NEW YORK — With two weeks to go in his 12-year term, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg kicked off his farewell tour Tuesday, making the first stop on a five-boroughs-in-five-days tour meant to tout his accomplishments and bolster his legacy.
But the feel-good tour — complete with laudatory speeches and glowing tributes — was in part overshadowed by Bloomberg's impassioned, and at times prickly, defense of the city's homeless services record.
"I don't think there's any administration, any city that has ever done as much to help those in need as we have done in this city," he said when answering a reporter's question after the dedication of an ice skating rink in Brooklyn. "Should we stop there? No. Not at all. But if you're poor and homeless, you'd be better off in New York City than any place else."
The question was prompted by The New York Times' poignant series about a homeless girl named Dasani who has lived for several years in a squalid Brooklyn homeless shelter. Bloomberg had not been available to reporters since the stories were published last week.
In response, Bloomberg noted that the city's homeless rate was far less than other major United States cities including Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. He was sympathetic to the girl depicted in the series, calling her life story "really quite extraordinary," but noted that the average homeless family spends less than two years in shelters.
"Her family situation is extremely atypical. The article implied that all people are treated this way, or all have the same problems and that just is not true," he said. "This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don't know quite why. That's just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not."
He later scolded the reporter who asked the question for displaying a smirk while Bloomberg answered.
More than 50,000 people, including 20,000 children, sleep in city homeless shelters, a significant uptick from when Bloomberg took office in 2002.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who called the series gripping, has been sharply critical of Bloomberg's homeless policies.
Though Bloomberg has long said he didn't spend time thinking about his legacy, his administration is rolling out a final push to send the billionaire mayor back to the private sector on a high note. It launched a website boasting of his accomplishments and Bloomberg will hit every borough this week to showcase a particular area of success.
In Brooklyn on Tuesday, the subject was parks.
Bloomberg unveiled a new $74 million ice-skating and recreational facility in Prospect Park that was paid for by a private-partnership, much like others the mayor has utilized to improve or create park space throughout the city. He said that his administration has spent $5 billion to create new parks or create existing ones, working on more than 870 acres of parkland in total.
He also touted the park's home borough, which has seen crime plummet and its population and economy soar.
"When you say to someone who is coming to town, 'Where are you staying, where you are eating?'" Bloomberg said, the answer is "'Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn.'"
Bloomberg's final major speech as mayor will be Wednesday at The Economic Club of New York. He will discuss the growth of American cities.
Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $31 billion, has largely been coy about his plans once he leaves office, saying that he expects to take some time off and will refrain from criticizing de Blasio, a Democrat who takes office Jan. 1.
But he has indicated that he will return to help run the business media company that bears his name, particularly in its London office, and will use his vast fortune to fund causes he's interested in, such as gun control. He also announced this week that is forming a consulting group to offer advice to cities around the globe.