Steel and Bloomberg, at the announcement of his appointment today. (Courtyesy NY Observer)
Maybe that headline is self-explanatory, even makes a good bit of sense. Or it did when Robert Steel’s two predecessors took the job of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Dan Doctoroff and Robert Lieber, like Steel, used to work on Wall Street before joining the Bloomberg administration. But nowadays, appointing someone who spent three decades at Goldman Sachs (before heading to the Treasury Department earlier this decade and then on to unwinding Wachovia) is a bit of a head scratcher. This has nothing to do with populist fervor and Goldman still being more hated than BP despite the catastrophic oil spill. No, this is about the future direction of the city.
Ever since the financial crisis hit two years ago, the mayor has been of two minds about Wall Street. On the one hand, he has defended the sector doggedly, more than most any politician in the country, though that makes sense not only because the Street is just down the street from City Hall (and also the source of his billions), but also because the financial sector makes up a vast swath of the city’s economy. Which is precisely why selecting Steel, if not necessarily a bad decision, is a poor one, one that sends the wrong signal.
In announcing Steel’s appointment today, the Mayor Bloomberg said, “His time in the public and private sectors and academic world gives him a diversity of experience that will be invaluable to us as he takes on this new role. New York City is working through a difficult economic period, and now more than ever we need to find new ways to create jobs today and implement innovative measures to grow New York City’s economy over the long-term.” While there’s no reason to believe Steel will not do a bang-up job, there’s also no reason to believe that there were not equally qualified candidates out there who did not previously work in finance. Like maybe this guy. The thing is, the administration has done a good job of late pushing to diversify the city’s economy, encouraging fashion incubators, fighting for industrial retention, and fostering artists-as-entrepreneurs, among numerous other programs. To go for yet another banker-in-chief just seems like more business as usual.