Can Mike Bloomberg Be A 9-to-5 Mayor?

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How much more grim would September 11th have been if New Yorkers hadn't seen their mayor taking command in the city's darkest hour? As mayor, Rudy Giuliani had already been larger than life, but September 11th made him something more: a father figure for the entire nation. But what would have happened if no one knew where he was that morning? What if, for instance, he had been in Bermuda?

That's the question New Yorkers found themselves debating this week after the city's new mayor, Mike Bloomberg, left the Big Apple with little notice over President's Day Weekend. True, he was findable: Bloomberg told his office how they could reach him and put top deputy Marc Shaw in charge. But he didn't tell the police commissioner — or the press. And the New York Post and Daily News don't take being kept in the dark very well. The Post retaliated by printing a milk carton with Bloomberg's face plastered on the side. The Mayor responded with an angry press conference where he refused to tell reporters where he had been. "My personal life is my personal life," said Bloomberg.

But someone at a private golf club in Bermuda ratted the mayor out, telling the Post that Bloomberg shot a round of golf there over the weekend. Moreover, it wasn't the first time Bloomberg had been there this year. When asked at Tuesday's press conference if he was a "24-7 mayor," Bloomberg testily replied, "I am available at all times. I am here to pick the right people and to delegate and not to micromanage."

The mayor does have a point. He works hard, so why shouldn't he get a day off once in a while? He thinks New York's mayor should be its no-nonsense CEO. And he believes when he punches the time clock and goes home, the public should mind its own business.

In most cities, he could probably get away with that. But for the most part, Mike's predecessors liked being 24-7 mayors — and the public and the press liked having them that way. Fiorello La Guardia played dad to the city's kids, reading them comics over the radio during a newspaper strike. Ed Koch was constantly asking New Yorkers on the street "How'm I doing?" And Giuliani constantly craved the spotlight, doing things like appearing on Saturday Night Live or dressing up in drag for a fundraising dinner.

Of course, all that exposure had its downside. Although he worked hard to keep his disintegrating marriage quiet, his decision to get a divorce, and his relationship with Judith Nathan played out to disconcerting degree in the papers. Before his Sept. 11 heroics he seemed a tired man, and New Yorkers were growing a little tired of his soap opera.

So Bloomberg's CEO routine may be just what New Yorkers want. But he does take a risk. If the city gets hit by a crisis, and it doesn't have to be as severe as September 11th, Bloomberg could be in trouble if he's out of town and it looks like nobody's minding the store. It's in crisis moments that the city looks to its mayor to be larger than life. It's a unique feature of politics in New York, and Bloomberg can't get away from it — even in Bermuda.