClellan redevelopment, job creation — but there’s no need for subway-friendly neighborhoods. We have no waterfront, blighted or otherwise. And, there’s a good bet that Bloomberg’s attempt to lower obesity rates by banning large, sugary drinks from NYC restaurants would sink like a leaky pontoon boat down here.
But consider Bloomberg’s influence elsewhere.
In New Orleans, Bloomberg gave that city a $4 million grant last year to combat its historically high rates of violent crime. With that money the city hired eight outside experts who devised new plans for reducing its number of murders.
Those plans, along with the creation of a multi-agency team to combat gangs and a midnight basketball league to give young men on the streets something to do at night, have produced results. The city’s murder rate is down 17 percent since Bloomberg stepped in.
“To (Bloomberg’s) credit,” New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu told The Times, “this guy is putting his personal money into making city government work better.”
So, why not here?
Granted, our towns aren’t as attention-grabbing as NYC or New Orleans. (Or Miami, Los Angeles or Newark, N.J., other places already getting the Bloomberg touch.) But our needs are just as severe, even if helping a small, Southern town improve its schools or redevelop its sagging downtown won’t get the same national press as getting bad guys in New Orleans to quit killing each other.
Bottom line: Bloomberg is a billionaire (net worth: $31 billion) with a passion for quality city governance, time to burn, a large, knowledgeable staff and a desire to put his cash to good use. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart should send this email to Bloomberg Associates:
“Anniston, Ala., where I am mayor, is reinventing itself after years of substandard leadership. With the help of a new City Council, I am hopeful that our city will soon return to its place as the economic engine for all of northeast Alabama.
“The city’s potential is great, but so, too, are our needs. We’re making plans to improve our schools, increase our retail development and rebuild our downtown. Federal officials are helping us lower our own rates of gun-related crimes. Our former Army post is more than a decade into its rebirth as a residential community and industrial base. We would, however, welcome the expertise of Bloomberg Associates.
“Consider this both an invitation and a challenge: a town of 21,000 that, like so many, has fallen on hard times due to myriad reasons. If Bloomberg Associates needs someone to serve as a test case for its policies in small, urban areas, let Anniston and greater Calhoun County serve that purpose.”
Nutty? Likely so; Bloomberg, never shy of national publicity, wouldn’t get much of that here.
But if we’re sincere about making Calhoun County a better place, with improved schools, fewer crimes and more middle-class jobs, there’s no reason not to try. What’s the worst a billionaire can say? No?
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.