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Dolman: Bloomberg's unabashed salesmanship on full display

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivers his

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivers his 2013 State of the City address in Brooklyn. (Feb. 14, 2013) Credit:

Was that a valedictory address on Thursday from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg?
I think the answer is yes, but I don't believe the term valedictory does the event justice.

It was a public relations event staged by one of the most determined -- and successful -- salesmen America has ever seen.

Bloomberg does many things well. But I would put his ability to organize, sell and market at the top of the list. And now he's pitching his record to all of posterity as his third and last mayoral term nears an end. He has plenty to work with.

Thursday’s State of the City speech reminded me of Bloomberg's first municipal budget presentation not long after 9/11. I was primed for the usual City Hall murkiness -- rife with florid obfuscation aimed at regular citizens and cryptic warning shots aimed at the public employee unions. But it was way more than that.

While not a gifted speaker or even an especially acute observer of the city's zeitgeist, the new mayor had an instinctive grasp of official numbers and how they might dance to the music of Wall Street or react to the signals squeaking out of Albany or Queens Boulevard or the Grand Concourse or Court Street.

Flipping back and forth through PowerPoint slides, Bloomberg could abandon his notes and speak with uncommon frankness about where city assumptions were weak, where they were dead-on, and where they could make for some combustible politics down the road. His figures had a way of telling a story.

But he's more than a numbers guy. It's the relentless, canny, nothing's-off-the-table salesmanship that makes Bloomberg who he is.

As he was selling the story of his administration yesterday in the new Brooklyn Barclays Center, it was hard to keep track of all the messages he was launching. The NIMBYs were wrong! Brooklyn is booming! Sandy didn't win at all! Lower Manhattan is springing back before our eyes!

"Never before in our city's history has there been so much university expansion and never before has there been so much scientific investment," he said.

"This year, we'll finish construction on the next phase of  [a bioscience center] at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. We'll open a $50-million genome research center in lower Manhattan … And we'll move forward with our plans for a state-of-the-art cancer treatment facility" and a new health science center for Hunter College in Manhattan.

All right. He does shape his own ideas. His pitch is mostly true most of the time. He has an astonishing financial independence that gives him the freedom to say what he wants.

But you can't deny his talent.

He doesn't always make a sale. There's his passionate plea to make city elections nonpartisan. There was his insistence on proceeding with the New York Marathon in the wake of Sandy.

Still, he wins more often that not, and his grand mayoral legacy is secure. Maybe not for everything he rattled off Thursday, but certainly for a reign that has been extraordinary.

Attention must be paid. But don't worry. Bloomberg will handle the details.