Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Mad Mike"

In this week's Village Voice Wayne Barrett analyzes the mayor's response to the transit strike and finds his stridency off-key. WB, who spent a good part of the first Bloomberg term at least mildly impressed with Mike's low-key approach ("If the first four years of Mediating Mike were any indicator, he was the perfect guy to guide us through this transit tumult"), now sees the mayor's Kochian transformation as jarring.

Wayne's take is that, "We don't need a mayor to be mad for us...We need a mayor to be practical, conciliatory, and competent." Well, maybe yes and maybe no. The mayor, as a symbolic leader, does have an important quasi-heroic role to play when the stage is properly set. At the same time, it is hard for a leader to radically alter his persona, something that the mayor tried to do during the strike, with what we'd say are decidedly mixed results.

The problem with "Mad Mike" was that this was a guise that Bloomberg, given his low-key and uncharismatic persona, had never really attempted. It wasn't a cloak that he wore well and the tabloid lionization rang false to our ears. The tabloids' anti-labor harangues should have stayed within those provinces and not been imported to the City Hall stage.

But it wasn't only the attempt to graft a persona that didn't quite fit the man that made the "Mad Mike" moniker so silly. It was also the fact that the strike narrative, and the mayor's role in it, didn't lend itself to Mike's bellowing at the TWU.

If there was villainy in this plot it was not the sole province of the transit workers. Yet the MTA was given a free pass and Bloomberg missed the opportunity to do some "a plague on both your houses" bellowing. This was after all a bottom line governance issue and the mayor, who had silently stood by as Governor Pataki worked his "magic" at Ground Zero, needed to rail against a transit system (and governor) that the city, ludicrously, has almost no control over.

Not only that, there has been ample evidence, as New York State Comptroller Hevesi has underscored, that the MTA is an agency that is out of control and has long ago outlived its usefulness. All of which was left off stage by the mayor's silly impression of Edward G. Robinson as "Little Caesar."