Columbia’s Low Rotunda played host yesterday to a couple of really nice chaps—the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and our very own big-wig, Mike Bloomberg.
Before saying anything else about the World Leaders Forum, what the mayors said, how they said it, and what they meant, it is crucial that you know two things. The first is that these guys are chums. Both mayors directed plenty of professional praise, gentle jokes, and playful (but manly) competitive spirit towards each other.
And though Bwog assumes that most of the conference attendees would have laughed at a joke about city tax policy, the second thing you must know is that Boris Johnson is hysterical. Boisterous, big-shouldered, with a good-hearted British sense of humor and blond hair flying everywhere, Mayor Johnson’s personality filled the Rotunda as easily as Mayor Bloomberg’s elegant rhetoric.
Bloomberg’s best moment came perhaps with his commitment to provide housing and services for “the people who come here and stay here… because they are casting a vote of confidence for our city.” A touching moment. Johnson’s high point, by comparison, described “the spirit of trans-Atlantic cooperation” as follows: “After all, we gave you Billy Eliot, you gave us Hairspray. We gave you mad cow disease, you gave us swine flu. You gave us the housing crisis, we gave you a plan to spend millions to bail out the banks…” You get the idea.
But of course, within the highly stylized vaudeville show policy details and concepts for the continuing growth of both cities were scattered. Sandwiched between the rhetorical claps on the back from one mayor to another were various characteristics that link London and New York in critical ways today, including terrorist attacks, increasing populations and housing inadequacies, transportation problems, and important financial service economies. Both mayors cited various solutions that have been used in one city and might be applied to the other. Though they agreed that the economic situation warrants more spending on infrastructure problems rather than less, the mayors agreed to disagree about privatization strategies in public transportation. You may or may not be relieved to hear that while the MTA cuts bus routes and increases fares, the city is not at this point considering privatizing busses like London has.
As the mayors touched on other issues from tourism to zoning, it became clear that no matter how different their styles, the difficulties they face are quite similar. Certainly Tony Blair understood the similarities between London and New York when he pressed for a “New York-style” mayoralty when the office was created for London in 2000. Though he failed to create such an office on paper, Boris Johnson has obviously modeled his practices on the New York concept. It seems that since New York was young and looked to London for guidance and even direct instructions, the two cities have been modeling themselves on one another.