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Billionaire NY mayor grapples with Wall St protest

By Samantha Gross

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 5 2011 4:06 p.m. MDT

NEW YORK — It would seem that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be a natural foe for protesters now in their seventh week on Wall Street's footstep.

He is not only the 1 percent, he was named the 30th richest person on the planet, according to Forbes magazine. He is a man who has used his fortune to achieve vast political influence. A former trader and CEO who ardently defends the big banks against those who would blame the institutions for the nation's economic woes.

But the billionaire mayor has thus far avoided taking decisive action against the encampment protesting economic inequality and corporate greed.

Bloomberg may not be able to keep that distance for long, however. Local officials displeased with noise and sanitation complaints at the site have been notching up the pressure on City Hall. And park owners may yet choose to clear out the group on trespassing charges, causing a potential showdown with police.

The mayor has said the situation is the city's responsibility — but has yet to explain how his administration might step in.

"It is the city's problem and we'll make a decision," he said recently. "But, you know, it's just not so easy. You can't just walk in and say, 'Hey, you're out of here.' "

As the protests have grown to include encampments around the country, some mayors are taking that exact approach, while others are publicly pondering similar action. Results have been mixed.

In Oakland, Calif., police in riot gear fired tear gas and bean bags to disperse protesters who had been camping in front of City Hall — a move followed by confrontations that have led local business leaders and residents to question Mayor Jean Quan's leadership. In Atlanta and in Sacramento, Calif., police arrested dozens of people to clear out park encampments. The mayor of Providence, R.I., has threatened to ask a court to evict protesters, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said an encampment outside City Hall "cannot continue indefinitely."

But in New York, a decision to forcibly evict the protesters could prove unpopular for a mayor already coping with a third-term decline in public approval. Two-thirds of New York City voters polled recently by Quinnipiac University say they agree with the protesters' views, and 82 percent believe the group should be allowed to continue the protest, which is costing the city millions of dollars in ramped up security.

"Bloomberg is in a bad spot," said 61-year-old protester Aron Kay, standing with the help of a cane amid the tents at Zuccotti Park. "He knows he's damned if you do, damned if you don't. ... They will look very bad if they come in here like gangbusters."

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