New York's New Mayor Seeks a Lower Profile

David Dinkins invited the press on his vacations. Ed Koch was famous for asking New Yorkers on the street, "How'm I doing?" Rudolph Giuliani gave news conferences daily.

But incoming Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made it clear he intends to keep a much lower profile. The change is likely to be one of many at City Hall when the businessman-turned-politician takes office Tuesday after eight years of Giuliani's top-down, open-24-hours management style.

"Every mayor has his style," said political consultant George Arzt, a former Koch aide. "And with Mike, this is a learning process. I think he's more trusting of his appointees than Giuliani and the people he's appointed are knowledgeable and very bright."

Bloomberg, 59, has been praised for naming commissioners that bring experience to their jobs. Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is back to reprise his role, and Bloomberg has promised to hire aides that reflect the city's diversity.

Stunning problems await them: deep economic scars from the World Trade Center attack; successive years of projected $4 billion budget deficits; an underachieving public school system; worries over further terrorism.

But initial changes will be visible.

-- Bloomberg said he wants to ban traditional private offices in favor of a common work area -- much like the office layout at his financial information company, Bloomberg LP.

-- He plans to limit news conferences, and may end the tradition of mayors rushing to emergency scenes.

-- Since his election two months ago, he's flown to vacation homes in the Bahamas and Aspen, without telling even some of his top aides.

-- He plans to stay in his Upper East Side townhouse rather than move into Gracie Mansion, which he said will be reserved for entertaining visiting dignitaries and city workers.

The Republican pulled off a stunning upset in November when he defeated Democrat Mark Green in this heavily Democratic city. Giuliani's endorsement helped -- and so did the $69 million of his own money spent on the campaign.

Bloomberg finds himself in a situation that no mayor has faced before: He owns 72 percent of Bloomberg LP, which has business dealings with both the city and Wall Street firms that underwrite city bonds.

He's said he will drop his chief executive title once he's inaugurated. He will no longer receive a salary -- which had been pegged as equal to the lowest earning member of the corporation. But, he will continue to collect a share of Bloomberg L.P.'s profits -- estimated at $2.3 million a week after taxes.

Further, Merill Lynch not only has business ties to the city, but leases Bloomberg L.P.'s terminals and has a 20 percent stake in Bloomberg.

The situation is so complicated that it may take months before the city's Conflict of Interest Board determines guidelines.

For now, it's Bloomberg's plan to lower the mayoral profile that has raised the most eyebrows. New Yorkers have long had a unique attachment to their mayors.

"The mayor is perceived by the people to be an extension of their own physical selves," said Koch, a three-term mayor. "They own him. They have no problem coming up to you, saying `I love you' or `I hate you."'

Said Dinkins: "I think he'll come to understand the mayor belongs to the people."

Bloomberg remains unconvinced.

"The public has a right for their employees to conduct their private lives in a way that doesn't embarrass the city, but short of that, there's absolutely no reason why I should not be able to have a social life, a personal life, without having the public involved in it," he said last month.

As a private citizen, Bloomberg was a regular in the gossip columns.

"I like theater, dining and chasing women," he once bragged to a reporter. "Let me put it this way: I am a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan."

Observers say Bloomberg will likely have to bend a little as he wrestles with what separates the public from the private.

"His biggest problem is he's following a mayor who was a 7-Eleven -- open 24 hours," said Steven Cohen, director of Columbia University's public policy and administration graduate program. "But being a public servant doesn't mean you're a public slave."