Dartmouth Presidential Lectures: Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City

Uploaded by Dartmouth on 17.07.2010

It is my hope that this series will promote discussion of current global issues and supplement
your classroom experiences with real-life lessons on innovation, collaboration, and
leadership. John Sloan Dickey, the twelfth president of Dartmouth, consistently spoke
of the need to embrace the world's troubles as your own. Through his proposal for an innovative
Great Issues course, President Dickey enabled students to reflect on their liberal arts
education through real-world problems. The Presidential Lecture Series is the first step
toward adapting the "Great Issues" concept to a new generation—yours.
The speakers in this series will not only inform you about their own work in confronting
the pressing global issues of the day, but in doing so, will provide important examples
of "habits of the mind" that have been key to their own success. I invited Mayor Bloomberg
to speak at Dartmouth because as a businessman, philanthropist, and civil servant he is living
proof that developing effective "habits of the mind —persistence, independent thinking,
and creativity, among others—begets success and allows an individual to make the world,
or New York City in his case, a better place.
As mayor of New York City, Mayor Bloomberg is at the center of many of the most important
issues of the day, including school reform, poverty, global warming, and gun control.
Mayor Bloomberg is also a public health hero, a hero of mine, enacting one of the country's
most extensive smoking bans, working to combat tobacco use internationally, and forcing restaurants
to put caloric information on their items. The founder of Bloomberg L.P., the financial
information company, Mayor Bloomberg has supported the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other institutions and causes.
Although Mayor Bloomberg attended Johns Hopkins, I think his longtime companion Diana Taylor,
who is with us today, a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1977 and a Trustee of the College,
has taught him what it means to "bleed green."
After his remarks, Mayor Bloomberg will answer questions submitted by audience members. If
you have a question, please write it on one of the index cards given to you and pass it
to an usher in one of the outside aisles that are along here and also in Spaulding. Video
of the lecture will be available online after the event. Also, I encourage you to take part
in a discussion about the lecture on Dartmouth's Facebook page, moderated by Professor Bruce
Mayor Bloomberg is one of our country's leading visionaries. He brings innovation and imagination
to everything he pursues. Please help me welcome Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the inaugural speaker
in the Dartmouth Presidential Lecture Series.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Thank you. Thank you for that kind reception. I'd like to think
you came today to hear some stirring oratory and great wisdom, but I know that some of
you are probably here for the Boloco burritos vouchers. You know who you are. And it is
great to be the first in a series. I didn't know I was the first in a series until I listened
to Dr. Kim. That means until the next one shows up I'm the best you've had.
President Kim, I was appreciative of the introduction, but a little bit disappointed. A couple weeks
ago, Queen Elizabeth II visited lower Manhattan, and it was 103 degrees, and she still wore
her trademark white gloves. So I want to know, President Kim, why you were not wearing your
infamous white glove? I mean if a Queen can do it, you'd think a president can.
Well anyways, white gloves or not, being here is still a great honor for me, standing on
the legendary Dartmouth campus where the great American poet Robert Frost once walked. Where
so many governors, and senators, and judges, and cabinet members earned their degrees.
But to me perhaps most importantly and most memorably, is where John "Bluto" Blutarsky
first uttered the immortal words "To-ga! To-ga!" If you don't think I don't have Animal House
on my iPad you are wrong. That's the first one I downloaded.
Now I do realize that Bluto didn't really go to Dartmouth, but knowing that I was coming
to the campus that inspired one of my all-time favorite movies really was pretty exciting.
And of course I look forward to eating a meal at Homeplate and taking a dip in the Connecticut
River but it looks like those two options are out. Sorry about that. College today is
very different than when I went to college.
I also want to welcome all the graduate students here and everyone else. This is an exciting
opportunity for me. I've spoken before at many college commencements. But on graduation
morning most students don't listen very well because they're either too excited, too terrified,
or too hung-over, or some combination thereof. So I'm glad that I'll have the opportunity
to speak with all of you as though you are in the middle of your academic journeys—and
I really do look forward to answering some questions afterwards.
Just two months ago, I gave the commencement speech at my alma mater, Johns Hopkins. I
entered my freshman year there 50 years ago—I know, wow—in the summer of 1960. And I told
the graduates that a lot had changed on campus. But a lot had not changed, and really the
biggest changes from them until now are in America. Back then, the promise of the American
dream was still out of reach for far too many. There was no Civil Rights Act for minorities,
no Voting Rights Act for the disenfranchised, no Medicaid for the poor, and no Medicare
for the elderly.
But by the end of the 1960s, all of that had changed, and it changed because Americans—many
of them young like you and idealistic—had the courage to fight for their ideals. Now
we didn't have all the answers back then but we asked the right questions, I think, on
civil rights, poverty, education, women's rights, environmental protection, and so on.
And over time, unfortunately I think what's changed in America is people have stopped
asking these questions. What's really happened is that good intentions became confused with
good results, and honest dialogue became confused with political correctness, and religious
convictions became confused with scientific evidence.
We've come a long way since then, since I was a college student, and we do have a lot
to be proud of. But I think today we also face enormous challenges, some of them a lot
greater than we did back then. Many of which I think we've been much too slow to confront:
immigration, education, climate change, rising health care costs—the list goes on. And
that's where all of you come in and that's what I wanted to talk to you about today.
