Thursday, October 23, 2008

Micheal We Hardly Knew Ya

As the culmination of some rather intense, and some would say unseemly, behind the scenes lobbying ends today in a vote at the city council, we are seeing-finally from our perspective-the deconstruction of the Myth of Michael. Forced for the first time to confront true opposition, and in a campaign that has all of the trappings of the old Tammany Hall, Mike Bloomberg stands revealed as just another power infused office holder over staying his welcome.

The NY Times this morning captures the essence of the revelation: "In his aggressive pursuit of a third term, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has begun to alienate some of his fiercest supporters, who say that his hardball tactics are undercutting his well-earned legacy as a reformer and an anti-politician." But, since we don't count ourselves among his fiercest supporters, our view is that the "well earned" legacy is sheer zirconium; where appearance belies a reality that owes its accolades to not only the good fortune of following a true reformer, but the the failure of the fourth estate to properly evaluate what the mayor's performance has actually been like.

All of which, in one ill-fated move, is changing before our eyes-and will continue to do so as the public begins to see just what the Bloomberg persona really is: "In dozens of interviews, former aides to the mayor, elected officials, good-government advocates and voters said they have become deeply disillusioned by the way Mr. Bloomberg is corralling support to rewrite the city’s term limits law, which New Yorkers have endorsed twice in citywide referendums."

The mayor, at least heretofore, has never really been challenged. When he raised taxes in 2002 his popularity plummeted-remember, in his first hint of a lack of probity, he claimed that the dangerous Mark Green would do that but not a shrewd businessman like himself-only to return when the Bush tax cuts flooded the city coffers with Wall Street cash. In the years to follow, he carefully cultivated a reform image that was sharply divergent-one could even say inversely proportional to his accomplishments. Aside from an aggressive nanny autocratism, what can we really say about Bloomberg reform legacy?

So now we head into a vote today; and although it will be close, it's hard to see how the mayor and the speaker in combination will not achieve what we believe will be a Pyrrhic victory. Here's one of Bloomberg's original boosters: "This is the first move that really pushes the boundary of what he can get away with,” said David Garth, a top political strategist in Mr. Bloomberg’s 2001 campaign for mayor. “This is not a good-government move, and Mike knows it.”

The Times goes further down this path: "If he does prevail, the victory may carry a cost to his reputation. The disenchantment with Mr. Bloomberg runs especially deep among his former aides and advisers at City Hall. In interviews, five of them said they had been surprised and unsettled by the mayor’s tactics. “It stinks of clubhouse politics,” said one former aide. “It’s not like him.”

Ah, Michael we hardly knew ya-the disillusionment of the acolytes! In this morning's NY Daily News an angry and disappointed Errol Louis-no knee jerk opponent of the mayor-takes off on the Bloomberg move to stay on, and particularly on the toadies in the legislature who are supporting it: "At least half the members of our municipal Legislature climb out of bed each morning with a cold shudder, realizing they lack the talent to convince any employer in the public, private or nonprofit sector to pay them a councilman's base salary of $112,500 a year for part-time work. And most employers don't allow workers to vote themselves a 22% salary increase, as the Council did in 2006."

As for the mayor: "So an appalled public will likely witness a depressing carnival of treachery, backstabbing, backroom money deals and self-serving double-talk down at City Hall Wednesday - all brought to you by an ex-reform mayor who values fame and the trappings of political power above his word and reputation." As one probably ex-supporter, the civil rights lawyer Richard Emery, told the Times: “He is becoming a typical hack, playing the same old games,” he said.
“It’s tragic and it’s sad.”

And once the deconstruction process begins, along with the erosion of trust, everything that the mayor attempts to do from now on will be seen from a new jaundiced perspective: "Some of the mayor's aides tell me the matter is simple: The mayor, after years of scorning political attacks on term limits as "disgusting" and "disgraceful," simply changed his mind. Wrong. You change your mind about what color tie to wear or whether it's worth waiting for the crosstown bus. You don't change your mind on matters involving honesty, integrity and keeping your word."

Having to face genuine and tough opposition is the reason why the mayor's true colors are beginning to show-adversity reveals character. As the Times points out: "Friends who originally urged Mr. Bloomberg to seek a third term said he has been taken aback by the depth of the opposition, which has prompted him to engage in a bruising political style he is not entirely comfortable with.“It has required slightly sharper elbows than anyone would have liked,” said one friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This is not how he prefers to do business. He is not particularly happy with the situation.”

And the imperious reaction to the testimony of the opposition? Bloomberg claimed he really never even paid attention to the testimony of two days of hearings: "Mr. Bloomberg appeared to antagonize his critics over the last few days by saying he did not listen to any of the testimony and by describing many of the speakers at the hearings as “people who emote.” A majority opposed Mr. Bloomberg’s legislation." Reminds us of his comment when the Alliance pointed out that his cigarette tax was costing bodegas and newsstand dealers over $250 million a year: "It's a minor economic issue," he told reporters.

Davis Garth, likely passing up a lucrative third gig on the Bloomberg gravy train, has the final word on Bloomberg Revealed: "Mr. Garth, the political consultant who worked for Mr. Bloomberg, said New Yorkers were discovering that a mayor they revere as the consummate political outsider is capable of disappointing them. “A part of Mike was always too good to be true. The guy makes very few mistakes for a mayor of a city like this. He has been unbelievably successful.” Still, “there is an arrogance about the mayor, and people resent that.”