The announcement this week that the first “Jewish Nobel Prize” will go to Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York invites a certain amount of ridicule. The one million dollars that goes with the award, after all, represents but 0.0032258 percent, if that, of His Honor’s net worth. He says he’s going to give the prize money to charity, presumably so he won’t forget where he put it.
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The New York Sun, which I edit, once lampooned the mayor for “his spinelessness, his tendency to pander, his disregard for political loyalty, his self-righteousness when it comes to what he defines as matters of ‘public health,’ his special interest-driven politicking accompanied by blather about how he isn’t motivated by politics. His allegiance only to himself. His abuse of public resources. His arrogance. His hypocrisy. His combination of grandiosity and smallness.”
Ridicule, however, is not my purpose here. The fact is that the Sun’s tirade against the mayor — for opposing the nomination of John Roberts to be chief justice of the United States — was issued but four days after endorsing the mayor for re-election. I voted for him for mayor twice, and the Sun proceeded to publish a stream of editorials encouraging His Honor to run for president.
In other words, I’ve tried to cover Bloomberg from all angles. But the idea of honoring him with a prize grounded in a commitment to Jewish values — which is how the Genesis Foundation describes its prize — is a new one. No doubt Bloomberg has been a solid supporter of Israel, politically and philanthropically, and has sought “the betterment of humankind.” His support for the Jews of New York, though, has been less than universal.
On one front Bloomberg’s department of mental hygiene — technically “health and mental hygiene” — is in litigation against Agudath Israel and other fervently religious groups. They are challenging the mayor’s efforts to regulate - for fear of herpes infection - the feature of the circumcision ritual known as metzitzah b’peh. Even the chief rabbis of Israel would have to get a parental waiver to conduct such a circumcision in Bloomberg’s New York.
The most impassioned plea for the First Amendment the mayor ever made was to defend a plan to put up a mosque adjacent to Ground Zero. Fair enough. But the mayor has been unwilling to defend the Satmar shopkeepers of Brooklyn who seek to post in their businesses the kind of dress codes that are routinely enforced in the ritzy restaurants the mayor likes to frequent. Instead, Bloomberg’s administration is taking legal action against the modest shopkeepers, accusing them of bigotry.
It would be inaccurate to suggest that these two fights against religious Jews are the defining element of Bloomberg’s mayoralty. It would not be surprising to discover that he has helped religious Jews in his vast philanthropy. And he has vastly changed the shores and skylines and educational system in the city. His greatest achievement has been his bringing in, and backing up, the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, who has made New York the safest large city in America and maybe the world.
But it would not be inaccurate to suggest that there is a sense in the city that the mayor lost his way in his third term, which he won by getting the City Council to amend a law — twice passed by referendum — limiting mayors to two terms. Then he spent so much of his own money to overwhelm his Democratic opponent that his winning margin of 50,587 votes cost him more than a staggering $2,000 each.
Bloomberg’s mayoralty term ends January 1. His successor will be elected next week. Eight candidates entered the fray in the two major parties. The polls now predict that by an overwhelming margin New Yorkers will choose the one candidate, Bill de Blasio, who made it clear he was running against the Bloomberg legacy. It would be nice to think that the Jewish Nobel will put a spring in the mayor’s step as he heads out the door.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun, published in print between 2002 and 2008 and is now online. He is a veteran of the Wall Street Journal, where he was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board. He was the founding editor of The Forward and editor between 1990 and 2000. His books include "The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide" and, most recently, "The Rise of Abraham Cahan."