As you study and think about these and other issues, I'd like to share with you some of
the lessons I've learned since I stood in your shoes and I hope that when you think
about these things you'll find those ideas useful.
In organizing these lessons, I thought I would take a page from Dartmouth's book by adopting
your plan D, or D-Plan as you call it. And I'm told D-Plan helps guide you through the
dizzying maze of choices you face. Well, here's the bad news. In the real world, unfortunately,
there is no D-Plan. But I'm going to give you an alternative and I'll call it the "B-Plan."
No, it's not the "Bloomberg Plan." That you can read about in that thrilling autobiography
Bloomberg by Bloomberg, currently ranked number one hundred and fifty-seven thousand, one
hundred and seventy-nine on Amazon.com. As a matter-of-fact, somebody once said the rarest
book in the world is an un-autographed copy of Bloomberg by Bloomberg. The B-Plan, like the D-plan, is divided into
quarters and it contains some ideas that I hope will guide you on your journey, so here
we go.
First and foremost, and most importantly, is be independent. You can be a Democrat or
a Republican—as a matter-of-fact I've been both—or you can be anything else. But never
make the mistake of thinking that any particular party has a monopoly on ethics or good ideas.
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me in government is how many highly intelligent
people are willing to accept a party's conventional wisdom without asking the hard questions.
And they follow ideology and special interests and the polls, instead of following the facts.
We have a saying in city government in New York that I think served us well for a long
time: "In God We Trust. Everyone else, bring data."
And the reality is, both liberals and conservatives have some good ideas, the only problem is
that, too often, neither side is able or willing to admit that the other side might actually
be on to something. Take immigration. Liberals tend to talk about our need for more immigrants,
and conservatives tend to talk about the need to control our borders. And you know what?
They are both right. Our refusal to let more immigrants into this country is sending jobs
overseas and threatening our long-term economic health. It is what I call national suicide.
At the same time, our ability to stop the flow of illegal immigrants threatens our long-term
national security.
This spring, I helped launch a new bi-partisan coalition called the Partnership for a New
American Economy that includes mayors and business leaders who understand how important
this issue is. And we'll try to shift the debate away from the extremes and towards
a common-sense, common-ground solution.
This is perhaps the single greatest problem facing our country today, and for the record,
there is no courage in Washington to face this issue whatsoever. It is not partisan,
it is not tied of one side of the aisle or the other, or one end of Pennsylvania Avenue
or the other. The truth of the matter is in Washington they are so afraid of facing this
issue that if you bring it up they literally leave the room. So number one in my B-Plan
is be independent.
The second part of the B-Plan is be innovative. Being innovative starts with having the guts
to take risks. And whenever you try new things, chances are you are going to fail, some of
the time. I certainly have. One of the best things that happened to me was a failure in
the first company I worked for after 15 years in 1981 when I was fired. It was a job that
I absolutely loved, but the very next day I took a chance and began a technology company
in the hopes of making financial information available to people, right at their fingertips,
and also to get even with those who fired me. And living well is the best revenge folks,
never forget that.
And everyone told me I was crazy, and they probably were right. But it was the best thing
I ever did for my career and if you fast forward 20 years to 2001, everyone told me I was crazy
to run for mayor when I fired myself from my company. And they were probably right.
But thank goodness I did not let that stop me.
I think in politics, too many elected officials tend to play it safe, because the conventional
wisdom is to try and keep everyone happy. And that's never been the approach that I
have taken and I believe if you take on big controversial issues people will respect you
for it over the long run. And it really is the only way you are going to get things done
and make a big difference. So the key to being innovative is to go where others wouldn't
dare and I wanted to give you a couple of examples.
A number of years ago I suggested that we should ban smoking in New York City in public
places. Not that I have anything against smoking, if you want to kill yourself you're perfectly
willing to do so. I think it's really Darwin at work. You've got to be pretty stupid to
smoke if you look at the medical advice. But having said that, if you want to do it, I
think you have the right to do it.
What you don't have the right to do, however, is to kill somebody else. And if you smoke
in an enclosed place you are doing exactly that. There was enormous uproar, I had to
force it through our city council, there were threats of court challenges, people picketed
and threw things at me. Everybody said that the restaurants and hotels would go out of
business, nobody would ever visit New York City again, all of our citizens would head
over to New Jersey.
Christie Whitman, who was the governor of New Jersey told me shortly thereafterwards
that her son would not stay in New Jersey and go to a bar because he couldn't stand
smelling the smoke. And the truth of the matter is people came into New York. It turned out
to be a godsend for the restaurant and hotel industry and the tourism business.
It helped us increase life expectancy in New York City in the last eight years by nineteen
months. One year and seven months of 8.4 million people living longer is really quite something
if you think about it, and smoking sensation was a very big part of it. And today I don't
think you could find a restaurant owner or bar owner, or somebody that worked in either
one, who would want to roll this back.
In fact, we did it, and shortly thereafterwards all of Europe followed. And most big cities
in America followed. Even in the tobacco growing states today, the big cities in Tennessee
and places like that, have banned smoking in public places. It was not popular, nobody
wanted to take their picture with me. When I would do a parade on Staten Island I got
a lot of one finger waves. But nevertheless, by doing what was right, it turned out that
people loved it, and that gave us the ability to go and take on other public health issues.
