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September 23, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

Why Michael Bloomberg’s Quest for Power Needs to End

The City Council members who overrode term limits cannot seriously maintain that their continued leadership is necessary or even desirable. Yet, “continuity of leadership” in the face of fiscal crisis was the stated rationale. If indeed the fiscal crisis was the reason for ignoring two referendums, they should have passed an override that allowed only the mayor to run again. Self-interest was of course at the heart of it. They wanted to hold onto their jobs or get better ones.1 New Yorkers, or at least those who are paying attention, understand this. That’s why, when in an ordinary year 97.5% of incumbents win reelection, four incumbents were turned out (two races are still too close to call), 10 had difficult primaries, and 12 failed to gain a majority of voters (not to forget the one council member, Miguel Martinez, who was indicted in the slush fund scandal — we expect others are next).

Long time New York political observers such as Sam Roberts and Clyde Haberman of the New York Times agree and draw the conclusion – perhaps the hope – that Bloomberg will have a more difficult time than the smart money is predicting.

The reason Bloomberg seeks a third term is less clear. He doesn’t need the job. His motives lie somewhere in the terrain of his own psyche, an exploration best left to credentialed professionals. We would sum it up thusly: Because he wants to.

In the interests of putting our cards on the table, so to speak, we asked Keith Seidel to give expression to what we believe is at least part of the reason he wants to. Here it is:

Bloomberg and Power

On the question of political ethics

Whether or not the Bloomberg Viagra Theory stands up to scrutiny, the idea of overriding term limits without a public referendum is wholly insupportable. We have held elections during a civil war, world wars, depressions, and even while the steel girders of the World Trade Center were still smoking. The refusal to give Giuliani more time is the reason Bloomberg took office in 2001. We won’t argue the point. One gets it or doesn’t.

We think, however, that even the scheduling of such a referendum would have stood on the same weak moral foundation as that of legislatures that raise their own pay (something which the city council did in 2006) rather than raising it for the benefit of future office holders, or on the same footing as that of a legislature that reapportions itself rather than having the state’s political geography drawn by an independent commission. These are the important reasons we have entrenched incumbents and thus an unresponsive and deeply corrupted political system: The pay and perks are excellent — $112,500 and lulus in the tens and twenty thousands, and part-time to boot with the opportunity for unlimited outside income, which many of them enjoy. Small wonder they want to remain in power more or less permanently and pass on their seats to their children as so many of them do.

But the City Council and Bloomberg went beyond the improper action of scheduling a referendum the results of which would benefit them; they took the decision away from the public altogether. The reason they did so is clear: they wouldn’t have won it. The mayor’s polls showed that, and he plainly lied when he said there was just no time.

If there is any conceivable mitigating circumstance, therefore, it has to be found in the extreme fiscal emergency and in Bloomberg’s singular qualities for getting the City through it. The public simply could not be trusted to make the correct decision. Merely stating the rationale seems to us a sufficient refutation of it; some things after all are self-evident. This is New York City we’re talking about.

But let’s address head on what seems to be a widely held belief that Bloomberg has managed the City well.  Whether that belief is the result of the blitzkrieg of paid and free media or has something to do with the Stockholm Syndrome, or factors unrelated to finance, we don’t know, but the facts do not support it. Nor do they support the notion that he has managed the City without regard to politics, as his campaign theme — Progress not Politics — would have us believe.

Many costly decisions such as the attempted extension of the Central Business District, the massive bond indebtedness for subway extensions, the subsidies to private developers for money-losing sports stadiums, the fast track approvals for luxury condominiums, the privatization of subsidized housing, and much else with which we strongly disagree and which have nothing to do with strengthening the middle class, another mayoral election theme, flow naturally from Bloomberg’s overarching vision of New York City as a global financial center. He has sought to implement that vision by making the City an attractive and comfortable place for wealthy people. Bloomberg has borrowed and spent heavily to advance that vision. Fred Siegel has argued that the excessive spending was political: He negotiated rich contracts to win the support of the municipal labor unions. We think both views are correct, but far more important in our view is the financial hole that Bloomberg and his friends have dug for us.

The Wall Street interests and the real estate barons who are closely aligned with Bloomberg caused the massive fiscal meltdown by taking advantage of the deregulation philosophy, a core Bloomberg value, one that Bill Clinton’s financial advisors shared and George Bush pursued with a vengeance. We suffered the consequences. Dick Fuld still has his mansions. As with any mayor, there were outside forces over which he had no control, but there is a remarkable degree of unanimity across a broad ideological and political spectrum that this mayor, far from being a prudent fiscal steward, has contributed substantially to the City’s fiscal problems.

[1]We wish that the voters had been more energized, but the results do give cause for hope that they will take the opportunity to throw out the scoundrel-in-chief in November.

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