New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg dismissed two government investigations into the possible financial misconduct of his personal money manager as “ridiculous” in a Wednesday interview.
Bloomberg said his financial advisor and long-time pal Steven Rattner is a “scrupulously honest guy [who] got caught up” in a scheme facilitated by the city’s pension fund managers.
“I don’t think he did anything wrong,” Bloomberg said of Rattner, who is being investigated for allegedly paying off government officials to earn business accounts with the state’s powerful pension fund.
“I happen to think the charge against him is ridiculous,” he said. “The charge should have been against the pension system.”
New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo alleges Rattner secured a $100 million pension fund investment by agreeing to distribute a low-budget film created by the brother of a top fund manager.
Quadrangle Group, the private equity firm where Rattner worked during the alleged kickback scheme, waved a white flag in mid-April and agreed to give Cuomo’s office $7 million along with a statement essentially indicting its co-founder.
In the statement, the firm called Rattner’s conduct “inappropriate, wrong and unethical.”
One month later, Bloomberg cleared out his $5 billion account with the firm and gave it to Rattner to establish a new firm – Willson Advisors.
“I’ve always stood up for anybody that works with me who gets attacked by the press,” Bloomberg said. “Steven Rattner’s a very close friend of mine and he remains a close friend.”
Quadrangle spokesman Andy Merrill said the firm’s statement was a negotiation tool.
“It was a heavily negotiated settlement drafted by the attorney general,” he said. “Quadrangle had some input into the wording. And I emphasize ‘some.'”
Bloomberg said elected officials too often turn their backs on friends “the instant they get controversial or in trouble.”
The mayor said he practices the opposite.
“I will help my friends out when they have big problems,” he said. “From my own point of view, these are friends – why not protect them?”
Bloomberg is making a bold move by backing up Rattner when he is under investigation by Cuomo, on top of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
“It’s not common that politicians will take such a forward, overt stance in support of someone who is in a position like this,” he said.
But, he added, it’s important to note the SEC has filed no formal charges against the financier after three years of investigation.
Rattner is purely an “easy target,” Bloomberg said. “When you get in trouble you gotta know somebody’s there to take your back.”
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg never had a doubt in his mind.
Never a doubt he would earn, he would rise and he would win. He’s earned his Boy Scout medals and Harvard acceptance letters, risen through the ranks on Wall Street and sequestered a near-monopoly on the business news industry. At last, he has exacted a three-term throne at the helm of the country’s most influential city — which, by the way, had a two-term limit before he came along.
Up next on Bloomberg’s agenda, he said, is a “life of philanthropy.”
For the man who dreads delegating more than doing and thinks inactivity is a mortal sin, a life of philanthropy sounds… quiet.
Bloomberg was born into a middle class Medford, Mass. family that he fondly thanks for the foundation of his tenacity.
He attended Johns Hopkins University as an undergrad and followed by graduate school at Harvard’s famed business program — no sweat off Bloomberg’s back, as he would have you believe.
“I was an engineer in school because I’m functionally illiterate. I can’t spell,” Bloomberg joked, picking on himself to break the silence at the start of an interview.
Minutes later, he revealed another “fault” — one everyone in the room already knew, because he frequently brings it up. As Hearst Corporation CEO Frank Bennack lauded his accomplishments in chronological order and came to 1981, Bloomberg blurted out, “That’s the year I was fired,” and smiled mischievously.
Bloomberg worked his way up through the ranks of Salomon Brothers, a private equity firm now liquidated by a buyout, following graduate school in the 1960s. He began counting securities by hand in the “Cage,” a bank vault lacking ventilation that forced him and his colleagues to strip down to their underwear while they worked.
When Bloomberg graduated to the trading floor, he said he was humbled by yet another seemingly clerical job — this one, stamping envelopes. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that Bloomberg landed a partnership in the firm. And it was not long after that he was fired.
Decades later, Bloomberg preaches the importance of starting small, based on his ladder-climbing start at Salomon. Realistic, bite-sized goals are the kind that take leaders to the top, he says.
“Don’t go anywhere you can’t work,” he told a room of recent college graduates. “Taking orders and executing — great people don’t want to do that.”
That’s coming from a man who has worked 12-hour days, six days a week for the better part of his life.
The 68-year-old said he pities the man that doesn’t work. He pities even more the man employed, who does not take pleasure in his job, he has said.
He once was famously quoted as saying, “Sunday night was my favorite because I knew when I awoke the next morning, I’d have five full days at the office.”
When Bloomberg was fired from Salomon, he took his $10 million in severance and two weeks later began blueprints for the technology that would later morph into the Bloomberg terminals that almost every newsroom, financial institution and government entity owns and uses today.
He built the Bloomberg terminal from a small office of less than 30 employees, created a monopoly over financial information and grew to more than 3,000 employees after expanding into every other medium — newspapers, magazines, books, television, radio and Internet.
If he hadn’t been fired from Salomon, the company wouldn’t be possible. Last week, Bloomberg announced he will fund a $22 million technology venture fund for budding tech companies.
