Monday, November 07, 2005

No Republican Way to Pick Up the Garbage

Joyce Purnick writes($) an interesting piece on some of the political changes in NYC that have drastically reduced the power of the traditional Democratic party. She does of course talk about the power of money and its ability to transcend any political machine, but the most compelling take she has is on the fact that solutions to urban problems are not in the exclusive purview of any one political party.

This is precisely the appeal that Mayor Mike is making in order to blunt any lingering partisanship in the city's electorate. What's extremely interesting to us is that Freddy Ferrer has not caught up with the trend towards innovation and non-partisanship that Purnick spots in NYC over the past thirty years. His appeal to a basically ethnic/traditional party base has fallen on deaf ears.

A quote from Hank Sheinkoff in a companion story by Patrick Healy on Freddy's valiant effort to lose with some dignity captures the essence of this evolution: "Freddy never went negative, but he had nothing to go positive with, either." To enlarge on Hank's point, Freddy had nothing new or compelling to say on municipal government that could even begin to capture the voter's imagination. This we believe will change as potential candidates assess the new political landscape in the run-up to 2009.

This is not to say that the mayor has been bold and innovative either, but his challenge was a lot less daunting given his incumbency and unlimited resources. The real policy breakthroughs were accomplished before Mike Bloomberg got here. What he has done is to manage their continuance without the need to develop any of his own. Even the school takeover is largely a result of Giuliani’s bitter chancellor battles (and continued educational failure) that signaled the need to change the system.

In some ways this represents Max Weber's classic distinction between charisma and bureaucratization: where untoward events necessitate bold and unusual actions only to be transformed into an institutionalized effort to make the bold changes more permanent. What will be interesting to watch is how the charisma-challenged Bloomberg responds when crisis demands a different kind of leadership.