The 5 Best Big-City Mayors

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STEVE LISS FOR TIME

CHICAGO: Daley surveys his domain from the rooftop of city hall

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Thanks in part to O'Malley, Baltimore may be on the cusp of a renaissance. Its population slide—from nearly 1 million in 1950 to almost 650,000 today—has almost bottomed out. Commercial building permits jumped from $23 million in 2002 to $488 million last year.

Such news heartens Baltimore residents, who sometimes jokingly call themselves Balti-morons for living in a city so grim it inspired NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street series. Drug use and crime in general are down, although O'Malley has only slightly dented the murder rate, which is five times New York's.

The telegenic O'Malley is known for his brashness, a trait honed by years of fronting a Celtic rock band and being the eldest son among six siblings. He briefly gained national attention in February for saying that in cutting urban aid, President George W. Bush "is attacking America's cities" in much the same way that the 9/11 hijackers did. His fellow mayors grimaced, and O'Malley quickly backed off the analogy. He also attracted headlines when rumors he was having an extramarital affair ("despicable lies," O'Malley said) exploded into public view, and Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich fired an aide for spreading the story on the Internet.

Recently the mayor announced he was leaving his band, O'Malley's March, to concentrate on his day job. As he hung up his guitar at his last St. Patrick's Day show, he urged his fans to pick up green-and-white bumper stickers. They read o'malley for governor.

—By Mark Thompson/ Washington

Michael Bloomberg / New York Reluctant Pol
From the moment you enter his office at New York's city hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 63, wants visitors to know that he is not your average politician—or a politician at all. Bloomberg, you see, doesn't really have an office. Instead, he sits alongside much of his staff in the middle of what is known as the bullpen, a large, former public meeting room now packed with corporate cubicles like a Wall Street trading floor. "Walls are barriers, and my job is to remove them," says the billionaire businessman who made his fortune by building his namesake financial-data-and-media empire. "I wasn't hired to do well in the polls. I was hired to do a good job."

By a variety of measures, from the falling crime rate to the improving economy, Bloomberg has done just that. And he has done it in a post often described as the second toughest job in America—a job he inherited from the most famous mayor in the world, Rudy Giuliani, in the wake of 9/11 and a bearish stock market, no less.

Bloomberg has brought an unprecedented level of efficiency and transparency to New York City government. "The best thing is, he doesn't seem to be making decisions based on a four-year calendar," says Jonathan Bowles, research director at the Center for an Urban Future.

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