Volume 79, Number 23 | November 11 - 17, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

Adding to holdings, mayor buys City Hall, pays cash 

By Daniel Meltzer

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, having won his historic third term as New York City’s chief executive after the most expensive campaign in the city’s history, has taken a further step seen as an attempt to insure his permanent hold on the office.

According to official records, Mr. Bloomberg, New York’s wealthiest individual, with assets estimated in excess of $18 billion, has purchased City Hall, the official seat of government, for a reported price of $689 million. The transaction took place on Nov. 4, the day after the election, in which Mr. Bloomberg defeated City Comptroller William C. Thompson. The deal was sealed with a single payment from the mayor’s personal account directly to the city treasury.

As the city’s chief executive, Mr. Bloomberg personally approved the sale, which was promptly endorsed by the City Council, many of whose members also won third terms in office this year, thanks to the mayor’s controversial initiative to extend term limits. Hizzoner cited the recession and resulting losses in city revenue as justification for the extensions, claiming that his own professional expertise, and stability in the government, would be essential in time of crisis.

Comptroller Thompson, Mr. Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent, acknowledged the transaction. He said its legality would be studied. Historians are combing national, state and local records in search of a precedent of an official seat of government having been purchased by an individual, let alone an office holder.

The price dwarfs Mr. Bloomberg’s record-breaking, personally financed, third campaign budget, estimated to have exceeded $100 million (about 14 times that of his opponent), much of it spent on relentless direct mail and media ads attacking (and distorting) Thompson’s record.

Bloomberg, founder and principal owner of Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg News, a financial and general news services company, was heavily favored to win the election against the little-known Thompson, whose considerably smaller campaign budget was publicly financed. As it happened, the mayor's victory margin was nothing near the predictions.

City Hall and its surrounding acreage add to Mr. Bloomberg’s already ample real estate holdings. The mayor owns three prime properties on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, including two adjoining luxury brownstones on E. 79th St., around the corner from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, just a few doors down from the residence of New York’s former Governor Eliot Spitzer, and across the street from the Iraqi U.N. Mission. He also owns homes in London and the Bahamas.

City Hall is an official National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was erected in 1803 on a design by architects John McComb, Jr., and Joseph Francois Mangin. The two men shared a $350 prize awarded for having submitted the winning design in a citywide contest.

The architecture of the large, ornate structure is a hybrid. Its French Renaissance exterior features Alabama limestone (which replaced the deteriorated original Massachusetts marble in the 1950s). The interior is traditional American Georgian. It is not known whether the sale includes a large number of antiques and artworks housed in the building — George Washington’s desk and many museum-quality portraits among them.

The purchase is said to include the adjoining 9-acre City Hall Park, which had been redesigned and rededicated in 1999 during the administration of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Mayor Bloomberg is an avid golfer and the space could easily accommodate a putting green, should Mr. Bloomberg want one.

So far as is known, private ownership of an official seat of government has previously occurred only in countries where royalty rules and where castles have belonged to the same family or families for centuries.

Realtor Donald Trump reacted promptly to the news. Speaking on CNN, Trump, one of the city’s largest landowners, told Larry King; “If I’d known City Hall was up for sale, I would have had it years ago. Downtown clearly needs more luxury housing, not to mention what could be a really classy gaming parlor. It’s just a few blocks from Wall St. And if that ain’t already the biggest casino anywhere, I’ll eat my hair.”

Mr. Bloomberg and his companion, Diana L. Taylor, the former New York State banking superintendent, are reportedly leaving soon for Europe aboard the mayor’s personal jet for a celebratory vacation that one member of the mayor’s staff says will include visits to Venice, Versailles, Buckingham Palace and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, where the city’s first couple will likely be gathering decorating ideas for the mayor’s newest property.

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