Monday, November 21, 2005

Lo and Beholden

Jim Rutenberg, who increasingly impresses us more and more with the kind of thoughtful reporting that the Times needs, has a very good piece on Sunday dealing with the mayor's second term. The story points out something that we hadn't dealt with in our numerous discussions of the mayor, special interests and the Public Good. It focuses on the need to be able to develop coalitions of interest if you want to achieve certain policy objectives.

This underscores just how shallow the entire "not beholden to special interest" sanctification of the mayor really is. In our earlier discussion of this kind of analysis, we pointed out that being divorced from special interests didn’t mean that the elected official was better situated to enact policy that was in the public interest. The issue here was: What criteria does a Mike Bloomberg, or any wealthy self-financed candidate, use to make decisions? (The "I only do what's best for the people" explanation simply begs the question).

What makes the Rutenberg piece so interesting is that it does focus on the decision-making process. The money quote here is,
"But associates said there was a downside to being free of the indignity of begging for money. It can be isolating...'What fundraising does is establish communication among powerful political interests,' said Kevin Sheekey, the mayor's campaign manager and longtime political strategist. 'We have to find new ways to establish contact with powerful political interests.'"
In other words, you can't make policy in a vacuum. You need to be able to form coalitions of interests in order to achieve difficult policy objectives. This means, however, that interests per se are not bad and the whole glorification of the mayor in this regard was superficial, if not wholly inane.

The one aspect of this discussion by Rutenberg that we would disagree with is the analysis that says that Mayor Mike was able to achieve the school takeover without having to engage in any special interest "horse trading." While this is true on the surface it tends to underplay the extent to which the entire initiative was essentially accomplished by the mayor's predecessor. It underplays the extent to which policy is always about managing the interplay of interests, which explains the mayor's failure to get anything helpful out of Albany (remember the farcical wooing of Shelly Silver on the Stadium issue?).

That being said, the mayor’s second term policy goals will necessitate not only coalition-building but also crisis management. Since Mike purchased such good will among a diverse set of groups he will now have to deal with deficits in a way that mitigates the pain to all of his newfound friends. And it is a lot easier, as Murray Edelman has pointed out, to dole out symbolic rewards to the many than it is to manage the more finite, tangible political benefits. A whole bunch of folks are likely feel let down and very disappointed.