Saturday, January 8, 2011

N.Y. Deputy Mayor Goldsmith Learns City Operations the Hard Way by David W. Chen -

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Stephen Goldsmith, a deputy mayor, is a novice New Yorker.

When Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith announced the demotion of about 100 senior city officials last fall, he emphasized that he would not involve himself in the fine details of how the personnel changes were carried out.
A reporter, incredulous, asked him, “They report to you, don’t they?”
Mr. Goldsmith described his role differently: “I’m their liaison.”
Mr. Goldsmith, 64, occupies perhaps the most hands-on job at City Hall: deputy mayor for operations, with responsibility for police, fire, sanitation and nearly a dozen other agencies that provide the services most visible to ordinary New Yorkers. But he has often seemed quite distant.
During the Christmastime blizzard, he was at his Washington town house, uninvolved in the critical conversations about whether to declare a snow emergency, and writing “Good snow work by sanitation” on Twitter the evening of Dec. 26.
On Monday, most New Yorkers will get their first look at the still obscure deputy mayor, when he is called before the City Council to explain what went wrong during the blizzard. But some current and former city officials are already suggesting that Mr. Goldsmith, who was the mayor of Indianapolis in the 1990s and until last year had never lived or worked in New York, is the wrong man for his high-pressure position. His immediate predecessor, Edward Skyler, was so maniacal about making the city work he was called “Batman” and once tackled a would-be mugger in Midtown Manhattan.
Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, said Mr. Goldsmith reminded him of an outside management consultant.
“I think he’s very intelligent and very steeped in the work of government,” Mr. de Blasio said. “But this seems to be an abstract enterprise for him: it’s not his city, and he’ll be here as long as he wants to be here. There’s something about City Hall that’s supposed to be more than a job. It’s supposed to be a lifestyle and a total commitment.”
Mr. Goldsmith arrived at City Hall with much fanfare in June, the highest-profile appointment of Mr. Bloomberg’s third term. Beyond his eight years as mayor, Mr. Goldsmith had been a fixture in national Republican politics, serving as a top adviser to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush in 2000 and Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2008, and had become a prolific author and faculty member at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
It was at Harvard that he connected with Mr. Bloomberg last March, when Mr. Bloomberg participated in a class with two other big-city mayors, Manny Diaz of Miami and Richard M. Daley of Chicago. Mr. Bloomberg later offered what Mr. Goldsmith said, at his debut news conference in April, was an “irresistible opportunity” to “put into practice many of the things I believe in.”
In an interview this week, Mr. Goldsmith said he still viewed his job as much more strategic and long-term in nature.
“I view my assignment as trying to help the mayor transform the foundation of New York City government so as to prepare it for the future, and to use his remaining time to make big changes,” he said. “I’ve also assumed that you don’t want the new guy to be coming in and telling the transportation, sanitation, police or fire commissioner how to run their departments; it’s not the model the mayor wants.”
But he also said that in the wake of the blizzard, and the nonstop bad press he received, he had become “totally more intense” and would log even longer hours than his usual 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule in City Hall.
Mr. Goldsmith’s supporters say that it is unfair to view his brief tenure here through the prism of snow alone. Mr. Giuliani predicted that Mr. Goldsmith, with his background in municipal finance and governance, would ultimately be remembered for reinventing city government.
“It was a screw-up, there’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to the blizzard. “But up until this snowstorm I’d bet that everyone thought he was doing a terrific job. It just shows you that enormously capable people can make mistakes. I would urge patience.”
Already, city officials say, Mr. Goldsmith has helped to pare the city’s projected multibillion-dollar deficit next year by more than $1 billion. An ardent believer in technology (he always carries an iPad and two BlackBerrys), he has produced a report identifying $500 million in potential savings over the next four years by consolidating the real estate, information technology and human resources operations. He also sets aside Friday mornings to meet with community groups.
Caswell F. Holloway IV, the city’s commissioner of environmental protection, credited Mr. Goldsmith for accelerating his agency’s plan to introduce paperless billing for water bills and advocating public-private partnerships for wastewater treatment plants that could ultimately save the city millions of dollars.
Yet there is no shortage of detractors, as well — especially among union leaders who worry that Mr. Goldsmith will push privatization efforts that dominated his tenure in Indianapolis.
Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal workers union, said Mr. Goldsmith did not appear to have a good grasp of the complexities of New York City government.
“When you meet with him he will listen,” she said. “He’s very polite. He may raise a question or two. But you get absolutely no feedback.”
In an administration known for being obsessed with public health, Mr. Goldsmith would make an excellent case study. He gets up at 5 a.m. to work out, and always eats the carrots that are plentiful in the City Hall bullpen. He also likes his coffee black — really black. When he arrived in City Hall, he thought the coffee was so weak that a second pot was brewed for him, labeled “Bold.”
“We joke that that’s his kind of brew,” Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel said.
Mr. Goldsmith still has a toehold in academia and a life outside the city. He remains on leave from Harvard, and teaches a course at Columbia in government innovation. But his wife, Margaret, an heir to the Pulliam family newspaper fortune, which had published The Indianapolis Star, still lives in Washington. So until the Goldsmiths sell their Georgetown town house (five bedroom, seven bathroom, asking price $7 million), he is biding his time in a sparse one-bedroom apartment for Columbia faculty in Morningside Heights.
Some of Mr. Goldsmith’s friends say he has been dumbfounded by the city’s maze of regulations and its savage politics. They say he would be better suited, perhaps, to a different job — like senior policy adviser — that would allow him to think big thoughts.
But Mr. Goldsmith insisted that he was not frustrated, not in the least. Indeed, he likened himself to Rambo trying to hack through a jungle of red tape. He did say, though, that he loved social policy, and he expressed admiration for Linda I. Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services.
“I think what Linda Gibbs does is much more fun than what I do now,” he said. “I’d love to do a job swap.