Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bloomberg a Dirty Word in Queens

The startling new Pace Poll underscores a various serious problem for the now inevitable second Bloomberg term (yes, we know all elected officials should have such problems). In number of editorials that support the mayor’s reelection there is the admission that the Bloomberg’s campaign spending and the resultant absence of genuine debate over the city’s future – exacerbated by the ineptitude of the Ferrer effort – leaves New York in the dark about how Bloomberg will deal with a number of pressing policy issues in the next 4 years.

Some of this is underscored in an interesting story by Patrick Healy in yesterday’s NY Times that focuses on the doubts about the mayor in certain Queens neighborhoods. What emerges in the piece is the real undercurrents of unhappiness in working class homeowner communities. As Healy points out “Bloomberg” is used as a profanity in neighborhoods that have seen their property tax bill rise by half and where resentment of ticketing and enforcement in general is high. Healty reports that a lot of these folk are simply stunned by polls that show the mayor winning in a blowout over his Democratic opponent.

At the same time, a number of residents who do express somewhat grudging support for the mayor seem to be speaking in phrases that eerily replicate the Bloomberg campaign message. As local resident Kathy DiLieto Says, “He brought us back from 9/11. What’re you going to do, criticize him?” This tends to support our view that the enormity of campaign spending and its sheer repetitiveness create not only an air of inevitability but at the same time defines the political reality (certainly even more so with the relative absence of any competitive messaging).

While a well-honed, unchallenged message is certainly good for a reelection effort, it is problematic in terms of effective governing over the next for years. This is particularly true because the reality that the Bloombergistas have defined is a Potamkin Village, one that will be exposed for its stage, ersatz quality as soon as crisis looms. The mayor, because of his spending and the undercurrent of resentment that it exacerbates, will be extremely vulnerable for a rapid deconstruction that no amount of money will be able to stymie.

In addition, there is a tendency for Americans, and New Yorkers even more so, to get a great deal of satisfaction from the fall of the rich and famous. If a crisis does occur then the words of Queens resident Eulynis Frames (“Even Stevie Wonder can see that people are getting poorer, working people are really being squeezed…But you listen to the mayor and ‘everything’s fine’”) will begin to resonate throughout neighborhoods similar to those profiled in Healy’s story and the mayor’s popularity may well start to plummet.

Looming Budget Crisis

The upcoming fiscal deficit is very likely to generate the kinds of problems that will test the mayor severly precisely because he has not looked for ways to creatively restructure government. This point is emphasized by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute:
The mayor has not used his first term, and the cushion of the tax increases, to reform the budget…People are angry, by the mayor dodged public debate about it.
The implications of the mayoral dodging are brought home by Greg David in this week’s Crain’s where he observes that the mayor thinks “he has pared the budget as much as possible.” If this is true then:
The real question – which hasn’t been confronted in the campaign – is whether the mayor truly believes that city government can’t be reduced. If so, he has no alternative but to seek another round of tax hikes.
Should that happen the harmless griping of Kathy DiLieto and Eulynis Frames will be transformed into a crescendo of wailing that will reverberate way beyond the parochial confines of South Ozone Park. In the process the mayor will be forcefully toppled from the pedestal of greatness that the NY Times editorial board looks to construct for him.