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September 2, 2009 @ 11:20 am

Reading: A Mayor Prizing Loyalty Pays Costly Tribute to His Top Aide

“Ms. Harris, 55, advised the mayor not to push for a revision of the city’s term limits law and seek re-election, warning him that the move could sully his image as a reformer.”

Bloomberg Should Have Listened to Her Advice.

Via The New York Times:

Many bosses reward hard-working employees with a pat on the back. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg can build monuments to them.

The mayor, a billionaire, has quietly given at least $1 million to stamp the name of his most trusted deputy at City Hall on a new academic center at her alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., according to two people familiar with the arrangement.

The unusual gift, in honor of Patricia E. Harris, the first deputy mayor, highlights what many say is a hidden glue that helps keep Mr. Bloomberg’s extraordinarily loyal, long-serving administration together: the mayor’s money, or at least the promise of it.

Mr. Bloomberg is famous for doling out eye-popping bonuses to staff members on his campaigns, referring sick workers to top doctors, even paying for the large funeral of a City Hall aide. In return, he expects absolute fealty.

But he has never before used his fortune to pay tribute to a current city employee — a gesture that historians said had no precedent in the city government.

Ms. Harris, who has worked for Mr. Bloomberg for more than a decade, starting at his company, has counseled him on decisions as weighty as who to appoint as finance commissioner and as mundane as which paintings to hang at Gracie Mansion. She has earned the nickname “Velvet Hammer” for her quiet manner and far-reaching power.

In several weeks, she will take on another role that is likely to bring her a financial boost from her boss. She will take a leave of absence to work on the mayor’s re-election, becoming the highest-ranking official at City Hall to do so, according to people briefed on the matter.

The decision underscores her loyalty: Ms. Harris, 55, advised the mayor not to push for a revision of the city’s term limits law and seek re-election, warning him that the move could sully his image as a reformer. Now she will work full time to help him secure another four years in office.

The last time Ms. Harris worked on a campaign for the mayor, he gave her a $350,000 bonus, on top of a $46,476 salary, for less than three months of work.

Like many of Mr. Bloomberg’s top aides, Ms. Harris has also received large raises in her government job; her salary is now $245,760, up from $168,000 when she began in 2002.

Mr. Bloomberg asked Franklin & Marshall to keep the donation anonymous, and a spokeswoman for the college would not discuss the source of the money.

A spokesman for the mayor, Jason Post, confirmed that Mr. Bloomberg made the donation. Through Mr. Post, Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Harris declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropy has often had a personal dimension. He had an emergency medical center in Jerusalem dedicated to his father, William, and a health center there to his mother, Charlotte. He had a residence hall at Princeton University named for his daughter Emma, and had the Arms and Armor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art named for Emma and his younger daughter, Georgina.

Ms. Harris, a former aide to Mayor Edward I. Koch, has an extraordinarily close relationship with the mayor. Known as Mr. Bloomberg’s consigliere and sounding board, she helped introduce him to the worlds of the arts and philanthropy when he was a businessman, and then paved the way for his entry into politics, handpicking the staff for his 2001 campaign.

“Having worked with the mayor for a long time,” she told The New York Times in 2005, “I know what he expects from people, and I try to anticipate what questions he’ll want answers to or what concerns he’ll raise.”

In interviews, several historians and experts on good government said the gift violated no government ethics rules, but they raised the possibility, that Ms. Harris’s loyalties would be to Mr. Bloomberg rather than to taxpayers.

Most simply marveled at the anomaly of a sitting mayor’s bestowing such a large gift on an aide — the kind of anomaly that under Mr. Bloomberg, the city’s richest man and its biggest philanthropist, has become commonplace.

“His ability as a billionaire to provide benefits to employees and nonprofits and to create loyalty is just unprecedented,” said Chris McNickle, the author of “To Be Mayor of New York: Ethnic Politics in the City.”

It was Mr. Bloomberg who encouraged Ms. Harris, a 1977 graduate of Franklin & Marshall, a liberal arts college, to join its board of trustees in 2006. (His involvement with his own alma mater, Johns Hopkins, is on vivid display around the Baltimore campus, where the Bloomberg name adorns several buildings.) Soon, Ms. Harris became involved in the plans for a new center for government and policy.

When Mr. Bloomberg learned of the $16 million project during his first term as mayor, he offered to make a large enough donation to name the building, which will be the Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government and Public Policy.

The precise size of his donation is unknown, but it was given in two parts, in 2005 and this year. In addition to his two contributions, Mr. Bloomberg will match up to $1 million in donations for the center, college officials said. The building will be dedicated on Oct. 10.

[Thanks to Queens Crap for sending]

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