Mr. Bloomberg was keen to take on the impossible, or at least the seemingly so. And he did. A man whose public personality came in a plain brown wrapper presided during an era of radical change and rebirth in the city, much of it fostered by his administration.
On March 15 of last year, at a moment when many New Yorkers found themselves increasingly disturbed by revelations that the Police Department had conducted constitutionally suspect surveillance of Muslim communities, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made an unplanned visit to the offices of Goldman Sachs.
The mood had grown sour among some of the city’s most amply compensated plutocrats. The day before, Greg Smith, an executive director in the company’s equity derivatives business, announced his resignation, in an Op-Ed page article in The New York Times, declaring that the previous decade had left Goldman’s culture so steeped in avarice and self-interest, so utterly disdainful of its clients, that he no longer found it morally tenable to work there.
It was not simply that he was such an obvious champion of the financial industry, but also that in the city he ran he could barely brook any dissent of it.
The siren song of large numbers led the city to multiply the number of people that the police stopped and frisked. He was not naturally inclined to soaring oratory, so on his rare forays, the eloquence was indelible. Practically alone among elected officials in the United States, Mr. Bloomberg spoke in 2010 for the right of a Muslim group to open a mosque a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks, citing the founding principles of the nation. As he stood on Governors Island, with the Statue of Liberty visible over his shoulder, Mr. Bloomberg said: “We would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.”
Last week, during a news conference in City Hall, the same mayor snarled at a judge for ruling that in searching the pockets of millions of young black and Latino men who had done nothing wrong, the police and the city had violated their constitutional rights. The moment lacked even a whisper of the grace that had made his voice so powerful on Governors Island.
But the Constitution protects the rights of individuals and does not recognize the laws of large numbers. It requires that the more invasive an action the authorities take against a person, the greater the cause must be.
Asked on Monday about a judge’s order that the police wear body cameras in five precincts for a year, to document precisely what was happening in the streets, Mr. Bloomberg seemed especially angry. A “nightmare,” he said. He insisted the test would fail: a police officer might turn his or her head and the camera would miss the action.
The judge said it would be an experiment, a pilot project for a year, but Mr. Bloomberg wasn’t having it. “It is a solution that is not a solution,” he declared.