Friday, October 30, 2009
NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and His House of Cards
New York City is overcome by corruption. Bloomberg LP is sued by women who have become pregnant while working there and who have been insulted and harassed because of their pregnancies. Then, this lawsuit disappears from PACER, the Federal Court online information resource. At least, I cant find it. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg gets away with not being scarred by the Deutsche Bank fire, the falling cranes, African-American men shot by NYC police for no apparent probable cause, etc. And the press covers all of this up.
I think if your add up all the events of the past eight years in order to assess the job that Mayor Bloomberg has done in New York City, one thing you cannot fail to notice: in the press, Mike Bloomberg is a man of great leadership who has brought New York through bad times better than everyone who has preceded him and anyone who may become Mayor after him.
I just dont think so.
The Mayor's Press Pass
The unexamined world of Mike Bloomberg
By Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, October 27th 2009 at 1:51pm
One reason for the remarkably charmed life of Mike Bloomberg's administration as he sails toward re-election has been the waning of the city's news business. This is an odd blessing for a man who made his fortune as a media mogul. But just ask Rudy Giuliani, or David Dinkins, or Ed Koch, and they'll painfully explain.
When this city enjoyed four fat daily newspapers, editors clamored for strong, tough copy to fill them. Whenever scandal hit—make that even a mini-scandal—each one scrambled after the story. Local TV news, which gets its morning bearings from the dailies, gleefully joined the hunt as well. This happy combination produced many full-strength media pile-ons and visible shivers in City Hall.
There was a keen reminder of this changed world when a man named Raymond Harding put himself back in the news this month by pleading guilty to fraud at the state's pension fund. Back in 1997, Harding, the boss of something called the Liberal Party, was the city's top lobbyist, his law firm raking in millions from clients seeking favors from Giuliani's City Hall. These were easy for Harding to arrange since he had personally invented Giuliani as a political player.
It took a while for the dailies to catch on to this scheme, but when they did, the effect was viral: They became a four-man tag team, taking turns serving up tales of greed and insider trading. Giuliani was then at the top of his game and delighted in telling off reporters. But he knew disaster when he saw it. Claiming ignorance that his mentor was making a fortune off his administration, he publicly chided his aides and ordered his pal to lay low.
These days, the papers are onion-skin thin, and exposés are catch as catch can. Newsday, which once gave rival editors panic attacks every morning, doesn't even have a city edition anymore. When Dinkins was in office, the Long Island tabloid investigated even the type of fertilizer he used on the Gracie Mansion lawn. Nowadays, to fill their meager space, editors prefer colorful yarns to investigations. Until this month, one newspaper carried an entire column about empty rooms. We have the Web, with all of its many hardworking blogs, but most of these spend their energies keeping political scorecards with all the obsession of fantasy baseball addicts: Who's on first, and what coaches are in the dugout? The business of government and its many failings goes largely unexamined.
Poor Ed Koch: He was trashed as a miserable miser in multiple front-page stories because he had some 2,000 homeless families sleeping in shelters. Mike Bloomberg has five times as many, and no one even knows about it.
It's not that there's no investigative spadework being done. What's missing is critical mass. Last week, the Daily News's Juan González delivered some excellent fodder for a full-scale media assault in City Hall's Blue Room. He reported that the mayor's billion-dollar plan to relocate the city's emergency 911 call system has become a fiasco. Not only has Bloomberg's team blown its budget and deadlines, but it has also ignored the findings of its own consultant, which found the project was mired in mismanagement. Rather than dump its lead contractor, as the consultant recommended, Bloomberg's top aides insisted that the plan go ahead as is—defects be damned.
This type of project is supposed to be smack in the mayor's sweet spot since it involves computers and communications, the business that made him the city's richest man. It should also be one of those instances where he runs rings around old-school politicians because of his keen business acumen. Instead, here he is, tripped up by the same cost overruns and bureaucrats that plague ordinary humans. Another mayor in another time might have suffered many tough questions the day after such information surfaced. Instead, only the News chased its own story.
The same thing happened this summer, when the Voice reported a scandal at the city's NYC-TV operation, where the top executive was fired and his deputy arrested ("Inside the Mayor's Studio: NYC-TV's Secrets of New York," August 4). Unlike the perennially tainted buildings department that has plagued every mayor, the problems at NYC-TV came from Bloomberg's own supporters. He had repeatedly hailed the station as an example of his innovative approach to government. But instead of minding the store, his aides had traipsed around the world, making their own private movie. This tale also failed to trip the press alarm that scrambles the media into action.
The big story late last week was the stunning court ruling on the illegal Stuyvesant Town rent hikes. But you'd never know from the coverage that Bloomberg had praised the original deal cut by landlord Tishman-Speyer (headed by one of his strongest allies). Or that his top aides had scotched a plan to keep Stuy Town affordable. Or that a hefty chunk of the financing for the deal came from Merrill Lynch, the late investment firm that was a top Bloomberg LP client and which the mayor was barred from dealing with under a Conflicts of Interest Board ruling. That story—told here in detail by Wayne Barrett just last month—also died an orphan.
