What Michael Nutter Can Learn from Michael Bloomberg

The New York mayor's smart, courageous act

Heroes are made in desperate times.

Today, the mayor of New York, a lifelong middle-of-the-road millionaire turned politician with bureaucratic tendencies, is showing how it’s done.

He’s pledging $130 million—including $30 million of his own dough—to improve the lives of an estimated 315,000 undereducated, unemployed and incarcerated citizens in his city.

Bloomberg will use the big bucks to put job-recruitment centers in public-housing centers, retrain probation officers in an effort to reduce recidivism, create fatherhood classes and evaluate schools on the academic progress of male black and Latino students.

You read that right.

The former Republican mayor of New York (Bloomberg changed his status to Independent in 2007) is stepping up in a big way for his city’s underclass.

Name the last major politician you can think of who stood up for the poor with either money or passionate oratory?

Exactly.

There are two possible explanations for why Bloomberg is investing in the dispossessed: (1) he finds it morally reprehensible that we’re leaving so many people behind in this battered economy and thought it his responsibility to help; or (2) he realizes that if the poor keep getting poorer, if the high school dropout rate keeps soaring, if the jails keep filling up, his city’s going to turn Apocalyptic and that could put a really unpleasant spin on his legacy.

The first possible explanation shows heart; the second shows business acumen, and either explanation will do just fine, thank you.

Showing concern for the poor is hardly going to make Bloomberg the most popular name at the next let’s-bash- Obama fundraiser, let alone the 2012 Republican Convention, which is why he deserves all praise and glory for demonstrating old school chutzpah. And really, who woulda thought it?

Maybe, just maybe, our own mayor will take a page from Bloomberg—not by putting up big bucks (you can’t put up what you don’t have)—but by spending a healthy chunk of his stored up political capital to speak loud and often for the citizens of our city that need jobs, better skilled parole officers to help put things back on track and schools that will improve the scores of their kids. In short, the people who need help most.

What he doesn’t have in personal wealth, Nutter can make up with by being unequivocal about what has to be done: jobs for the poor need to be created, the dropout rate has to go down, parents need to step up, and the school system needs a new superintendent—right now. The exit of the current superintendent can’t be slow and debilitating. We can’t afford it.

Heroes are made in desperate times. Bloomberg just became one—not by putting up his money, but by having the wisdom to know that lifting all makes the whole richer.

Mayor Nutter ought to take note.

Tim Whitaker ([email protected]) is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.