When Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his 12th and final State of the City address Thursday in Brooklyn's shiny new Barclays Center, he related the only tale of the city that he wanted to tell -- a dynamic and glitzy success story full of positive trends.
For Bloomberg, it marks the beginning of the long goodbye that ends Dec. 31 and includes a mayoral election Nov. 5. If he had wanted to say something other than what you'd find in a triumphal corporate annual report, he'd have called it "Problems of the City."
He's far from alone. This type of January address serves the same purpose on every government level, from presidential States of the Union to gubernatorial States of the State. Long ago, they allowed executives to outline priorities to legislatures. With cable television and live streaming, they become free ads for the elected person's agenda and image.
But there is always a grittier city of which to tell a tale and promise improvement. That task, of course, falls to the candidates now running to replace Bloomberg.
The speech "was a mixed bag, just like his legacy will be," said underdog Democratic candidate Sal Albanese of Brooklyn. He said Bloomberg ignored the middle class and dismissed neighborhood activists as "obstructionists." But Albanese praised him as having "set the right tone" on gun laws, rebuilding neighborhoods and immigration.
When Bloomberg said more recent buildings survived better than older ones in the ravages of superstorm Sandy, he wasn't about to cite the fact that a day earlier, it was learned a city inspector will not be going to prison for fabricating inspections, including on a crane that collapsed while building a new high-rise, killing seven people.
When Bloomberg said, "We will build back stronger . . . safer . . . more sustainably, but we will build back here," he wasn't going to start talking about the Staten Island communities where homeowners want the government to buy their properties.
When Bloomberg accused "some people in elected office and in the press" of taking "cheap shots" at the city's Housing Authority, he didn't mention that the "new action plan" he'd just touted to address a huge backlog of repair orders followed a wave of embarrassing stories on it.
When Bloomberg diverted from his printed text to say, "We have the greatest teacher corps anybody's put together," he wasn't about to cite his recent standoff with union leaders over whether a proposed evaluation system would let officials fire bad teachers.
But, again: If Bloomberg's speech had a predictable "best-of-times" theme, protocol of an election campaign requires something very different.
The other day, when council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) gave her own State of the City address, she cited an unaddressed "affordability crisis" and said middle-class income has declined steadily since 2001 while the living cost of living spiked. And she's the Democratic candidate most closely associated with Bloomberg for the past few years.