Another place where we've tried to make a difference in this country and we have not
been so successful yet is getting rid of guns in the hands of children and criminals. There
are federal laws that say you can't sell guns to criminals or to minors, and then Congress
passes laws that make it virtually impossible for the police department to enforce those
laws. The NRA is out there taking no prisoners. They support, there's a website you can go
on and it says "Fifty caliber gun, capable of bringing down a large airliner at a mile
and a half." Now, I understand why people might want to buy a gun to go hunting, or
even to protect themselves. But why do you need a gun that can bring down a large airliner
at a mile and a half? And it makes no sense whatsoever.
But once again, Congress has explicitly refused to address the issue. As a matter-of-fact,
the leadership on both sides of the aisle and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue runs
away from anything with the word gun in it faster than they run away from things with
the word immigration in it. And you will take a look at every bill that's being passed today,
there's always a carve-out for the NRA. Nevertheless, while I may be a target for the NRA, and I'm
lucky enough to have been on their monthly magazine with a target behind me, it's the
kind of thing that you want to take on when you're out there. Because if you don't run
big risks and you don't try big things you're never going to accomplish very much and you're
not going to like what you see in the mirror.
Now if you've been following the B-Plan so far you've been independent, and you have
been innovative. So my third thing is be generous. Americans are the most generous people in
the world, we give more of our time and money than people in any other country do and it's
great to see more and more young people choosing to volunteer and join service organizations,
both in college and after graduation.
One of the things that I've been most proud of in New York City is how we reach out, reach
in our own pocket for the money to do so, we reach out and help those who are less fortunate
than the rest of us. In New York City, for example, about one in every three thousand
five hundred people live on the streets. If you do the math, with eight-odd million people
its twenty-five hundred people that sleep on the subways or under bridges. And virtually
everyone we interface with we try to bring them into shelters, we try to give them counseling.
But they have either psychological or addition problems and they just don't want to go near
us. And the question is, how does that stack up compared to other cities in this country?
We're one out of every thirty-five hundred. LA is one out of every ninety-six, and the
rest of this country is somewheres in the middle. The bottom line is New Yorkers are
generous, they reach into their pockets and we have programs to really help people rather
than just talk about it.
Now when I got out of college my generation didn't really have a choice about service.
In those days we had the Vietnam War, and there was a draft, and everybody had to go.
Nobody went to Canada or burnt their draft card, I don't care what they say in the play
Hair, the bottom line is you were called and you had to go. And at the last minute. I hadn't
even bothered to look for a job when I was getting out of college, but it turned out
my flat feet kept me out of the Army—Who knew?—and so I spent my time doing other
things in this country.
And I think no matter whether we're fighting a conflict in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan,
when you talk about service the first group of people that earn my admiration are those
in our all-volunteer Army and Navy and Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force, that are out
there protecting us. Particularly on college campuses, where you say things that you probably
won't say later on when you're an adult and working for a living. But we have a freedom
today on our college campuses that is being paid for by other people the age of the students
on college campuses who've dedicated their lives, have put their lives at risk even,
to go overseas and fight this country's battles.
They have been doing it for the last 235 years, and every once in a while on college campuses
it becomes fashionable to picket against the war, picket—whatever war it happens to be—picket
against the troops. You can picket against the war. But the troops that we send over
whether they're drafted or they're volunteers, those are the people that are giving us the
right to picket, and we should never forget that.
When you get out of school if you want to help your community, or even while you are
in school, there are plenty of ways to do it. You can tutor a kid, you can help plant
a tree, you can volunteer at a hospital, you could spend time in a developing country.
God knows places like Haiti need volunteers to come in and to help mitigate this terrible
tragedy that the world has basically walked away from. There are lots of ways to help.
In New York City we've tried to formalize it. We started something called NYC Service.
We hired a woman to run it. I've got the Rockefeller Foundation for the first round and then my
foundation along with the Rockefeller Foundation is giving grants so other cities around the
country can hire somebody to coordinate their volunteer efforts. And what we're trying to
do is to answer President Obama's call for a new era of service, and actually match up
volunteers with organizations that need them, matching skill sets or abilities. Some of
the things we've done in New York is we've trained fifty-one thousand, I think it is,
New Yorkers in CPR. We've administered one hundred and sixty thousand H1N1 vaccinations.
We've sent three or four thousand care packages to New Yorkers serving in Afghan and Iraq.
We've painted something like two-hundred and twenty-five thousand square feet of rooftops
that reflect the sun and save energy. We formed an organization to convince other cities to
follow along, it's called Cities of Service. You can go on the web and find some more information
about it if you are interested.
And I know there are lots of service opportunities here at Dartmouth, and I would encourage all
of you to take advantage of it. Not only will it put a smile on your face as you turn out
the light with that last glimpse in the mirror, I can just tell you it is great for meeting
people. And when you get out into the business world one of the things you will find is that
a great deal of the networking and contacts that you make are built around philanthropy.
In New York City, it is the major thing that pulls people together. You look at a board
of a charity and you will see people from all economic groups, all ethnicities, all
parts of the city. All economic groups working together. And it helps your business, makes
you feel better, and it can also help your social life, incidentally, so I would urge
you to do that.
