Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg might have been grumpy when Bill de Blasio got elected to replace him in November, but after nearly five months out of office, he seems thrilled to no longer work in the public sector. At Town & Country's first annual Philanthropy Summit on Wednesday morning, he railed against static, innovation-free government: "Elected officials just do the tried and true."
Bloomberg spoke at length about the success of public-private partnerships in making a difference for the urban poor, but it was clear he's happy to be back on the private side of those partnerships. He explained:
Having spent 12 years in government, I can tell you that the public sector traditionally has not innovated very well ... First, the incentives just aren't there. In fact, there are powerful disincentives working against innovation, because innovation by definition sometimes involves failure. And if there's anything that scares elected officials, not to mention their consultants, it's failure. The press magnifies failure; they harp on it and they sensationalize it and opponents exploit that. So politicians play it safe. They avoid taking risks. In science it's exactly the reverse ...
He did note that philanthropy can't replace government spending, but he made the point that private money allows for innovation than that created by taxpayer dollars.
Later in his speech (to a crowd of other philanthropists and Town & Country VIPs clutching their FEED bags, which were handed out at the door), Bloomberg got serious and brought up what he's long lobbied for: increased gun control.
"Not too many people in Washington, on either side of the aisle ... are interested in talking about sensible gun policies," he said. "But 12,000 people are murdered with guns every year, and another 19,000 people commit suicide with illegal handguns. 31,000 deaths every year, and we can't get the legislatures in many states and the federal legislature to pass sensible gun background checks, just to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and minors, and people with psychiatric problems. I don't know how much private money can really help, but I can tell you that while the foundation can't do it, I'm spending a lot of money to try to support those candidates who want to stop the carnage." He then praised today's New York Times editorial, "As Congress Sleeps, More People Die," which discusses the recent UCSB shooting. (He did not weigh in on what drove the perpetrator to kill, be it misogyny or something else.) He continued:
There's a guy whose son was killed the other day in California. And he said, "I don't care, I don't give something-or-other for your sympathy," because politicians were calling him and saying "we're sorry for you, we feel your pain." He said "it's my kid who's dead, you've got to do something about it." I think that's exactly what we do. ... [I] support those [candidates] who support sensible gun rules. I call them up and I say, "listen, my number one issue — I don't care where you are on other things — vote with the NRA, and I'm going to be against you, and I'm going to try to get everyone I know to vote for your opponent." ... This is the issue. ... This cannot keep going. If you want to shake up Washington you just have to play by Washington's rules, and you'd be better off playing by the rules the AARP and the NRA adopted long ago — take no prisoners, focus on one issue, decide what's important, and put your money behind it. And I would urge all of you to do that.
Bloomberg quickly moved on to discussing climate change, so it's not clear how many in the crowd were moved to support his efforts. Not that that matters — he's happy to use his money and do this on his own. He recently announced that he is putting $50 million toward his new umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety.