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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Over the past three-plus years, Bloomberg has trimmed a $6 billion budget deficit (in part by raising property taxes); spurred a wave of new economic development, especially in the four other boroughs besides Manhattan, so often ignored by his predecessors; taken control of the city's ailing schools and instituted a uniform math and reading curriculum, although the jury is still out on how much that will actually enhance students' educations; and improved the city's quality of life by banning smoking from all restaurants and bars, cracking down on noise and creating a one-stop complaint-and-question line, 311.

Perhaps most impressively, Bloomberg has managed to do that while being "the first mayor in a long time who has not been a polarizing figure," as Mitchell Moss, professor of urban planning at New York University, puts it. That is not to say his constituents necessarily appreciate the Republican mayor. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1, recent polls show that only about 40% of registered voters approve of his job performance. The majority of New Yorkers have also told pollsters they don't want to build a football stadium for the New York Jets on Manhattan's West Side, but Bloomberg is pushing hard for one anyway. In his mind, the stadium, which will double as a massive convention center and could also be the center of the 2012 Summer Olympics, for which New York is making a bid, is the kind of long-term economic bet that great cities, like great companies, have to make. "It is investing for the future," Bloomberg declares, sounding suspiciously like a politician, before adding a key, most impolitic warning, "with no guaranteed return."

—By Daniel Eisenberg

Gavin Newsom / San Francisco
For facilitating the marriage of nearly 4,000 gay couples in his city last year, Gavin Newsom is famous countrywide—and controversial. But at home in San Francisco, the mayor is simply adored. It's the main reason Newsom, 37, who barely squeaked into office in 2003, now enjoys an eye-popping 80% approval rating in America's ultraliberal gay mecca. But it is by no means the only factor. The workaholic millionaire restaurateur has packed more productivity into his first 15 months than many mayors manage in two terms. By diverting welfare payments for the homeless into a housing fund, Newsom's administration has reduced the number of long-term homeless in the city 41% and cut deaths on the street 40%. Health insurance is now guaranteed to every uninsured San Francisco resident under the age of 25 at a cost of $48 a year. Newsom also personally halted a strike at 14 hotels across the city late last year. He stood on the picket lines with unions, though the hotel lobby had written checks to his campaign, before brokering a cooling-off period that still continues.

"I'm the first to say that I've no idea what I'm doing," says Newsom.

"There's no manual here for how to be mayor." Tip for publishers: sign him up to write one.

—By Chris Taylor/San Francisco

Dick Murphy / San Diego
When he was elected mayor in 2000, Dick Murphy thought he had his hands full dealing with a troubled ballpark project and sewer spills that were shutting down San Diego's beaches. But then Murphy, 62, a state superior court judge, became embroiled in an even bigger mess: a $1.35 billion deficit at the city's public-employee pension fund.

The crisis has so discredited him, he almost lost his job last November to Donna Frye, a last-minute write-in candidate who runs a surf shop. She actually won more votes, but some 5,500 people who wrote in her name failed to shade in an oval box, and the courts ruled the ballots invalid.

It was Murphy's predecessor who first approved underfunding the pension fund. But when a balloon payment became due in 2002, Murphy dodged it by fashioning another underfunding plan, winning the pension board's acceptance with a promise to hike pension payouts and give special benefits to the union presidents. Now the FBI, the U.S. Attorney and the SEC are investigating the deal.

—By Terry McCarthy.

With reporting by Jill Underwood/San Diego

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