And the final element of the B-Plan, and this goes back to my Boy Scout days, is be prepared.
I know what you are thinking, you've already prepared, you've mapped out the rest of your
life, the rest of your education, postgraduate work, residencies, fellowships, clerkships,
and you're going to have a long meaningful career. You have all of your plans already
laid down.
That's not the preparation I'm talking about. Because let me tell you, the likelihood of
you winding up ten years from now doing what you think you're going to be doing ten years
from now is probably less than one in ten. The truth of the matter is you don't know
what opportunities are going to be presented to you. You don't know where you're going
to succeed and where you're going to fail. The careers that you wind up in are invariably
going to be very different. So what I would do is I would focus on how I interact with
people, how I approach problems, I would get involved in government. If you want to go
into public service I would recommend you first become a billionaire, but that's another
You're going to spend your entire life doing something different than what you think, and
the good news is that Dartmouth is preparing you for that. Because while you think they're
individual subjects, what they're really teaching you to do is to think and to reason, and to
build relationships, and that's what's going to carry you on.
Now if this was a commencement speech I'd add a few other things—be kind and courteous
and responsible and loyal and all of those kinds of things—but I guess the thing that
I really want to tell you is don't forget to have fun. President Kim isn't going to
like me for saying that, but I remember having nothing but fun in college. I'm not sure I
ever learned anything. As a matter-of-fact my academic record, which I'm very proud of,
is that I always made the top half of the class possible. You can tell about how smart
a group is, when you use that joke and then the time from when you finish until they start
laughing. You're sort of a C+, I'll say.
You've made it through the winter having a great time here. Diana tells me that this
is a great party school. She said all she did was ski. I'm not sure I believe that,
I think she probably did more than that. Drank a lot and probably smoked a lot and all of
that sort of stuff. But you're getting a great education, use it well. Thank you for having
me. I would urge all of you when you are looking for a career, and if you can find a place
if you have some choice in your location, pick New York City. It is the most wonderful
city in the world. It's the most diverse city, and it is a meritocracy. It is not an easy
city to live in, but it's a fun city to live in and if you want to be a big fish in the
big pond, it's the Big Apple. Thank you very much.
President Kim: We have people collecting questions, but I get to ask the first one.
Mayor I asked you a form of this the first time we met but, you know, I've been working
on social goals for most of the last 25 years—health care, health care in developing countries.
And the thing that I notice is that when it comes to our most important social goals—health,
social welfare, education—that not only do we often execute poorly, but we seem to
tolerate poor execution, sometimes even celebrate poor execution. That being on the social side
means that it's okay to not meet budgets. You have somehow made the transition, so that
working in an environment where you execute poorly, you're out of business, you've brought
that sense to city government. So I talk a lot here at Dartmouth about needing to build
a science of execution around social goals. When you don't have market forces disciplining
poor execution you've got to find out other ways to make sure that the execution happens.
How have you done that?
Mayor Bloomberg: Well, accountability is everything. We tend to, for example, in government, start
programs and we do the reverse of what you do in business. In business, if a product
line is doing well you move your resources into that. In government, we move resources
from programs that work to programs that don't work, because nobody stands up and screams
for more for the good programs. They only scream for those programs that are abject
failures. And it's because the people who work in those programs want to keep their
jobs. And typically government turns around and changes the equation, and starts working
for the people who deliver the service, rather than the people to whom the service is being
For example, public education in this country is generally run for the people that work
in public education—teachers, principles, custodians, whatever—and not for the students.
And you say, "Well how can that be?" The bottom line is legislators want to get re-elected,
and the teachers vote, and the students don't. Then you say, "Well what about the parents?"
You meet people all the time and you'd say, "Is your kid going to a good school?"
"Oh yes, my child is going to a great school." Okay lady, "How do you know?"
"The teacher told me it was a great school." "But lady, your kid can't read."
"Well, but I like the teacher." And that's unfortunately what happens. Public
education is a disaster in this country. We have far and away the best graduate education
after high school, undergraduate and graduate school. But we have a dismal, we're way down
in the list of how good public schools are throughout the world. In a world where it's
more global and more competitive, half the people in this country are creationalists.
I don't know what don't know what kind of a doctor you go to if you're a creationalist,
but how could you go to somebody who doesn't believe in science? How can you teach kids
that science doesn't matter? And yet we do that. And there's nobody screaming for it
other than in certain pockets.
People like the Gates Foundation have given away a lot of money, Eli Broad, to try to
help public education, and we've made some big progress in our city. But there's still
a whole bunch of New York City elected officials who don't want to improve the public schools.
As a matter-of-fact, we're trying to close 19 schools and we've been sued by some organizations
that represent poor minorities in our city where these schools are failing their kids,
and they're suing to have us keep the schools open. It's counter-intuitive, but it all gets
back to how much the pressure groups that can influence elected officials' campaigns.
And so the NRA, which is totally unreasonable on guns, it scares all the elected officials.
Because they say if you don't vote the way we want you to vote we will get your opponent
elected. And the elected official says hey, this is the only way I can feed my family,
so it all comes down to that I think.
