Friday, February 06, 2009

Flying First Crass

So now, thanks to the NY Times, we find out just what it means to travel on the Bloomberg express-far from the lowly sights and sounds of recession struggling New Yorkers. Working for the Bloomberg campaign is a first class upgrade: "Aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hopscotch around the world on two Falcon 900 private jets, where wine and sushi are served. They stay at the Four Seasons in London (about $400 a night), the Intercontinental in Paris ($320) and the King David in Jerusalem ($345). Room service? The mayor pays for it all. Even the laundry."

All of this is integral to the buying of New York-a phenomenon that encompasses spending tens of millions of dollars to-in Chico Marx fashion-convince the voters that the past seven years was nothing like their lying eyes might have thought they had seen; or what misleading reporters might have erroneously told them.

It also includes the co-optation of think tanks, environmental groups and the editorial boards of the daily papers; so much so, that any real countervailing system of checks on mayoral behavior is effectively denuded of real impact. The end result is the creation of an echo chamber that has the power to filter out discordant noise that might question the putative achievement of the royal liege.

This is all then gilded by the campaign-an exercise in excess at all levels: "The billionaire mayor is turning heads these days with the hiring of high-profile operatives for his re-election campaign, including several who had previously worked for his rivals in the race. And as he seeks to entice talent to come aboard the campaign, and possibly to a third term in City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg wields a powerful tool: the perks of inhabiting his world."

And what a world it is. Bloomberg's former campaign manager, Bill Cunningham, had his children's college education covered by the bonuses that Mogul Mike shelled out after two lavishly successful campaign: "The expansive spending infuses the campaign — the mayor plans to spend $80 million on his re-election this year — but also shapes the lives of aides who follow Mr. Bloomberg to City Hall. In interviews, more than a dozen current or former aides and advisers to the mayor described their work for him as a transformative experience that catapulted them into new social and economic spheres, in some cases permanently."

What all of this means is that the Bloomberg fortune is, as far as campaign finance laws and conflict of interest statutes are concerned, so unique to normal politics that there aren't any laws that could possibly address just how untoward-and tawdry-this entire phenomenon is. After all, is it really card cheating to buy the casino?

The open question is; in the midst of a recession, when average New Yorkers are losing their jobs and unemployment is likely to rise above 10% in the city, will this jet-setting lavishness be jarring enough to prompt a majority voters to simply say, enough? And, of course, the corollary question; will the opposition even have enough scratch to point all of this out?

In 1968, Joe McGinnes wrote a seminal book on the selling of the president-how the Nixon campaign used the techniques of Madison Avenue to convince Americans to make Tricky Dick our president. In the context of the Bloomberg excess-in both governing as well as in campaigning-the McGinness book is a quaint tale indeed. In the process, however, our city's democracy has been auctioned to the highest bidder ever seen.