“If [entrepreneurs] don’t come here, they are gonna go somewhere else, and invent something there, and we lose,” he said, openly still competitive with everything and everyone else that is not owned by him.
In two years, Bloomberg’s term as mayor of New York will be spent, and the man who has never settled for less, or at all, will be out of a job. Last time he was out of a job, the Bloomberg terminal was born — and it took only two weeks for his boredom to drive him to innovate.
Now, Bloomberg’s biggest fans are whispering about President Barack Obama’s successor and measuring the possibility of a “Bloomberg – Insert Name Here” ticket.
Well it certainly won’t be an “Insert Name Here – Bloomberg ticket,” the mayor scoffed.
“I haven’t worked for anybody for a lot of years, I’m not going to start now,” Bloomberg said. “I’m hands-on. I like doing things myself.”
Running for executive office isn’t in the cards, either, he said.
“I’m pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-immigration, anti-guns, I believe in Darwin – stop me when you get bored,” he said. “I have explicit views which I’m not willing to temper or obfuscate.”
A life of philanthropy, he says, is the kind he’s looking forward to in 2012. A quiet life for the mayor who never sleeps.
Angelo Rosa accepted a deflated American dream roughly the same year he stopped apologizing for smelling like raw fish.
He loved his job once, he said. He still does, in a twisted way that has kept him loyal to America’s oldest fish market for the last 25 years, he said. But the 47-year-old fishmonger from Portugal is now saddled with debt and crippled by taxes — and that, he said, is a symptom of the American way.
“America has changed a lot in the last 35 years,” Rosa said. “It’s a lot harder here. You make more money, but the expenses go up faster. Is that a dream? No.”
Rosa left Portugal for the United States in the 1980s and began working at a low-paying ice cream factory in New Jersey.
In 1985, he jumped on a union bandwagon with a bastion of other immigrants and was hired by seafood wholesaler Blue Ribbon Fish Co. Rosa worked at the Fulton Fish market on the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. Every day from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. Rosa heaved 200-pound cardboard boxes brimming with ice and fresh fish onto a hand cart — and then pushed the carts across gravel pathways from supplier, to seller, to buyer and back.
The outdoors market was a landmark of culture and commerce on a seaport that no longer functioned as a barge.
“It was a harder job, but better pay,” he said. “It was tough, so tough. But there was a union. There were benefits. And I couldn’t get that elsewhere with my English.” Things were simpler then, he said.
Twenty years later on a Wednesday morning in June, the moon hung low and lazy over a half-forgotten industrial park in South Bronx, just before dawn. Scores of trucks rumbled past dark warehouses and miles of chain-link fences on Food Center Drive to a controlled-access gate under a warehouse sign that read, “New Fulton Fish Market.”
Inside the warehouse, no one knew the time, or where the moon hung.
Fluorescent light splashed off nearly three tons of fish packed in ice and on display for the steady stream of discerning buyers strolling by. Forklift traffic was at an all-time high and burly men in rubber aprons shouted orders to each other over the loud hum of a freezer.
Rosa stood under a Blue Ribbon Fish sign. He swung an ice pick into a cardboard box of fish and shouted, “Mr. Wong? What do you think about three dollars for that?”
David Wong, a regular Fulton customer, was scanning the quarter-mile length of the warehouse. He squinted at the Striped Bass and shrugged at the salesman.
Rosa tried again.
“One-fifty?” he asked. Wong wrinkled his nose and walked away.
“You see that size?” Rosa shouted, pointing to the box of fish. “Mr. Wong! See it? One dollar Mr. Wong?”
Wong walked on to the next vendor.
“It’s extremely difficult now,” Rosa said, pulling his knit hat more snugly over his ears. The air inside the giant refrigerated vault stank of fish and ammonia and a half-inch pool of freezing water covered the concrete ground.
“The customers are so tough. The oil spill is nothing. It’s people losing jobs, people screwing up the economy, that makes it so tough.”
Rosa said he pays $10,000 a year in taxes living in Northern New Jersey. He works a second job at a deli on the weekends to make ends meet. His father pays $150 in taxes on a house twice the size of Rosa’s and on a larger lot of land in Portugal, he said.
“My brother in Portugal has a better life than me and he doesn’t work seven days a week,” Rosa said. “People will say to me, ‘Then go back to Portugal.’ Well, this is my life now. I have a wife, a house and two kids in college here. I can’t go anywhere.”
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said a life like Rosa’s is the reality of the modern American dream.
“The traditional American immigrant experience is you come here, work 10 days a week, 50 hours a day, and your kids go off to college and become middle class, or wealthy, or brilliant, or well-known or whatever,” he said. “I feel sorry for the people that don’t have that opportunity.”
Rosa said gave up on dreaming years ago –- about the same time he realized he’d never leave Blue Ribbon.
“Have I provided everything I wanted to for my family? Yes, I guess you could say that,” he said. “But now, I am in debt for the rest of my life. That… that is the American way.”