Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stepping Up to the Mike

A funny thing appears to be happening on the way to the expected coronation of Mike Bloomberg this fall. The local media has apparently decided to challenge the peevish mayor on his haughty testiness, and not let him get away with deciding the terms of the city's political debate. Azi Paybarah, the reporter whose incisive question of His Holiness started this process, has an interesting take on what's happening:

"Over the past several days, Michael Bloomberg announced certain meaningful things.On May 28, it was that the city had received an additional $32 million from the federal government for job training. Later that day, it was that the state had picked up on the city's call for tighter gun control laws. On June 1, it was an endorsement from Representative Gary Ackerman, a Democrat. But the press wasn’t listening. Instead of receiving the news that the mayor intended for them to receive, members of the news-consuming public were treated to story after story about the mayor’s relationship with the press, the mayor’s controlling attitude, the mayor’s emotional stability."

What we are beginning to see, and this is indeed a hopeful sign that the lapdog is poised to emerge as the watchdog that the people so desperately need, is the deconstruction of the Bloomberg haughtiness: "The New York Times’ lead after the mayor announced the stimulus money: “He is the undisputed front-runner in November’s election. He is the richest man in the city. So why does Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg keep losing his temper?”

The media's new assertiveness came out after the Azi "disgrace" meltdown, but it was brewing for some time: "This might not have been a big deal if the press weren’t already seething about the mayor’s extraordinary unwillingness to answer questions he deemed political. Or if his brusque response hadn’t played so precisely to type. Or if his record-setting campaign spending hadn’t effectively ended the mayor’s race before it began, leaving reporters without any substantive debate to cover."

There is an angry undercurrent here from the fact that Mike Bloomberg has used money and power to bogart the democratic process-and, importantly, trivialize the local press as simple handmaidens of his own out sized ambition. And then there's the mayor's out of touch side, the one that underscores just how far Mike Bloomberg is from understanding the everyday concerns of New Yorkers. This was revealed when the mayor defended the president's visit to the city last weekend.

As Jim Dwyer pointed out: "As of Tuesday, the record for craziest remark of the week was surely held by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who announced that a weekend visit to New York by the first lady and the president showed that even people of modest means can enjoy a night of dinner and theater." Whatever one feels about the president's visit, surely someone who the people pay $400,000 a year-along with a decent expense budget-and who has made millions on two bestselling books, is not considered a modest wage earner by average folks.

What this indicates to us, is that the media is about to embark on some serious deconstruction of the mayor's carefully crafted-and thoroughly phony-political image. From now on nothing that the mayor-and his campaign-says will be taken without examination and dissection; all of which should be to the benefit of the people.

After all, Mike Bloomberg has used his considerable resources to change the electoral playing field to his advantage; and has done so by claiming that these are extraordinary times that demand political continuity and tested leadership, So, if that's the case, he should be continually tested, and his policy pronouncements and campaign bromides should be continually assayed for content and veracity. He wanted this third term, now it's up to the press to help usher in a new era of accountability for the erstwhile prince of the city.