Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Knock, Knock, Can Mikey Come out and Play?

Remember when Mike Bloomberg was arguing that his push for a third term was an argument for more voter choice? As the NY Times pointed out in March: "It was a central argument by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for re-engineering the city’s term limits law last year: Allowing him to seek re-election would give voters a bigger pool of candidates from which to choose, enhancing democracy, not squashing it, as his opponents contended. “If anything, the public has more choice because there will be more candidates, at least one more in the mayor’s race,” he said the day after the City Council voted to rewrite the rule."

Well, that was then, and this is now: "Vincent Mirabile leaned over the counter of his Queens butcher shop and admitted he is scared about the future. "So many people come in here and say they lost their jobs, they can't pay their bills," said Mirabile, 54. "The customers who used to buy steak are ordering bologna." As Mirabile's gripes mounted - from higher water bills to mediocre schools to rising property taxes - he grudgingly conceded he is likely to vote for Mayor Bloomberg. "I wish there were stronger candidates," he said."

So what happened? The what here is the mayor's wallet-and the sheer intimidation of trying to counteract a $100 million campaign. Which is why, as the NY Daily News reports, Anthony Weiner has substituted himself out of the game: "In the face of Mayor Bloomberg's successful maneuver to run for a third term and the billionaire's $100 million reelection campaign, Weiner expressed reluctance to make a long-shot bid. "It isn't that I don't have the stomach for the race," Weiner told the magazine. "I know that I can run the city better than the current mayor. I know it. "But sometimes there are walls even your ambition and skill can't push through."

This is Las Vegas folks; and you can't win betting against the house. You have an extraordinarily unlevel playing field-so much so that the mayor's ducking debates and, as Mike Lupica points out, is running a stealth Rose Garden campaign: "As irreplaceable as he is in tough times like these, he's almost too busy to have to actually run for reelection, against Controller Bill Thompson or anybody else. It's kind of beautiful, when the light hits it all in a certain way. Not only is Bloomberg allowed to run for a third term now that the City Council left footprints all over the city's law about term limits, voters aren't supposed to be able to tell where the second term ends and the third one begins."

And what kind of democratic process awaits us? Lupica is right in target here: "Bloomberg is a rich and powerful man who wants what he wants. And what he wants is to take his message straight to the voters the way he always has and only debate Thompson - or even acknowledge the guy's on the stage with him - as a last resort before being sworn in again."

Which will mean that democracy has been mocked-and we can't wait for the outrage over at the NY Times over this egregious violation of every principle of campaign finance reform. But wait, didn't the salons over there sound the Paul Revere charge for Mike's extension? Oh well, we guess that it's principles be damned when principal-in this case Bloombucks for Pinch-trumps them.

Which leaves the voters like that Queens butcher, stuck in the Bloomberg echo chamber: "Recent polls have shown Bloomberg sailing to victory in November. Mirabile's disappointment with the city echoed the feelings of scores of people interviewed from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to Belmont in the Bronx. They expressed frustration about overcrowded schools, fewer jobs and potholes that can sink small animals. They cited signs of crime creeping back up."

There is, as the Marist Poll has demonstrated, a desire for change: "A poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion this year showed that although 55% of those surveyed said they are ready for someone else to head the city, Bloomberg still beats Weiner and Thompson by double digits. "Even though there is dissatisfaction with Bloomberg, it doesn't mean somebody else is going to be able to cash in on it," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute. "There is desire for change, but that doesn't mean it has to happen."

That desire for change needs the necessary political oxygen to breath life into the argument against a Bloomberg third term. The mayor's money, in all of its visible and not so visible manifestations, sucks the air out of any insurgency-which places an increased burden on the press to scrutinize the mayor's overblown resume.

The articles in the News yesterday, and those from the Times for that past few months, gives some cause for hope. It's unclear, however, whether there's enough ink in all of the city papers to compensate for the deforestation that characterizes the extent of all of Bloomberg's advertising.