Talking About Gracie Mansion, Gracelessly

Written by Christopher Moore on . Posted in Opinion Our Town, Opinion West Side Spirit, Our Town, West Side Spirit.

Mayor’s got it all wrong about where the next mayor should live

By Christopher Moore

Generally, billionaires should be careful about giving real estate tips to other people.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared eager last week to address the question of whether the next mayor, elected in 2013, should live in Gracie Mansion, the lovely, official residence of many mayors not named Bloomberg.

The incumbent was not just wrong when he said his successor should not use the Upper East Side landmark the way it was utilized for generations, he was tacky, too. The New York Times, in the person of “About New York” columnist Jim Dwyer, kindly pointed out that Bloomberg has mansions “to spare,” given his homes in various spots around the world.

No, Bloomberg, with a net worth of “north of $20 million,” as the Times said, does not need Gracie Mansion. But New Yorkers may have a need to think of their mayor in such a space. The mansion deserves more than municipal gatherings and tour groups; it deserves a mayor who will add to the long history of those who have lived there.

Tradition has its merits. The Yanks belong in the Bronx; Lincoln Center fits nicely on the Upper West Side; mayors should sleep at Gracie.

The mayor’s remarks about the mansion might best be ignored, if only they did not underscore the ways in which he never understood his ceremonial or public role. Sometimes, having leaders live in a “people’s house,” like the White House or Gracie Mansion, feeds a need for ritual and historical order.

In a larger sense, humans have a hunger to look up to, and down on, their official leaders. Look at the royal family in Britain or at the Kardashians here in the United States. Ironically, the need for a peek into the semi-personal can be more valuable to the political culture in tough times than in good ones.

Don’t get me wrong. Bloomberg has been a good mayor—at least until we hit the requisite third-term blues. The party is pretty well over. At this point, the only people not tired of Bloomberg are those reporting directly to him. Still, this mayor has pursued forward-thinking policies, hired professional, thoughtful, innovative department heads, been more honest than most mayors about budget numbers and bravely become a national advocate for gun control, which is more than you can say about the president of the United States.

Last week, though, Bloomberg sounded whiny when he suggested having a future mayor use Gracie Mansion as a home would be a financially unsound move. Maybe the real problem is that Bloomberg gets grouchy when he thinks about even the notion of a next mayor. The last time he considered a successor, he overturned term limits.

Officially, though, he said Gracie should be used for city events, not public housing of the first order. But in a town of five boroughs, there’s something appropriate about offering a stunning spot (in the best borough) for the chief executive and family. Not everyone has a spare bed right near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bloomberg may not get Gracie’s meaning, but he personally paid for a substantial part of its $7 million renovation in 2002. Those of us lucky enough to see the renovations in person could appreciate, yes, the notion of having public events at a mansion beautifully decorated by Jamie Drake, Bloomberg’s own decorator. Still, seeing those classic spaces, complete with bold and appropriate colors, sadly underscored that no actual mayor was on the scene, day in and day out.

A Gracie Mansion is not a home without a mayor inside.

The next mayor should feel free to live there, unapologetically.

Christopher Moore is a writer living in Manhattan. He can be reached by email at and on Twitter (@cmoorenyc).

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  • Ana Mahoney

    The next mayor will probably decide for themselves that they don’t WANT to live at Gracie Mansion after Bloomberg’s Garbage transfer station is right outside their window!

  • Michael Cannell

    It would be a disgrace to have the gracious Gracie Mansion, a point of pride for the city, overlooking the proposed garbage transfer station at East 91st Street. What a legacy for Bloomberg to leave his successors: a home that belongs to the people next to a toxic rat-infested industrial facility where residents of East Harlem now fish and parents now push strollers.

  • Howard Garland

    Mayor Bloomberg is leaving a surprise for his successor in Gracie Mansion’s backyard. He is pushing ahead to build a $250 million, 10 story garbage transfer station right on the East River at 91st street. I suppose this is his way of discouraging any future mayor from living at this property.
    Even if the next mayor does not want to live next door to the new garbage dump, the city will need to include gas masks in it’s budget for visitors to the historic landmark.

  • Elaine

    Mayor Bloomberg has undoubtedly reaped incalculable political rewards of a refurbished Gracie Mansion, without ever deigning to rest his head there, so his $7 million investment has garnered dividends for him during his THREE terms. You should know, however, the “real” reason why Gracie Mansion will be “off limits” to a new mayor or even for city events: Bloomberg is backing a proposal to build a MONSTER garbage dump, to be open 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, to the tune of $245 million of YOUR hard-earned tax dollars, just a stone’s throw from Gracie Mansion. This garbage facility — that will lure hundreds of garbage trucks, spewing fumes and odors, daily to the Yorkville/East Harlem area — is the only trash facility to be located in the midst of a highly-populated residential neighborhood, which includes being directly in the middle of a playground and athletic fields used by thousands of children city-wide, and less than 600 feet from public housing towers. What future mayor would choose to live, much less hold city functions, at Gracie Mansion under these circumstances? While a new mayor may have the luxury of choosing to reside, or not, in this area left despoiled by Bloomberg, the residents of Yorkville and East Harlem do not. During his THREE terms, the Mayor has repeatedly acted in a self-interested fashion, without respect to history or tradition. And “grouchy,” you say? This mayor is truly the “Onceler,” of the Lorax fame. And his plan must be stopped, in this regard, by every New Yorker who knows that garbage dumps do not belong next to playgrounds and residences — mayoral and otherwise — and that $245 million is much better spent on schools, teachers, libraries, police and firefighters, and other basic services.

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