»  National Review Online

January 8th, 2002

  Nepotism in New York


Normally I would hesitate to bring a New York story before the NRO readership. A lot of Americans, and a whole lot of NRO readers, hate New York City, which they regard as the concentrated essence of all that's wrong with this Republic — a malodorous fever swamp of anti-gun fanatics, out-of-control immigration, limousine liberalism, high taxes, arrogant public-sector unions, Clintons, Sharptons, rent control, corruption, and, like the scene that confronted Tam O'Shanter in the kirk:

Wi' mair of horrible and awfu',
Which even to name wad be unlawfu'.

"The capital of a nation that doesn't exist," someone once called New York City. (Who? I forget. If you know, please tell me.) The name John Rocker mean anything?

I have the impression that red-state America has been cutting New York City some slack recently though, because of what happened there in September, so I offer the following little New York story for you to meditate on, with a fair degree of confidence that I shall get only a very small number of emails asking: "Why should I waste time reading about a bunch of long-haired hippie commie nail-biting bed-wetting degenerate pinko lefty dupes …?"

As you may know, the Big Apple had a mayoral election recently, and the winner was self-made billionaire Mike Bloomberg. A Republican of convenience who arouses enthusiasm in absolutely nobody I know, Mayor Bloomberg has started his term of office by "reaching out" to all and sundry, apparently not aware that in New York City this is a sure way to get your arms lopped off. This, after all, is a place where the attempt to install public toilets launched a titanic struggle between about two hundred interest groups, a struggle that is now, twenty years later, still locked in a stalemate as bitter, destructive and immobile as the Western Front in World War One.

Well, perhaps Mayor Bloomberg will learn, and perhaps he will do some good, and perhaps it may even come to pass that four years from now, if caught short on my way from National Review to Penn Station, I shall not need to beg embarrassing favors from the staff of Starbucks. I sincerely hope so. I like New York City. We lived here for the first four years of our marriage, and for me the city has never quite lost that honeymoon glow. We lived in a "studio apartment" — which is to say, a flat smaller than the interior of a suburban SUV, with a bed that folded down out of the wall. (A "Murphy bed," they call them. Who was Murphy?) Rosie used to say that if she wanted to put anything down in that place, she had to pick something else up first. It was wonderfully central, though: located in one of the few surviving 19th-century houses in midtown, over a Korean restaurant on 46th street and Lexington, so central that our post office was the one in Grand Central Station. We used to walk up to Rockefeller Center to go ice skating. We danced at the Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center. Ah, "souvenir, souvenir, que me veux-tu …?" But I digress.

The thing is, Mayor Bloomberg wants to hire his daughter. This young lady, whose name is Emma, is 22 years old and fresh out of Princeton, where her thesis on medieval poetry won top honors. (Couple of years ago I was in a comedy club when one of the comics started interacting with the audience. He asked one young woman what she did. She was a student, she told him. Of what? he asked. Of English literature, she replied. "Oh, so your people are loaded, are they?" This got a big laugh. Perhaps that young woman was Ms. Bloomberg.) Well, Emma wants to go and work for Dad at City Hall, and Dad wants her on board.

Why does Emma Bloomberg want to work in the city government? Not for the money, that's for sure. Her Dad gives her an allowance that covers rent, living expenses, and "a little extra," she says. It is a vulgar error to suppose that people go into politics for the money. The thrill of power — to say to this one, come, and he cometh, and to that one, go, and he goeth — is sweeter by far than anything money can buy. Is it sheer public-spiritedness, then? Doesn't sound like it. When the question was put to her, she said this: "It's grabbing an opportunity and believing in yourself … It's an opportunity I just can't pass up."

Opportunity … opportunity … Opportunity for what? What do you think? An opportunity to pick up some really hot résumé points right out of college, that's what. A job near the heart of city government, with constant high-preference access to the city's Chief Executive. What ambitious young person wouldn't want that … opportunity? And Emma comes with some qualifications beyond medieval poetry: she worked hard and, by all accounts, effectively for her father's election campaign. Got a taste for politics, apparently: "She refused to rule out seeking election herself one day," reports the New York Post. Uh-oh.

