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The Millionth Tree Planting In New York: Bette Midler Had A Dream

Wall Street Journal
De Blasio, Bloomberg Share a Few Laughs at Tree Planting
Bette Midler is also on hand as city initiative marks more than one million trees planted since 2007
By MARA GAY
Updated Nov. 20, 2015 3:24 p.m. ET

It took eight years and more than one million trees to get them there, but as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg planted an American lindentogether Friday in the Bronx, they were all smiles.

“The visionary stands to my right, in the stylish yellow sweater,” Mr. de Blasio warmly said of Mr. Bloomberg.

The pair celebrated an initiative to plant one million trees across New York City, a project started by Mr. Bloomberg and singer-actress Bette Midler that has continued under Mr. de Blasio. The pubic-private initiative, which began in 2007, increased the city’s number of trees by 20%.

It was an rare joint appearance for the two men. Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, had often described Mr. Bloomberg as “out of touch” during his campaign for mayor two years ago, but has made an effort to praise him over the past year. Mr. Bloomberg has vowed not to involve himself in city politics after leaving office. The two men aren’t close.

But as they stood near a newly-planted tree Friday, at Joyce Kilmer Park, all that seemed but a dream.

“I want to welcome forward the man of the hour,” Mr. de Blasio said, introducing his predecessor.

“Bill, thank you—this podium seems a little taller than I remember it,” Mr. Bloomberg joked, a not-so-subtle nod to the several inches of height differential between the two men.

“It’s great to go out and stand under a tree,” he said. “It’s great to breathe clean air.”

The mayors didn’t plan the millionth tree, exactly: That event had been delayed by the shooting death last month of New York Police Department Officer Randolph Holder. Friday’s tree turned out to be tree number 1,017,634.

Mr. de Blasio said the initiative planned to plant 150,000 more trees over the next three years. “A lot of people would rest on their laurels and stop at the 1,017,634th tree, but no—we have continued, and we will continue,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The event took a few unscripted turns. Mr. de Blasio made a number of puns, which elicited groans. Ms. Midler curtsied. Mr. Bloomberg reminisced about his time in office.

“Who was the fashion model that I planted a tree with?” Mr. Bloomberg asked. “The girl was taller than Bill! I was planting the bottom of the tree, she was holding the top.”

The former mayor said Ms. Midler deserved much of the credit for the initiative. “I’m going to kiss her,” he said, and he planted a kiss on the actress’s cheek. The audience giggled.

Ms. Midler, addressing school children in the audience, said the idea to plant the trees came to her because she grew up in Hawaii, where “everyone looked after their garden,” and the land was lush with trees. “I thought the whole world looked like Hawaii,” she told the children.

“When I got here I saw a lot of trash. I saw trash in the streets. I saw trash in the parks. And one time I even saw a mattress in a tree! One time I saw a couch in a tree!”

Ms. Midler spoke of a dream she had in which she and Mr. Bloomberg decided they would plant one million trees.

“I always had this dream that we would plant a million trees in New York City, and Mayor Bloomberg was there, we might have had one glass of champagne too many, I don’t know. He jumped up and he ran over to me and he said, ‘That’s exactly right. That’s what you’re going to do. We’re going to do it together.’”

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