Talking About Gracie Mansion, Gracelessly
Mayor's got it all wrong about where the next mayor should live
By Christopher Moore
Generally, billionaires should be careful about giving real estate tips to other people.
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared eager last week to address the question of whether the next mayor, elected in 2013, should live in Gracie Mansion, the lovely, official residence of many mayors not named Bloomberg.
The incumbent was not just wrong when he said his successor should not use the Upper East Side landmark the way it was utilized for generations, he was tacky, too. The New York Times, in the person of "About New York" columnist Jim Dwyer, kindly pointed out that Bloomberg has mansions "to spare," given his homes in various spots around the world.
No, Bloomberg, with a net worth of "north of $20 million," as the Times said, does not need Gracie Mansion. But New Yorkers may have a need to think of their mayor in such a space. The mansion deserves more than municipal gatherings and tour groups; it deserves a mayor who will add to the long history of those who have lived there.
Tradition has its merits. The Yanks belong in the Bronx; Lincoln Center fits nicely on the Upper West Side; mayors should sleep at Gracie.
The mayor's remarks about the mansion might best be ignored, if only they did not underscore the ways in which he never understood his ceremonial or public role. Sometimes, having leaders live in a "people's house," like the White House or Gracie Mansion, feeds a need for ritual and historical order.
In a larger sense, humans have a hunger to look up to, and down on, their official leaders. Look at the royal family in Britain or at the Kardashians here in the United States. Ironically, the need for a peek into the semi-personal can be more valuable to the political culture in tough times than in good ones.
Don't get me wrong. Bloomberg has been a good mayor-at least until we hit the requisite third-term blues. The party is pretty well over. At this point, the only people not tired of Bloomberg are those reporting directly to him. Still, this mayor has pursued forward-thinking policies, hired professional, thoughtful, innovative department heads, been more honest than most mayors about budget numbers and bravely become a national advocate for gun control, which is more than you can say about the president of the United States.
Last week, though, Bloomberg sounded whiny when he suggested having a future mayor use Gracie Mansion as a home would be a financially unsound move. Maybe the real problem is that Bloomberg gets grouchy when he thinks about even the notion of a next mayor. The last time he considered a successor, he overturned term limits.
Officially, though, he said Gracie should be used for city events, not public housing of the first order. But in a town of five boroughs, there's something appropriate about offering a stunning spot (in the best borough) for the chief executive and family. Not everyone has a spare bed right near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bloomberg may not get Gracie's meaning, but he personally paid for a substantial part of its $7 million renovation in 2002. Those of us lucky enough to see the renovations in person could appreciate, yes, the notion of having public events at a mansion beautifully decorated by Jamie Drake, Bloomberg's own decorator. Still, seeing those classic spaces, complete with bold and appropriate colors, sadly underscored that no actual mayor was on the scene, day in and day out.
A Gracie Mansion is not a home without a mayor inside.
The next mayor should feel free to live there, unapologetically.
Christopher Moore is a writer living in Manhattan. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter (@cmoorenyc).
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