I don't think Bloomberg has been a terrible mayor. In some ways he has done just what he claims to have done: look at the problems of the city from a standpoint other than traditional politics.
So, for example, when he identified NYC schools as an early and urgent priority, because for all their massive and impenetrable bureaucracy (as each of our numerous successive schools channelers discovered after taking on the job), they were intolerably underserving our children. When Bloomberg moved into City Hall, the mayor had quite limited input into the schools, and for historically excellent reasons: Because of all the money that's pumped into the schools, they become sitting ducks for every gouger, grifter, and scam artist who enriches his/her personal lifestyle by diverting public money. Just as street thugs who mug old ladies do so because it's easy, and seem to experience no shame for such predatory crimes, the grifters who steal money destined for the children apparently don't have working consciences. What would those stoopid kids have did with the money anyways?
There are two problems with the degree of control Mayor Bloomberg sought and won from the state legislature over the city's schools. (That's right, ultimate control over that aspect of our lives, and many others, lies not in City Hall, but in Albany.) First, when the mayor gets as much control as this mayor got, that means what happens depends entirely on his vision of education, and I'm not aware of any serious vetting of his educational credentials. And second, when he stops being mayor, whether it's his successor or the mayor after that or the one after that, we will go back, as he has been saying incessantly in this misbegotten campaign, to "politics as usual" -- in other words, the very conditions from which the schools once had to be protected.
Take this as a model for my feeling about most of what the mayor has done, or at least talked about. (They're not exactly the same thing. We get increasing reports that, for example, one reason the city streets look much cleaner on TV wherever he travels is that advance parties mobilized from somewhere in City Hall -- in other words, it could be not under the mayor's orders but on the order of folks who don't want to bear his wrath -- undertake a crash beautification program, even if it means actually damaging
the neighborhood that is "benefiting." Local TV crews can usually be counted on not to realize when they're being conned. They probably feel like big shots just being in the imperial presence.) An awful lot of knowledge about the city's problems, built up over decades and waiting out there to be tapped, is ignored because the mayor listens only to the people he listens to, most of whom, again, have never been vetted for insight into urban problems or planning. It is, in other words, a truly imperial vision of the new New York City.
The imperial attitude also explains some of Mayor Bloomberg's failures, like his inability to sell the legislature on his plan for "congestion pricing" of traffic in the impossibly congested lower portion of Manhattan. It's a plan that has been tried elsewhere, like London, apparently with success, but a lot of New Yorkers, especially in the outer boroughs (where most of the citywide votes are), people who depend on their cars to get them to and from work because they don't have ready access to public transit, simply saw it as a class issue: a regressive tax that barely inconveniences the rich while seriously disrupting the lives of economically less advantaged New Yorkers.And the mayor felt no obligation to explain, or to put those fears to rest.
Maybe he felt he'd done as much explaining as he should have to. He really seemed to take personally any criticism of his proposal. (Come to think of it, he seems to take all
criticism of his policies personally, and can be absolutely withering when questioned. It makes for some mighty tense moments at press opportunities.) If he had assumed it was part of his job to make people understand the "why," and appreciate how they would benefit, he might have had a unified city storming the gates in Albany. As it was, why should state legislators, even those from the city, go out on a limb for him?
This is also a mayor who is wildly pro-development. There probably isn't an underdeveloped parcel of land in the five boroughs for which he doesn't foresee some grandiose scheme. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. To the extent that those land parcels are underused, they fail to provide either benefits for city residents or taxes for the city coffers. But again, the plans are always delivered completely concocted, and they're plans of a certain developer's-gee-whiz kind (I'm tempted to call them "rich guys' plans"), with seemingly no input except from the tight group of people he listens to, and all the people who are affected -- including most obviously the people who are being cleared out of those "underused" parcels for the greater good -- are expected to cheer because Emperor Mike has delivered another brilliant plan.
The ironic result is that the most visible and public proposals have stalled, because that's the reality of the politics of it. The mayor doesn't actually have imperial powers. Of course the Bloomberg administration has hatched so many plans, I'm not sure we know which of them have gone through by stealth while we were mostly fixed on the most grandiose projects. And again, it's all one man's vision for the city, and I'm seriously doubtful that his city-planning credentials are better than those of our average "politics as usual" mayor.AND THEN THERE'S THE CAMPAIGN
My feeling is that the mayor ought to be disqualified from holding further public office just on the basis of this obscene campaign, where he has been shoving his money in our faces. Reportedly Bloomberg has bought up all the A- and B-list consultants, not to work for him (how many consultants can he use?), but to prevent them from working for another candidate. Then there are the shockingly dishonest TV ads, all over the damned air, filled with slander and innuendo if not outright lies (I assume they have lawyers vetting this garbage for lies), and the wall-to-wall promotion (glossy mailing pieces in the mailbox every day, umpteen online surveys a day).
All of this against a candidate, City Comptroller Bill Thompson
of Brooklyn, a perfectly decent pol with whom the mayor has gotten on fairly well in the past (once saying, as a current Thompson TV ad shows, that he would go probably go down as the city's best comptroller), who has no money, hardly any traditional Democratic support, not great name recognition -- in other words, not a ghost of a prayer of a chance next Tuesday. That doesn't stop the ruthless Bloomberg campaign machine, with its bottomless pit of financing.
And of course Bloomberg has no business running. I'm no great fan of term limits, but he could cause me to change my mind. The fact is that the city's voters have twice reaffirmed their support for term limits in referendum votes, and the mayor has known this perfectly well. Nevertheless, when he decided the city needed him for another term, he strong-armed the City Council into allowing it, sweetening the pot by allowing themselves to award their own selves another term opportunity as well. I always thought you couldn't change such laws to benefit yourself, but I guess that doesn't apply if you're rich enough.
When I see all that money being spent -- and believe me, you can see it
, all around you, the air is filled with it -- I wonder why the mayor didn't just negotiate with himself, the way he always does, to determine a fair price, and then pay us directly for our votes. (I suppose another way of looking at it is that the mayor's spending binge is a shot of Keynesian stimulus for the city's struggling economy.)
Suddenly, after two terms in office, our mayor, according to one of his TV ads (I try to filter them out, but jeez, they're all over the damned place!), now suddenly has a plan to reassert city control, or a larger measure of control, over our transit facilities. This is an interesting idea, and other under circumstances I might want to know more about his plan. But under these
circumstances, where the mayor managed to get through the only two terms in office he was supposed to be allowed without saying a word about this as far as I know, what I want to know is, why haven't we heard about this transit plan before now? What was he saving it for?
The last time we had a mayor who thought himself indispensable to the city, it was our last mayor, Rudy Giuliani, whose career had been sinking under the weight of his own cartoonlike preposterousness when it was revived by 9/11. Not many people seem to remember that 9/11 was primary day, when we were going to the polls to choose candidates to succeed Rudy when Osama bin-Laden revealed that he had other plans for us. In the end, it didn't matter which Democrat we chose to oppose the new Republican nominee, Mike Bloomberg; Rudy's mock-heroic luster reflected onto his Republican "successor" (though there were already plenty of indications that these guys didn't much like each other). Then Rudy made his magnanimous offer to stay in office for, well, an extra while, just to keep things going, so we wouldn't have to go through a mayoral transition at such a perilous time in our history. The mayor-elect, to his credit, said thanks but no thanks, we we can get through the transition just fine. And we did.
I'm betting that Mayor Thompson can do the same. Oh, I know he doesn't stand a chance. So let me just offer this confidential to Emperor Mike: You know those third terms have a way of catching up with you. It's just a shame the city will have to pay the price.
Labels: Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani