Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"Eeny, meeny, miny, mike",

As Mike Bloomberg begins to describe NYC's economic turn around-undermining the rationale for his reelection bid-there is an undeniable move for the exit among all potential mayoral challengers. The movement is generated by the simple fact of gravity; with the playing field so badly tilted by the mayor's cash outlays, opponents are being hurtled down the political shaft and out the electoral door-with only the seemingly unaware Bill Thompson left to take the proverbial bullet. It's quite a sight to behold, but as they say in New York: "Money talks!"

This sad situation-one that will likely extinguish the potential for the lively debate over the city's direction that New York voters need-is well described in a Sam Roberts elegy for democracy this morning in the New York Times: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said last October that extending the city’s term limits law would provide voters with more choices. “I’m pleased the majority of the City Council voted to give the public a bigger choice, more people to select from,” Mr. Bloomberg said after the Council voted to amend the law, allowing him and other city elected officials to serve three four-year terms. “Anyone who wanted to run before can continue to run. I plan to run.” But the way this year’s mayoral race is shaping up, New York City voters may have fewer candidates to choose from than at any time since the modern nominating system began nearly a half century ago."

The provision of choice in politics, it turns out, is a variable that is determined when reasonable folks assay the existence of opportunity; and in the case of NYC, the willingness of the city's richest man to utilize an economic blitzkrieg intimidates almost anyone with the slightest degree of discretion; even the feisty Anthony Weiner: "Last week, Representative Anthony D. Weiner formally bowed out too, blaming, in part, the $80 million or more Mr. Bloomberg is expected to spend on his campaign. “With spending like that,” Mr. Weiner said, “regular debates about real issues will probably take a back seat to advertising.”

And it already has. You can't even watch a simple baseball or basketball game in May or June without being told about Mike Bloomberg's five borough economic plan that is designed to create jobs-along with some needed succor for the down and out small businesses-that will help the city recover from the recession that has, coincidentally under Blommberg's watch, caused a significant loss of employment.

Now in any normal electoral equation, the incumbent-no matter how much he or she may be culpable-is made to be the poster child of the bad news that is integral to the current events scene. The ability to do so, however, is contingent on the existence of a concomitant ability to get one's message out; something that is expunged by a Bloombucks advertising express that is looking to convince New Yorkers that the mayor, who was simply a helpless bystander to the economic collapse, is nonetheless the white knight that will dramatically and gallantly lift us from the doldrums.

So Bloomberg, as is his wont, is characterizing the creation of less choice as its opposite: "When Mr. Bloomberg was arguing to extend the limits to three terms from two, he argued in part that the legislation would give voters more choices — at least one more — rather than necessarily more challengers. “Nobody is taking away anybody’s opportunities, just giving the public another one,” he said before the Council voted on revising the term limits law...“Nobody has taken away anybody’s rights to run,” he added. “In fact, we have increased the pool from which candidates can come. If people decide not to run, that’s their option. You can’t force people to run.”

So what we have left here is what's known as a walkover, a contest where there is no contest and the one real contender becomes a shoo-in. And the end result, is that there will be no dialogue-not when the incumbent has a giant megaphone and editorial butt buddies to go with it; while the putative challenger has what amounts to a bad case of political laryngitis, with the disparity of funds rendering him just about mute.

Because, as McCluhan once said, "the medium is the message," and with Bloomberg's control of the medium, there simply is no alternative message. Which is too bad, since the mayor's tenure has not been the kind of triumphal resume that the ad men would like us all to believe-which Fred Siegal aptly lays out in the May edition of Commentary.

In particular, if you follow Siegal's analysis, we can see how the Bloomberg philosophy and governance style are major contributing factors to the crisis the city now faces: "During Michael Bloomberg's first six years as mayor (2002-07), city spending shot up almost 50 percent, from $41 to $62 billion. The overall budget in fiscal 2008, after adjusting for population change and inflation, was 22 percent larger than it had been at the height of the 1970s fiscal crisis. Salaries and benefits for the public-sector workforce grew at twice the rate of workers in the private sector. The average New York City employee cost the city $107,000 a year in wages, health insurance, pension, and other benefits in the 2008 fiscal year, an increase of 63 percent since 2000."

Very similar to that other faux Republican, California Governor Schwarzenegger. The only thing that saved the city, Wall Street's-and Mother Bloomberg's-cash cow, has now been lost in the economic fire. And it was Bloomberg himself who lit the match:

"Even in the midst of an unprecedented revenue boom, it turned out, Bloomberg was saddling the city with unprecedented levels of debt. Devoting 8 percent of a city budget to debt service is the maximum considered sustainable by fiscal experts. The constitution of New York State actually limits the city's debt service to 10 percent of its revenue. But through a variety of budgetary games, the city managed to increase its functional debt load to 14 percent. Now, with the distinct possibility that the Wall Street spigot will for years to come more resemble a trickle than a gush, the city will be contending with the impoverishment of its tax base just as the public-sector guarantees its politicians have made are bearing down upon New York like a tsunami. "The city's payments to the pension plans have grown at 25 percent annually since fiscal year 2001," Martin Davis of the city's Independent Budget Office has said. In 2000, city taxpayers contributed $615 million for pensions. By June 2008, the amount had climbed to $5.6 billion."

And Bloomberg has done almost nothing to trim this government edifice, while simultaneously taxing small businesses right out of the neighborhood-yes, in all five boroughs. We will, however, hear none of this because, as a result of the mayor's self serving disregard for discretion in political spending, NYC will be home, home, on the range; "Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word,..." And the skies are all Bloomberg all day.