We're devoting our resources in the wrong ways. That's why we won't focus on immigration,
tort reform, health care. We passed a health care bill that does absolutely nothing to
fix the big health care problems in this country. It is just a disgrace. The president in all
fairness started out by pointing out what the big problems were, but then turned it
over to Congress, which didn't pay any attention to any of those big problems, and just created
another program that's going to cost a lot of money. And it's really sad because they
say they've insured or provided coverage for another 45 million people, except there's
no doctors for 45 million more people. Unless they fix immigration and let people who come
here for medical education stay here, those people are just going to do the same thing.
They're going to have to the emergency rooms where they've been, except that now it's going
to cost a lot more money.
President Kim: You take a fundamentally different approach, though, Major Bloomberg. You set
incentives in your company. Are you setting incentives in the government in the right
way? Can you just do things by proclamation? Is it policy change?
Mayor Bloomberg: Well, government, we have a democracy, and I think what's interesting
is people in business think that in government nobody works very hard and innovates. And
I can tell you that is not true. We have an awful lot of hard-working people who really
are creative and could make a lot more money in the private sector but chose not to. People
in government think in business you snap your fingers and everybody jumps, and that is not
true either.
What we've tried to do is to set some goals out and measure our progress towards those
goals. But it is very disappointing. We have a list of every single thing that we promised
during the first time I ran for office during the campaign, and then the second time four
years later, and the third time four years after that. And every year we update the list
and we say which things are finished, and which things we're working on, and which things
we want to get to, but so far we don't have the money, or we're tied up in court, or we
just don't have the resources in terms of the people, and then which things are no longer
needed or turned out to be dumb ideas.
And you know exactly what the press focuses on. It's only that fourth category. And in
the end, the press, if they won't write about the accomplishments that any part of government
does, it's harder to get the resources for those things. But nevertheless, we've set
our targets and we're going to blindly push on.
And I think that if you—my advice to anybody when they get elected—is do the tough things
first and then you have time to show that they work. And if you can show that you've
had some successes, then you can do two things. One, you'll have the courage internally and
the support to do more. And two, you'll be able to attract great people. And that is
true for businesses or for government.
I'll give you a good example. In New York City when I came into office, we have in our
school system a million, one hundred thousand kids. We have eighty thousand teachers. Back
in 2002, we had twelve thousand teachers quit or retire each year. That's fifteen percent
turnover. You cannot run anything with a fifteen percent turnover, it's a disaster. There's
just too many comings and goings. And incidentally we could not replace those twelve thousand
people with certified teachers. We just couldn't get them.
Today, something like five thousand quit or retire each year, down from twelve thousand.
And we have between fifty and sixty thousand applicants from across the country to fill
those five thousand slots. Why? Because people getting out of school that want to make a
difference want to go where there is change. And we're focusing on really doing the tough
things, and that's New York City with our education department, and so they want to
be part of that. They want to go to a place that's fun and challenging, that's New York.
And they want to go to a place that's safe, and so low crime really is one of the things
that let's us attract great people. But we get people who could make an awful lot more
money around the world, who have world-class reputations who want to come to be a part
of something because they think that we're really making a difference. Why are we making
a difference? Because they've seen us doing it in the past so they believe it in the future.
President Kim: A question from the audience about the education system. "What were your
policy and practical considerations in deciding to appoint the school board superintendant
rather than having him or her elected? What have been the benefits and challenges of the
new system?"
Mayor Bloomberg: Well, the skills to get elected are different than the skills to serve. And
I'm not suggesting we shouldn't have democracy, but there is something to be said for a democracy
like Singapore's. In Singapore, you can't stand for election unless you have certain
credentials. You have to have run something, and have a PhD, and published, and done this.
The New York Times would say, and you also have to be the son of the last leader, but
that's another issue.
Having qualifications to run for office, some people would argue, is not democratic. Everybody
who is a citizen should be able to apply, put themselves in front of the voters. Course
then we have parties that prevent that, but the question is: Do you really want to go
and elect—I'll give you a good example—judges? Why do you think that the skills to go out
and campaign have anything to do with the skills to be a good judge? Or the skills to
get elected to have anything to do with being a good schools chancellor?
As a matter-of-fact, people always say, well, you have to involve the parents. Parents do
have a real responsibility. They have the children most of the time. Teachers have the
children for maybe five hours a day, five days a week, twenty-six weeks in a year. The
parents have them all the rest of the time. But the skills in the classroom are very different
than the skills in the home. And what you're supposed to teach in a classroom is very different
than what you're supposed to teach in the home. And I don't think that if you put the
parents in charge of the school system you will get the kind educational system you want.
You want somebody who understands what the world is going to require of these children
when they grow up, and how to marshal the best science in terms of teaching, and to
attract and manage the people who can provide that service. And that's a management skill
that has nothing to do with either being a parent or running for office.
I would argue that having a mayor, for example, in a city is fine. You can argue that you
should have a legislature to go along with it. I think a lot of the purists would say
that's a check-and-balance on the mayor. But if you look at places where there are strong
legislatures, for example, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, you will find disasters
at the state level where they had strong legislatures.
As a matter-of-fact take a look at Washington. We have … the president can propose, the
president can cajole, and maybe influence, but it's Congress that writes the laws and
allocates the money. Are you happy with what they've been doing? The public doesn't seem
to be. And so I would argue, and keep in mind as an executive I have a vested interest in
doing this, but I would argue that the public's safeguard is every four years of the ballot
box and you should pick somebody who you think is very smart and then ride with them for
the period and to the extent that you have to allocate powers between the executive branch
and legislative branch, far and away you should give more powers to the executive branch if
you want progress.
