Monday, October 06, 2008

Mr. Wonderful

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that Mike Bloomberg faces if he does get the will of the voters over turned is, well, himself-his gigantic ego that is fed, not only by his great wealth, but by a cohort of court jesters in the media and in the business world, who feed that ego and offer not a discouraging word to his ambition. Added to this heady brew, is a legislative body that goes on military maneuvers with both hands straight up in the air.

So, that being said, we may be looking at a third term where King Michael I, feeling emboldened by flattery and a wide electoral margin, becomes victim to his own hubris. Unwilling to let his current legacy speak for itself, the Wall Street trader is doing what he learned at an earlier stage of his career-he's rolling the dice.

Chris Smith captures some of this in a New York article that depicts the mayor be-crowned: "Now Bloomberg’s legacy will be much different. That’s one reason three of his closest aides were against challenging term limits. If Bloomberg succeeds in winning four more years, pushing back his exit until 2014, his first-term achievements will seem like ancient history; his second term will be a footnote. Instead, he’ll be staking his mayoral reputation on how he muscled his way into a third term and what he did with it. No matter how much Bloomberg claims that he’s doing this for the kids and that sticking around has nothing to do with his ego, he’s well aware of his place in history. And it’s about to sink or soar like the Dow."

And, as we said in an earlier post, the school control fight will be a nasty test of this volatile mix: "Way back in 2001, Bloomberg declared he wanted his mayoralty judged on whether he improved education, and his biggest legislative victory was in getting Albany to put him in charge. But that law sunsets in June. The campaign to renew it was going to be tough anyway, because while test scores and graduation rates are up somewhat, parents are chafing at the test mania behind the numbers. Unions representing the teachers and the principals are likely to fight even harder to roll back mayoral control now that the same mayor is angling to be the one in control."

Smith goes on to highlight what we believe is the crux of the mayor's dilemma-whether he understands it or not: "But his new campaign raises questions about who Bloomberg really is—the “Boy Scout” described by loyalists who wants to serve the greater good, or the imperial ruler who knows better than everyone else and has the money to get his way. If, a year from now, the city’s economic picture isn’t so gloomy, Bloomberg will argue that his prudence is what saved us. But he will have also opened up an avenue of political attack: Keeping him on the job won’t seem nearly as urgent, and Bloomberg III will seem purely the product of his ego-stroking billionaire pals."

So right now, in ways that are somewhat similar to the position that Barack Obama finds himself in, the mayor has a head wind caused by an economic meltdown. As the NY Times observed on Saturday, the opposition to the mayor's putsch remains demoralized and somewhat quiescent: "The mayor’s financial standing and willingness to use his own fortune to finance the city’s civic, educational and cultural groups have at times discouraged dissent from those who rely on his financing, or may someday need it. And his personal popularity across racial and class lines — his approval rating hovers around 70 percent — has made the city’s elected leaders think twice about taking him on. Even many who angrily oppose the mayor’s third-term bid acknowledge admiring him and his leadership."

And we admit that we have probably underestimated the level of good will that the mayor seems to posses. Will it withstand upheaval? Up until now, the mayor's fortunes have been accompanied by a great deal of good luck; but the "Boy Scout" image, so carefully cultivated, can we believe, quickly devolve into the imperial persona that Smith has pointed out.

It could all make for some fascinating political turmoil, particularly if the fortunes of the little loved city council become entwined with those of the mayor. The dependable Bloomberg retainer, Mitch Moss, makes a solid point: “The city is safe, race relations are even-tempered, and the economy, until very recently, was going strong,” he said. “There is a very different political climate in New York City today than there has been before.” The big question, however, is; "What happens if the winds shift, a crisis enters the picture?