Monday, May 18, 2009

Thuggery and Filthy Lucre

The NY Times editorial board is playing catch up-catching up to the fact that Mike Bloomberg is not only breaking the bounds of decency with his obscene level of spending; but making a mockery of the Times' sacrosanct campaign finance concerns: "Months ahead of schedule, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City seems to be running frantically for re-election, much the way he did as an unknown eight years ago. Despite polls showing his increasing popularity among New Yorkers, the mayor has already spent $18.7 million on his re-election campaign — more than three times the limit for primary candidates who use public campaign money."

And he's also putting his money to good use-with a smarmy, underhanded, below the radar, negative campaign against Anthony Weiner: "At the same time, his political operatives are busily sending out negative information, especially about Representative Anthony Weiner, even though Mr. Weiner is still not firmly in the race."

Leaving the campaign finance system in tatters: "The mayor is expected to saunter easily into a third term, but the negative track of his campaign belies his claims about taking the high road and running the positive race of an easy front-runner. Meanwhile, the money he is spending and expected to spend undermines the foundations of the city’s model campaign-financing system."

Yah think? So, perhaps the paper should have had a bit more awareness of this expected turn of events when it graciously opened the door for the mayor to run again. Didn't these folks have the slightest prescience that the Blooombucks would rain down in buckets for this unseemly third act? As it said at the time: "Although a majority of New Yorkers, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, oppose changing the term-limits rule, a majority of New Yorkers also strongly approve Mr. Bloomberg’s performance and, more to the point, say they would vote for him given the opportunity. They should be given that opportunity."

Perhaps the paper should have been more circumspect, or at least hedged their support for the extension on the mayor's willingness to abide by some rational limits on his spending. It's a little late in the day to scold the mayor when the paper has been one of his most devoted enablers.

The Times does remark, in passing, that Bloomberg believes in the ethical nature of his spending spree, because he is demonstrating that he isn't beholden to, OMG, the dreaded special interests: "Mr. Bloomberg argues that by spending his own money, he is beholden to just one person — himself." This limited view, however, elides some even greater concerns-the manner in which unprecedented spending like this sucks any oxygen from right out of the room for any other countervailing political perspective.

The NY Daily News, reporting on the Bloomberg spending orgy, highlights this in the comments it elicits from the wily Wolfson: "Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said the mayor is trying to get his message across, not buy votes. "Absolutely not," Wolfson said. "We're engaging in a dialogue with voters. That's what any campaign does." Four years ago, Bloomberg spent $84,565,090 to win - dwarfing the $9,658,247 spent by his Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer. Wolfson, who at the time had never worked for a non-Democrat, wrote then in a New York Times op-ed article: "Such a lopsided ratio prevents voters from hearing both sides in an even-handed manner and distorts the terms of the debate."

Indeed. But perhaps Howard, just like our new Senator Gillibrand, has evolved; although in both these cases, mutation is a better word. He should, however, be honest enough to realize that dialogue means conversation between two or more persons; and when the airwaves are flooded with one point of view, the result is a stultifyingly effective monologue. Wolfson himself is the unwitting witness here: "Mr. Wolfson said. “This campaign has begun a conversation with New Yorkers about the economy and the mayor’s plan to create or save 400,000 jobs. As recent polling makes clear, voters are responding favorably when they learn about the mayor’s initiatives, and we are very pleased about that — but we are not taking anything for granted.”

Yes, the one sided multi-million dollar "conversation" is pushing the mayor's poll numbers up; but what about the fact that the term limits over turn was going to bring more competition? That is what Bloomberg said, with barely a smirk visible at the time: "“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. As many feared, it did not turn out that way. Mr. Bloomberg’s popularity, the power of his incumbency and his willingness to spend $80 million of his own fortune to secure re-election have persuaded at least four mayoral hopefuls — two Democrats and two Republicans — to exit the race or sit it out."

So we are faced with an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of politics in NYC. The city's richest man-the incumbent to boot-has spent more money by May of an election year than anyone else in the city has ever spent on an entire campaign. And on top of that, his charitable giving has seeped into the interstices of New York's political bloodstream in ways that further erode the concept of free and open elections.

In the face of this usurpation of the democratic process, every editorial writer and columnist should be devoting their time to exposing all of the shortcomings of Mike Bloomberg's tenure-just so there can be a counter to the propagandistic spending outlay of the mayor. We don't need any wasted column space on how Mark Green's brother has found some arcane loophole to a finance system, especially one that exibits its inherent fallacy with every Mike Bloomberg "five borough" fraud that hits the airwaves.

A final point. If the NY Times endorses this mayor for a third term, it should cease writing editorials on New York City politics forever. It would be the only decent thing left for them to do.