I feel the same way about the governance of schools, just in case you …
President Kim: Wonderful idea. Wonderful idea, just a great idea.
Major Bloomberg: I know the faculty here would love it.
President Kim: This is a wonderful question from one of our students. "I've recently been
bold asking the hard questions, and am now spurned by the few who are threatened. How
do you yourself bounce back from the fallout of asking the hard questions, the obstacles
that this may create?"
Major Bloomberg: Well, the first thing when they're not looking just walk up and coldcock
'em. You could also let the air out of the tires of their car, you know, some things
like that. I wouldn't suggest anything more serious than that.
You know, to some extent you're known by the enemies you have. To some extent you have
to look in a mirror and say, "I know it's not popular but I know I'm doing what's right."
Sometimes you just have to do things that you don't think is in your own interest. I'll
tell you a story I just thought about it.
The first day I ever campaigned was back in the summer of 2001. I decided to run for mayor
and I went to Staten Island on this boardwalk with somebody else, and I had never before
walked up to total strangers and said "Hi, I'm Mike Bloomberg." It does take—it's not
a natural thing to do—and it does take a long time. And after eight and a half years
of waving at parades and shaking hands of everybody on the street and every cop and
firefighter and everybody on the subway in the morning, you get used to it, but it's
just not a natural thing.
Anyways, this nice little old lady about this tall, gray hair, looks up at me adoringly,
and she said, "Oh, I'm so glad you're running for office, and I'm going to vote for you,
and all of my friends are going to vote for you, and as a matter-of-fact the guy you're
running against is going to drop out because he'll realize it is hopeless to run against
you. You will be a great mayor." And I'm thinking "Hey this is great, you know? I'm going to
get this all over in one day."
And then she looked up at me very adoringly, and she said, "and I'm so glad you're pro-life."
Now, I happen to be so adamantly pro-choice that I don't even want to talk about it. I
am NARAL's biggest supporter, regardless—it doesn't matter. It's what I believe, okay?
And for an instant I thought, "What do you say?" Here is a potential voter, the first
one I've talked to. Like to get elected, think I could do a good job if I did get elected.
Do you obfuscate? Do you change the subject? Do you speak in double-speak?
That's what most elected officials do. If you go back and look when they were running
and said, I thought they promised me X and in fact they're doing Y, you'll see that they
have a skill that lets you say something that everybody believes, everybody hears what they
want to hear. "I voted for the war but not to fund it." "I'm pro-choice, but not for
women." It's that kind of … and Congress does it all the time. They want to show that
they're tough on corruption so they pass a law that's tough on corruption. But there's
a provision where every city that doesn't want to enforce the law can just sign a piece
of paper and wavier out of it. And we don't go back and ask the follow-up question of
"What's the effect of what you've done?"
Or they pass a law, well there's a reason why Congress passes two thousand page bills.
That was the financial bill they passed yesterday, or the health care bill. It's because nobody
can possibly read it. And so they can go back to their constituencies, no matter what their
constituencies are, and say, "I protected you." As a matter-of-fact, some very wise
person once said that, "The job of an elected official is to take money from the wealthy,
votes from the poor, and convince both groups that they are the only protection from the
other side." You should listen to that, it's funny.
President Kim: Two questions that are linked. The first is from one of our business students,
who is a recent arrival from the UK. "I'd be interested to hear your perspective on
how the financial regulatory reform passed by Congress yesterday is likely to impact
the relative competiveness of New York and London as financial centers. And related to
that, what happened with LeBron?"
Major Bloomberg: The only time LeBron James ever came up, in a serious way, was when we
looked at what the taxes were on his salary between New York City, state, and Miami, Florida,
state and city taxes. Dramatically different. I don't know if that was one of the differences,
but the amount of money he's going to take home in Florida is a lot greater than it would
be in New York. So people that think you can keep taxing there's a good example you cannot.
The only time anyone ever yelled at me on the subway was one guy screamed at me "Fix
the Knicks!" I can do a lot of things, but I can't do that. And what's more I grew up
in Boston, I was a Celtics fan. It doesn't earn me a lot of points when I go to a Knicks
game, but that's neither here nor there.
In terms of competitiveness, you can move from one place to another, but it's not easy.
You can move for one reason but that doesn't mean that there isn't another reason that
would incent you not to move. London or the UK just passed a very stiff higher tax temporary,
and if you believe that I've got a bridge I want to sell you. So the tax incentives
at the moment would favor New York.
Regulation here, it all is a question of what the regulations are actually—which ones
are implemented. The way this bill is written, Congress has some broad ideas, and then the
SEC, and the Treasury, and the Fed have to write the actual things that you've got to
do. That's where all the lobbyists come in. And if you want to know will they really change
things? Just remember that virtually every part of our financial industry has some oversight
by different committees in Congress. And the reason I point that out is the people that
are on those committees get the funding for their campaigns so they can stay in office
and feed their families, from the industries that they regulate. So if you think they are
going to kill the golden goose you don't understand government.
