Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Democrats for Bloomberg

In his critique of Greg Sargent's lament about Democrats deserting the party in order to support Mike Bloomberg, Fred Kaplan, the Boston Globe's ex-New York correspondent, would like us to believe that New Yorkers would once again vote for Democrats if they only stopped nominating "hacks and second raters." Kaplan then goes on to point out that these very same New Yorkers still cast their ballots for, using one example, Democratic presidential nominees like John Kerry, proving, with no irony intended, that when it comes to national politics we will gladly embrace any hack and second rater the party puts forward. Clearly, when it comes to an analysis of NYC politics we can do better than Kaplan's critique of the Democrats and his elite-based, misinformed defense of Mike Bloomberg.

Something else is afoot here and the nuances of whatever it is have escaped Kaplan. Mike Bloomberg, with no visible rationale or policy expertise, was elected in 2001 over a Democratic candidate who, while he may lacked a lot of things, could not be characterized as either a hack or a second rater. Put simply, Bloomberg was elevated into office in a fluke election and even then only after spending over $70 million, $23 million of which was spent in the last two weeks of the campaign trying to convince New Yorkers that Bloomberg was the reincarnation of Rudy.

What's really interesting here is that Kaplan forgets that the mayor once had approval ratings of 24%, the lowest recorded in New York City history. His ratings hit rock bottom after the mayor raised property taxes by an effective rate of 40% in 2002. Remember that, aside from his faux Giuliani impersonation in the last campaign, Bloomberg also had stressed his business background and used it to attack Mark Green as a tax and spend liberal. Subsequently we found out that all of this was simply a convenient cover for the mayor's apparent lack of any bedrock philosophical principles.

This doesn't really intrude on Kaplan's apologia because as he approvingly points out, Bloomberg "balanced the budget." Aside from being a total non sequitor – mayors are required by law to balance the budget – the observation underscores the typical Manhattan-oriented big government liberalism that sees tax hikes that hurt homeowners and neighborhood businesses as necessary sacrifices for the greater good.

The larger point, however, is that the mayor's tax and regulatory policies underscore his total lack of any fresh approach to making city government run more efficiently. It is a "back-to-the-future" approach that harkens to the profligate time chronicled by Ken Auletta in "The Streets Were Paved With Gold." It certainly doesn't reflect any of the creative approaches to welfare reform that characterized the two terms of his predecessor. This appears to be, at least for Kaplan, another feather in the mayor's cap: The mayor approach is "compassionate," undoing the "damage" inflicted on New York by Giuliani.

It is the kind of worldview that Kaplan's ex-parent company, the NY Times, has popularized: who else but the Times could see Anthony Weiner's tax relief policy as deficient because it failed to adequately make up for the "lost money", i.e., the money that the government would be "forced" to give back to the tax payers. This is the kind of mayor and the kind of policy that Kaplan and the entire coterie of rich Manhattan liberals embrace because they are totally divorced from the reality of people's lives in the boroughs.

It is precisely why Kaplan sees the Bloomberg administration in such glowing terms. Missing is any real grasp of the mayor's hostility to entrepreneurism, his anti-small business regulatory policy, and his congenital instinct to aggrandize billionaire developers like Steve Ross of the Related Companies at the expense of local communities and minority firms. It is the top down urban renewal impulse that characterized all of the worst of 1960's liberalism: the "We know what is best for them" mentality that destroyed neighborhoods and created generations of welfare dependency. In the end, government inexorably became less efficient, less accountable and more expensive.

This is the same mentality captured in Joe Flaherty's classic "Managing Mailer." When Mailer and Jimmy Breslin were campaigning in 1969 they stopped at the kind of East Side Reform Democratic club that Mayor Mike would definitely feel right at home in. When they proposed a program of community control to the well-heeled audience, a rich matron admonished them saying, "Mr. Mailer you don't understand. It's about what we can do for them."

But, Kaplan might argue, look at the mayor's current high approval ratings. Yes let's look at those ratings and put them into the proper context. If I remember correctly the first few polls that came out in the Spring, right after the mayor's stadium debacle, had Ferrer up by double digits.

What's happened since? Bloomberg has spent probably close to $40 million dollars in a saturation ad blitz that, if Fred bothered to notice, is being eerily mimicked when the average New Yorker is asked to comment on the mayor's tenure. This approbation devolves, in zombie-like fashion, into NY's version of one lies and the other one swears to it.

So Freddy Ferrer will be outspent when it is all over by at least 10-1 without a peep from all of the campaign finance hypocrites who would scream if national Republicans had that kind of advantage (And not a word Fred about the mayor's pledge not to spend that kind of money if he ran for re-election?). Also, what does it say Fred when someone as successful as you claim the mayor is must spend $100 million to convince New Yorkers that he has been a wonderful chief executive? Amazingly, Bloomberg does this while saying with a straight face that he is running on his record!

New Yorkers do need better than what they have gotten from the Democratic Party. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with the current electoral choice since neither Bloomberg nor Ferrer threatens to actually introduce innovative ideas to reduce the size of municipal government while increasing its effectiveness. So Fred, criticize the Party if you will but do so while eschewing the ridiculous lionization of a mayor who is as diminutive in policy expertise as he is in size.