Monday, October 10, 2005

The Empty Chair

In a powerful affirmation of its belief in campaign finance reform and its concomitant concern about the corrupting power of money in politics, the NY Times editorial board weighed in yesterday with a hard-hitting attack on the mayoral duck of last Thursday's debate at the Apollo Theater. It is about time that the mayor is held to a standard of accountability for his obscene spending. After all he did say, as the Times appropriately points out, that he needed to spend millions four years ago only because, unlike Mark Green, he was not a known political quantity.

We particularly liked the discussion of the empty chair and the assertion by the Bloombergers that it was a cheap shot by NY One. As the Times indicated it could have been worse: "Putting a bucket of money where Mr. Bloomberg should have been would have had some symbolic justice." Especially since the Bloomberg ad spending is sucking all the oxygen out of the normal debate in a political campaign.

The most incisive point that the Times raises deals with the correlation between the mayor's spending and his claims of political independence As the editorial says, the mayor's money orgy sheds, " a different light on the on one of his strongest virtue, his well-known political independence." It goes on to point out that, while the mayor lays claim to owing nothing to any political interest group "...when so much money enters the equation, there's a fine line between a man who can afford to go it alone, and a rich guy who simply always wants to get his own way."

What the editorial misses, however, is the essence of the debate over the politics of special interests that we comment on more extensively today. It's not only that a mega-rich guy can want to get his own way, it is also that the "above politics" politician may not only have little sensitivity to the concerns of the little guys he or she may also be cut off from the real rough and tumble of political debate where good policy, after being subjected to heated evaluation, is often made.

Is there something innately special about Mike Bloomberg that gives him the kind of unique political insights into the public interest that somehow eludes the less exalted among us? And what happens, as it very well might, if someone even less in touch and perhaps caring as Mayor Mike uses great wealth to buy into high office?