President Kim: One question was, "What is the most important problem in the country
today and how would you go about fixing it?"
Major Bloomberg: Well, I would argue that immigration long-term is that. That and public
education. I think the president really deserves a lot of credit, he and his education secretary,
Arne Duncan, to try to do something about public education, although you can see Congress
trying to water it down.
When you have a program that distributes monies based on states or localities doing things,
there's an awful lot of states localities that don't want to do those things, but they
want their share of the money. And the way Congress works is, whether its Homeland Security
money or education funds or agriculture, anything else, everybody gets something. That's the
ways they put together a coalition to pass the laws. And so New York City may be the
biggest target. Every time you catch a terrorist they've got a map of New York City, and not
of a corn field in Nebraska. But let me tell you Nebraska gets its share of Homeland Security
monies just like everybody else.
We are unwilling to really focus on education. We are unwilling to really focus on immigration.
What I would do is, first I would try to get the president to do this—so far unsuccessfully—I
would say, go to Congress and say the one immigration thing I want to do, right now,
is we'll pass a law that will let anybody come to this country if they are willing to
start a small business and employ ten Americans. And as long as you keep employing ten or more
Americans you can keep your Green Card.
That would go towards two things that people want. One, bringing diversity to the business
community. And two, getting jobs for people. And Congress probably would listen to that,
because they are concerned about jobs. They get beaten-up for not enough jobs all the
time. That would probably work.
I think anything else in immigration, certainly nothing until after November. And I'm skeptical
that after that this country has the courage to go and to pass comprehensive immigration
reform. We are desperate for the doctors and lawyers and dentists and scientists and educators
that we need to improve our country, to create the jobs. And yet I think the reality is everybody's
talking about something different with education reform. Because where I say we should bring
in those people we need for—whether it's for agriculture or for science or whatever—there's
an awful lot of people that view immigration reform as bringing in their relatives. And
if we ever did get immigration reform, I think that we probably would not allocate very many
people, very many visas, for those that we actually need. It is a very big problem.
President Kim: Right. So, again, let me read this verbatim, it's important: "Being a New
Yorker and a proud supporter of Major Mike Bloomberg, when will you seriously consider
making a run for the White House? You would be great, we need you, and I'd work my tail
off to get you there."
Major Bloomberg: Well, thank you Diana for that question.
Number one I am gainfully employed. I've made a commitment for the next twelve hundred and
sixty-three days, but who is counting? Mayors don't go on to other offices, people would
say higher office, but I would argue that perhaps the best political job and the best
chance to individually change society is being a major, particularly of a big city. Arguably
being the major of New York is the best political job in the world. We have our own foreign
policy, I've got the eighth biggest army in the NYPD, we've got a budget that's bigger
than most countries' GNP, we've got more people that live in New York than live in the second-largest
city in the country they came from, so New York is really different.
But mayors have to, unlike in my examples of "pro-choice but not for women," mayors
have to explicitly say yes or no, and be on the record, and then have the press follow
it, and deliver the service the next day, not just promise the service. And you don't
make friends by doing that. I am …
And every one of my positions cuts out half the country. So, I'm pro-choice, I'm pro-gay
rights, I'm pro-immigration, I'm against guns, I believe in Darwin. It's down to Diana my
mother and me left, and I'm not sure about my mother. So there's not a chance that you
could get elected, and I have a commitment to finish out this term. So if drafted I won't
run, unless I really thought you had a chance to win.
Once again, you gotta think guys, come on. No—no is the answer, and if the press is
in the back it's not true. I'm not running, make that clear.
President Kim: [question from audience] "Beyond painting roof tops and building parks, what
environmental or clean energy related programs is New York City working on and would they
work in other cities?"
Mayor Bloomberg: Yeah sure they would work in other cities, if you're interested you
can go on the web, PlaNYC has a hundred and twenty-seven different points. One of them,
working with Bette Midler to plant one million trees. Trees clean the air, improve property
values. Painting roofs. We changed our building code so there's a real incentive to upgrade
your boiler and your air conditioner.
We worked very hard to change the city's fleet of vehicles. We have tens of thousands of
vehicles in our city. We have three hundred thousand employees. We have a lot of police
cars and garbage trucks and fire trucks and all of the inspectors that go around have
to have their own cars. We've gone to hybrids for an awful lot of those. We've made a commitment
to, by the year 2017, reduce our greenhouse gasses for city facilities and city cars by
thirty percent, and the overall objective is to reduce the whole city by 2030. But I've
never asked anybody to do something that I'm not willing to do so we have the commitment
to get it done. I'll only be in office through 2013 but we'll have made a big start on all
of these programs. And you should go on the web and look, NYC, PlaNYC.
And its fascinating the kind of things you can do to reduce consumption. Congestion pricing
we tried to do, state legislature wouldn't go along with that. But we certainly have
to move more people over to mass transit. It's interesting. New York City is exact reverse
of virtually every other city. Most cities, eighty percent of the pollution comes from
transportation and twenty percent from buildings. But because so many people in New York City
walk or take mass transit, our city its twenty percent from transportation and eighty percent
from buildings. So a lot of programs that make buildings more efficient in terms of
using less energy or wasting less energy are high on the list and will have a very big
President Kim: So in closing, Mayor Bloomberg, you've told our students that they should
party a lot, swim in the Connecticut, [Bloomberg: To-ga, To-ga, To-ga] But let me let you redeem
yourself with this question.