Emma's bid for a jump-start on a career in "public service" may come to naught. The city has rules that prohibit officials from using their position to get "financial gain or private or personal advantage for a close relative," and the people who administer these things may decide that the job Emma is angling for comes under the heading of "personal advantage" (as, indeed, Emma seems to believe it does). It is, therefore, by no means a foregone conclusion that she will get in. Leaving that aside, let's consider the political morality of the thing.

As a conservative, I have nothing whatever against people being rich, and nothing against rich people setting up their kids with a comfortable life. I know some extremely nice trust-fundees, wish I knew a few more, in fact … I have no problem with Bloomberg's wealth, and even less with the advantages this confers on his daughter.

I don't even have much problem with nepotism, as a general phenomenon. Personal connections are the very stuff of commercial life, and family connections are just more personal than others. I have been on both sides of the job-interview table, and I know very well that a personal recommendation from someone whose opinion I respect is worth any amount of interviewing or perusing of résumés. Certainly, if I myself need to get work on Wall Street again, my first move will be to start phoning and emailing people I've worked with, or for, to see if any of them can help me. This is human, natural, normal and healthy. Mind you, if I had a dad who was CEO of a big corporation, I'm not at all sure he would be on my call list. Some people would deliberately not use a connection like that, to make a point of their independence. I kind of think I'd be one of those people, but I'm not sure, and can't see actually anything wrong with being on the other side of the issue. Personal feelings aside, from the point of view of business efficiency, I think nepotism is probably a plus. An executive functions better, the better he knows his colleagues and subordinates; and who do you know better than your own kin?

That last point is probably true in government, too. It would be nice to get back to the Cincinnatus ideal of government by disinterested citizens, selflessly leaving their farms for a few years to come and help out the Republic. We all know, however, that a modern government — even a city government — is a vast and complex enterprise, to be effective in which, you need many of the skills of advanced business management, as well as the ability to keep your feet in endless bureaucratic turf wars. Growing up in a political family is one way to get a start on acquiring those skills, and the child of a politician is more likely than average to make an effective politician him- or her-self — though not, of course, without first having sought and obtained the approval of the electorate.

So why do I feel so strongly that Emma Bloomberg should not get a job in her father's administration? Why? Because of that word "opportunity," that's why. Because, to be blunt about it, I don't like her attitude. "It doesn't make sense I should be penalized because he's my father," says Emma. I beg to differ. It makes perfect sense to me. What would not make sense would be for this young lady to be launched into a political career without first having had her apparently boundless sense of entitlement deflated a bit, or better still a lot. Look at her language: penalized. A young woman who never has, nor ever will, want for anything material, speaks of being penalized because some regulation prevents her from getting the plum job she has set her heart on.

Believe it or not, Emma, there really is such a thing as public service, outside of quotation marks. In fact governments, in free countries, exist precisely to offer public services. They do not exist to provide "opportunities" to ambitious young persons. To the incidental degree that they do actually offer such "opportunities," it is a matter of simple fairness that they should offer them impartially to all who care to apply. Yes, you would probably do very well working for our new mayor. Yes, other things being equal, your knowing him so well, and him knowing you so well, would probably add some increment of efficiency to the work of the city government. A government, however, is not the same thing as a private company, and it has other imperatives than just efficiency. The government of New York City is not for you, Emma — or rather, it is no more for you than it is for any of the other 7,999,999 citizens. If you have half the talents your dad says you have, you'll find plenty of "opportunities," don't worry. Swallow a little disappointment. Do your dad a favor — he really doesn't need any niggling little controversies at this point in his mayoralty. Go get a job with Goldman Sachs. Or, if you are really intent on public service, how about a spell in the army?