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October 8, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

Using City Resources to Create Bloomberg’s Bubble

A NY1 investigation revealed that it’s common practice for city employees to arrive hours before a mayoral event to clean up graffiti, sweep the street and empty garbage — giving a quick shine to a neighborhood to give the mayor the impression that the city is much cleaner than it normally is. NY1 describes this as the Bloomberg “bubble” and the city employees as the mayor’s “personal clean-up crew”:

If you want to make sure your street is free from litter, your best bet may be to invite Mayor Michael Bloomberg to your neighborhood. A NY1 investigation conducted over the last four months found that hours before Bloomberg and the reporters who cover him arrive at one of his regular events, clean-up crews are working on the scene.

Garbage trucks descend on the neighborhood, litter is swept up from the sidewalks and gutters and trash bins are emptied. On one occasion, NY1 found two anti-graffiti trucks parked across the street from one of the mayor’s events, removing unsightly scrawls in advance of his arrival.

“Generally it’s pretty clean, but we just want to double-check. We’d hate for the mayor to come over here and it’s not as nice as it could be,” says William Wade of the Department of Sanitation.

Employees on the city payroll seem to be acting as the mayor’s personal clean-up crew, putting a shine on neighborhoods that goes far beyond what’s normally done. Sometimes the streets are cleaned by sanitation workers and other times, New Yorkers performing court-ordered community service sweep up.

“There have been like 18, 20 trucks today. You never see this. And the people with the pails, you never see them around,” says an Inwood, Manhattan resident called “Raul.” “It’s not a dirty neighborhood, but don’t send 20 trucks in one day just because you’re coming.”

The practice is coming under fire from Common Cause, a government watchdog group, which says it raises questions about the way the city is allocating its resources. They also say it raises questions about the extent to which Bloomberg operates in a bubble, insulated from the way the city really looks.

“It reminds me of what I read about the Beijing Olympics, that the Chinese wanted to look good to the world. They just built blank walls where there were slums, so that people didn’t see the slums,” says Susan Lerner of Common Cause.

The mayor’s press secretary says that with some small exceptions, there’s no directive from the mayor’s office to clean up the streets before his events. The spokesman notes that Bloomberg is obsessed with keeping the city clean, and describes the mayor as a “one-man garbage and graffiti-reporting machine.”

A spokesman from the Department of Sanitation says it’s been a longtime practice to make sure an area is clean before a special event.

There were times when NY1 arrived early to the mayor’s announcement and did not find a clean-up crew at work. But more often than not, the crews were there, ensuring that before the mayor arrives on the scene, the streets are sparkling clean.

[See the video at NY1]

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