Bloomberg's biggest claim to mayoral fame as he grabs for the third term that he used to insist he would never seek is his success at the business of education. This is a debate worth having. But Bloomberg consistently wins by default because the other side never fully shows up. As the legislature was considering the renewal of Bloomberg's mayoral control law this year, Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan issued six lengthy reports on the law's impact on the schools. They were detailed and thoughtful critiques on student achievement, school organization, and contracting. Asked recently how much press he received about them, Brennan paused. "I'm not sure there was any," he said.
There have been scattered stories about instances of grade inflation and test-score manipulations (again, with the News in the lead). The startlingly poor results of national student tests this month prompted even the Post, whose news pages have steadily cheered Bloomberg's education policies, to suggest that fraud was afoot somewhere. But the big picture still escapes us, along with whatever role was played by the education bureaucrats at the Tweed Courthouse.
At the mayor's annual Gracie Mansion Christmas party for the press last year, those in attendance report that Bloomberg took the stage to offer his idea of a joke. "I see that my three best friends in the media—Mort, Rupert, and Arthur—aren't here," he quipped. Then he walked out, right past the grunts who cover him all year.
Actually, the joke's on us. Even as newspaper fortunes sank in recent years, Bloomberg diligently courted media barons like Zuckerman, Murdoch, and Sulzberger, who he understood could make his life difficult if they so chose. Minus their support, as Joyce Purnick's new Bloomberg biography proves, he would have never risked his end run around term limits. But he knew he had little to fear. As Purnick's book also tells us, even his weekend disappearing act to go to his mansion in Bermuda has gone unchallenged.
"He does his radio show Friday morning," a former aide told her. "At 11:05, the latest, he's in his car. At 11:30 he is at the airport. His plane is in the air at 11:40, he's in Bermuda at 2:10. He's on the golf course by 2:30. . . . Almost every weekend, spring and fall."
There's a photo op that's been even more closely guarded than military caskets arriving at Dover Air Force Base: Mayor Mike, golf bags over his shoulder, striding across the tarmac toward Air Bloomberg.
NYC's mismanaged plan to upgrade emergency system 2 years late, $700M over budget
Juan Gonzalez, NY Daily News, October 21st 2009, 8:38 AM
EMS operators, who were to move into 11 MetroTech in March, have not done so because of bugs in Verizon's phone system, Skyler said.
Is it worth $2 billion if it saves lives in the future?
Yes, no cost can be put and no deadline set to to this project right.
No, the system is an out-of-control cash cow that will not help down the road.
Cost isn't an issue. What's taking so long?
Mayor Bloomberg's $1.3 billion plan to modernize the city's 911 system is two years late, plagued by poor management and bad equipment, and has ballooned in cost to more than $2 billion, the Daily News has learned.
Launched in the summer of 2005, the Emergency Communications Transformation Project was supposed to centralize call-and-dispatch operations for police, fire and emergency medical services into a single state-of-the-art computerized system.
Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, who oversees the project, has called it one of the Bloomberg administration's top initiatives.
"We are taking the city's archaic 911 system into the 21st century," Skyler said.
But a host of problems dogged the project from the start - none of which s have been publicly acknowledged. Among them:
# Renovation of a single floor at 11 MetroTech in downtown Brooklyn, primary location of the new 911 operation, skyrocketed from $80 million to $166 million.
# Construction and outfitting of a second 911 center in the Bronx doubled to $1 billion. The site, to be done by 2013, will be the city's backup emergency communications center in case the Brooklyn site is destroyed. City Hall kept the price down by scrapping floors earmarked for a second emergency center.
# NYPD operators, who were to move into the Brooklyn 911 center March 1, 2008, will not relocate there until next March, Skyler said. That's because subcontractor Motorola failed to give the NYPD an adequate computer software dispatch system. The city recouped $32 million from that and got another vendor.
# EMS operators, who were to move into 11 MetroTech in March, have not done so because of bugs in Verizon's phone system, Skyler said.
Only fire dispatchers from Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan have relocated into the new 911 center.
"Each of the agencies - fire, police and EMS - keeps resisting the merger and making new demands," said a city official who has been on the project for years.
Because of historic conflicts between the three departments, City Hall gave the projects to the techies at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
DoITT's commissioner at the time, Gino Menchini, gave Hewlett-Packard a $380 million contract to oversee a consortium of vendors that would design and erect the new system. Those vendors included Northrop Grumman, Verizon and Motorola.
Within months, virtually every aspect of the project was experiencing delays. Costs started to mushroom, with scores of computer consultants coming on board, many at annual salaries of $300,000 to $500,000.
Things fell so far behind schedule the city asked its quality control consultant, Gartner Group, to find out what was happening.
Gartner's report, issued to top officials in March 2007, said the city was "losing $2 million a month," from mismanagement.
It called the ballooning costs of a new "logging and recording system" for the NYPD "ludicrous."
A few weeks later, DoITT Commissioner Paul Cosgrave urged Skyler in a secret memo to dump Hewlett-Packard.
"DoITT has recommended and our partners at NYPD and FDNY have concurred that we should put the ECTP contract up for rebid," Cosgrave wrote.