We talk a lot, and we've been talking a lot, about particular habits of the mind. You mentioned
independence, innovation, persistence. What is one of the habits of your mind? A persistent
habit that you've cultivated over the last years of your career, that you think has been
most important to you? And what direct advice would you give these students in terms of
habits that they should cultivate?
Major Bloomberg: I went to Hopkins to study physics and it turned out there was a German
requirement. So after thirty days I became an engineer where there was no language requirement.
And I think looking back, an engineering background was perhaps the transformative thing in my
life. Because in science—it would have worked if I stayed a physicist too, I suppose—in
science you have to be able to look in a mirror and answer the question. You can't just say
something and believe it. You have to be able to show people that you're right. The essence
of science is that somebody else independently can verify what you claim you saw. And that
discipline of not just taking people's word for it, or not just automatically falling
into what's generally accepted, has forced me to step back and say, "Why?" and to question.
And if you question why we're doing things, I think you'll find yourself targeting your
energies much more efficiently, appropriately, and in a much more satisfying way. So if somebody
says, "Well, this works," well that may be, but stop and think. Does it make any common
sense to you? Listen to what people are telling you what to do. Think about what they say
in the newspaper. Does it make any sense? Do you want to be part of it? Could you do
it better? It's that mental discipline of questioning, which I guess is the scientific
method, you could call it.
There was a great story, a great letter to the editor, I think it was the chairman's
letter in the Smithsonian magazine about five or six years ago. Where the chairman of the
Smithsonian wrote a letter saying he had a lot of friends who had studied liberal arts
who were proud of the fact that they knew nothing about science and bragged about it.
But he had other friends who had graduate degrees in the sciences and they never bragged
about their lack of knowledge of Shakespeare. And I've always thought that tells you that
sciences force you in ways to, the discipline forces you in a ways, to really reflect, look
at it and make sure that you want to go in that direction and that you understand the
implications of it.
And I guess in addition to that it's just, it isn't not caring, it's just being confident
enough in yourself. That gets back to your question, the guy that said I take unpopular
positions and nobody likes me for it. The question is not do they like you for it. The
question is, do you think it's right?
It is great to be loved by everyone but the thing that's most important is that you respect
yourself. I'm not suggesting you go out and yell and scream at others and deliberately
try to provoke. Sometimes discretion does make sense, to not say things. Because you
don't want to hurt other people. And you could respect their views or not respect their views,
but they do have a right to their views.
I'm getting tied up in New York, there's a group that wants to build a mosque, replace
an old building two blocks from ground zero. And there are some people that think that
this should be prohibited, and we should investigate where the monies that they hope to raise will
come from, and have some restrictions on what they can preach in the mosque. And I have
said, so many times I'm getting tired of it, I'm not winning a lot of friends in doing
so, but I just think it is the most outrageous thing that anybody could suggest.
Here we have 9/11, the actual site where some people felt that our freedoms to practice
our religion were so abhorrent to them they were willing to take 3,000 people and their
own lives. If there's any place that we should be proud to show the world that we are an
open country and an open city, if somebody wants to practice their religion, whatever
that religion is, they should have the right to do it. And I happen to think this is a
very appropriate place for somebody who wants to build a mosque, because it tells the world
that America, and New York City, which is what I'm responsible for, really believes
in what we preach. We all say freedom of religion. Well, it's not just freedom of your religion,
it's freedom of everybody's religion. And I don't think this country wants to go in
a direction of questioning …
A lot of people that didn't applaud, if you'll notice. I happen to feel very strongly that
those values that I was taught in Civics 101, 102, that my parents taught me. If you want
freedoms you've got to give other people their freedoms. And this is a perfect example of
standing up. And those people that died in 9/11 actually died so that we can, and the
people I talked about going overseas and fighting and dying for us, they're doing that so that
we can practice our religion. And if you care about religion, you should make sure that
the government doesn't get involved in religion.
President Kim: Mayor Bloomberg, thank you so much. You know, the impetus for this lecture
series came from one of our presidents, who in 1946, in August of 1946, he was the director
of public relations in the state department when nuclear weapons were dropped directly
over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That month he was announced as the next president of Dartmouth
College. So when he came here he said on his very first Convocation to all the students,
"The world's troubles are your troubles, but there's nothing wrong with the world that
can't be fixed by better human beings." And he set a tone for us, and that's the tone
I've tried to re-create here. Which is, we here at Dartmouth are in the business of building
those better human beings who will tackle those problems that you've tackled so effectively.
You honor us by being the first speaker in this series, I think you've set a tone for
us, and on July twenty-ninth I will be giving the second lecture in the series where we're
trying to use science in a way that I think you'd like. We're trying to understand, what
is the science of learning for people from 18 to 22 and older, and how can we bring that
to Dartmouth College? For example, we know that physics lectures often aren't very effective,
but we still do them. It's part of our habit. And there are all kinds of ways of building
habits of the mind like persistence and innovation and creativity, that science has taught us
how to take those forward. You're a great example of how you've used your habits of
the mind in so many wonderful ways, and I just want to represent the entire Dartmouth
community and thank you for coming.