He had been elected mayor just five days earlier, but Michael Bloomberg glowed as if he were a beloved fixture of New York City politics. Marching along Fifth Avenue in the Veterans Day parade, Mike, as he prefers to be called, grasped outstretched hands at every step. "You have to like people for this job," he says. "If you don't, you shouldn't go into this business."
Bloomberg, 59, knows from business: He runs a vast communications empire that takes in $2.5 billion a year in revenue. But whether he can truly serve the jittery people of New York City is still in question. A political novice before the campaign that led to his unlikely victory over Democrat Mark Green on Nov. 6, he must fill the gargantuan shoes of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose popularity has never been higher. The city has been battered emotionally and financially by the Sept. 11 attacks and now the Nov. 12 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in a Queens neighborhood that already had lost residents at the World Trade Center. Not yet in office, Bloomberg deferred to Giuliani in the handling of the disaster but visited with local relatives of those lost on the plane.
Even without crises, running New York City is a tall order for anyone, much less a rookie. But a man who built a global conglomerate basically from scratch "is either an alchemist or a miracle worker," says former Mayor Ed Koch, who endorsed Bloomberg. "I want him to perform the same miracle for New York."
The divorced father of two and a billionaire several times over threw a record amount of cash at the race—more than $50 million. Even so, Bloomberg, who switched to the Republican party a year ago because it gave him a better chance to win, trailed by-16 percent in the polls just two weeks before the election. Then came a crucial endorsement by Giuliani, who called him "the right choice for New York." Bloomberg went on to win 50 percent of the vote. "Now he will have to prove himself," says longtime New York City councilman John Sabini. "He has the tools to do it."
Among them are his polished people skills. The innovative founder of Bloomberg L.R., he has no job title, no secretary and no office, preferring to sit at an open desk in the company's Park Avenue headquarters. Known in Manhattan's A-list social circles for his eye for women (he once dated Diana Ross), Bloomberg is also a dedicated family man. In fact, his ex-wife Susan Brown, 53, is still close to him and worked on his campaign. "The picture of him as a skirt chaser is inaccurate," says his friend Barbara Walters. "He's really a little shy and relatively modest."
So are Bloomberg's roots. His father, William, who died in 1963, was a bookkeeper in Medford, Mass., and his mother, Charlotte, 92, kept house. President of Medford High's Slide Rule Club, Bloomberg earned an engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1964 and at; tended Harvard Business School before working as a bond trader and later as chief of information systems at Salomon Brothers investment firm.
In 1981 Bloomberg was fired following a company merger and used his $10 million severance package to start his own firm. His brainchild was a desktop terminal known as the Bloomberg, which provided instant financial information to brokers and analysts. His 1976 marriage to British-born Brown was less successful; the pair divorced in 1993. "She likes to stay at home at night," he wrote in a 1997 memoir. "I like to go out and party." Still, the two are "best friends and confide everything in each other," says their daughter Emma, 22, a recent Princeton graduate who worked in her father's campaign (daughter Georgina, 18, just graduated from prep school).
For the last nine months Bloomberg has been dating Diana Taylor, 46, who took a leave from her job as the CFO of the Long Island Power Authority to work on his campaign. Come Jan. 1, he will assume his new job and forgo Gracie Mansion, the mayor's 202-year-old residence, for his five-story, art-filled brownstone on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "I'm comfortable there," he explains. "It's where my kids grew up." An unconventional move, perhaps, but then the task at hand calls for anything but politics as usual. "Mike is his own man, and he can do what his heart tells him to," says Democratic Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, who ran for the job in the primaries. "This is going to be interesting."
Diane Herbst in New York City
- Diane Herbst.