In an April 13, 2007, memo, Skyler overruled Cosgrave and ordered that all major components of the project be completed or underway "by the end of 2009," which happened to be the end of Bloomberg's second term in office. That was before the mayor decided to overturn term limits and run again.
"Achieving these goals will make it very difficult for a future administration to cancel this project and, conversely, not achieving them will put this vital public-safety initiative at risk," Skyler wrote.
"NYPD will move into the new [Public Safety Answering Center] 1 by March 1, 2008," Skyler wrote. "FDNY and EMS will move in by March 1, 2009," and he ordered groundbreaking on the Bronx site by July 1, 2009.
Of all deadlines, only the Fire Department has even come close.
"There have been challenges that we've overcome," Skyler said. "It's an ambitious project. We are trying to bring together the different demands or requirements from agencies that never worked together in this area.
"Would we like it to be faster and less expensive? Yes, but we are making progress."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 6, 2009
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES MAJOR PROGRESS IN TRANSFORMATION OF 911 EMERGENCY SYSTEM
Streamlined Call-taking Process Will Reduce the Time to Dispatch Emergency Units
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced that the first phase of integrated call taking operations between the Police and Fire Departments have been successfully implemented in the City’s 911 centers. Unified Call Taking streamlines the call taking process to reduce call handling time for fire calls and allow first responders to reach New Yorkers in an emergency more quickly. This change will affect over 180,000 911 calls per year. Unified Call Taking is the most significant accomplishment to-date of the City’s Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP), which is designed to centralize and integrate the call taking and dispatch operations among the NYPD, FDNY, and FDNY EMS.
“Now when you call 911 to report a fire, you will speak to only to one call taker, and give the address and nature of your emergency only one time,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “By cutting out the middle-man in the process, we will shorten the time it takes for the Fire Department to begin its response to emergencies, which could save lives. I want to thank the inter-agency team whose hard work and cooperation made these improvements possible.”
“Police Communications Technicians– already trained to field different types of police emergencies – are now equipped to begin the dispatch process for emergency situations that require FDNY response,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. “Last year they handled 11.3 million 911 calls, so eliminating mere seconds means more New Yorkers can get help sooner, and ultimately translates into lives saved.”
“Seconds count in an emergency, and this new procedure will save seconds, and ultimately save lives,” said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. “By streamlining the call-taking process, we can dispatch our first responders more quickly and improve the vital life-saving service they provide to New Yorkers.”
“The true promise of technology is realized when it is used to improve lives for the better, and Unified Call Taking is among the City’s most transformative IT projects in this regard,” said Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Paul Cosgrave. “This initiative is a critical step in putting world-class emergency call taking and dispatch tools in the hands of our first responders as they serve and protect New Yorkers.”
Under the old system, when an emergency caller phoned 911, the call was answered by an NYPD call taker who collected caller and incident information. If the caller was reporting a fire, the police call taker would initiate a conference call with an FDNY call taker and repeat the process. The FDNY Call Taker would collect similar FDNY-related information from the caller and forward that information to a third person, an FDNY Dispatcher, to trigger the appropriate response.
Under Unified Call Taking, improved technology and training allow the police call taker to collect both NYPD and FDNY incident information and then electronically share and coordinate the appropriate emergency response with dispatchers from either agency, which allows the caller to give the information one time to one call taker, rather than multiple times to multiple call takers. This elimination of a redundant step for FDNY calls saves time in processing the caller’s critical information and will reduce the overall response to the call.
The implementation of Unified Call Taking is the first major milestone of the Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP) , a multi-year initiative to enhance call taking and dispatch operations for NYPD, FDNY and FDNY EMS. Under the program, each agency will benefit from upgraded computer dispatch systems, improved integration and data sharing between agencies, new 911 telephony networks and software, and other significant improvements.
“This project is an innovative collaboration between the NYPD and FDNY and is a testament to the vision, professionalism and effective cooperation of our public safety agencies in supporting the needs of New Yorkers,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler. “Unified Call Taking is a major step forward in our Emergency Communications Transformation Program, and it is a tremendous accomplishment.”
In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg asked Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler to chair an Emergency Communications Transformation Project working group to set goals, speed-up decision-making, and monitor the progress of this important public safety initiative. The working group is staffed by the Police, Fire, Citywide Administrative Services, Information Technology & Telecommunications, and Design and Construction departments as well as the Offices of Management and Budget and Labor Relations. The working group deals with all aspects of the project, from site and technology acquisition, interagency protocols and facility management.
After Unified Call Taking, the next major milestone in the Emergency Communications Transformation Program is the creation of the first Public Safety Answering Center (PSAC 1) in Brooklyn. That facility, which combines the call-taking and dispatching operations of the Police and Fire Departments, will be fully staffed by the fall.
A second, backup, Public Safety Answering Center (PSAC 2) will be built in the Bronx. Each PSAC facility will have the capacity to support the entirety of the City’s 911 operations in the event of an emergency. Construction on the Bronx site is expected to begin later this year.
Stu Loeser/Jason Post (212) 788-2958