Friday, August 14, 2009

Thompson Rises

A small glimmer of hope can be glimpsed as Bill Thompson seeks, what most say, is a quixotic attempt, to beat Mike Bloomberg in this fall's mayoral election. The hopeful boost has come from the endorsement of DC-37, the city's largest union: "The city's largest municipal union voted Wednesday night to endorse Controller William Thompson for mayor over Mayor Bloomberg, a turnaround from four years ago that gives fresh momentum to Thompson's campaign. District Council 37 is scheduled to announce the endorsement at noon on Thursday, which Thompson's campaign hopes will encourage similar support from other large municipal unions like Teamsters Local 237 and the United Federation of Teachers."

The support of the 125,000 member union means that Thompson will begin to see more logistical field help in his uphill fight to beat the incumbent; and the endorsement underscores that the thrill over the mayoral incumbent is gone for many city voters. As the NY Times opines: “Thompson is in a better position — that doesn’t mean he’s in a good position — but he’s in a better position,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College. “This gives him a certain level of credibility that will encourage people to take a serious look at him, whereas a month ago it might have been Bill Thompson — who?”

Our old advisor is right. Better, but not yet good. In order for the more total transformation to take place, Thompson needs to find his voice-and the narrative that will resonate with the voters; many of whom who are suffering from Bloomberg fatigue, and are unhappy with his imperious over turning of the term limits law: "“I don’t think it’s a real cause of concern for the mayor unless it’s the start of a pattern,” said Dan Gerstein, a Democratic political consultant, who is not involved in the race but supports the mayor."

Patterns, however, develop when an incumbent evinces some vulnerability; and much of Bloomberg support devolves from his sense of inevitability. If this sense erodes, the pattern will emerge and there will be a real horse race in November. And while Bloomberg's over all popularity remains relatively high, the number of New Yorkers who feel it's time for a change has pushed over 50% in the latest polls.

And we disagree somewhat with Dan Gerstein, a Bloomberg-supporting consultant who gets much too much exposure from the Times: "The biggest variable in this so far is Thompson,” Mr. Gerstein said. “They’ve given people who are on the fence no compelling reason to jump. If Bill Thompson can show a compelling rationale to fire Bloomberg and hire him, then maybe things change. But there would have to be a game-changing event, or a radical political skills upgrade on the part of the challenger, to really make this a serious race.”

In our view, it's not a. "game changer," that's needed, only the strong rationale that Gerstein alludes to. The undercurrent of dissatisfaction-coupled with the incessant advertising spending-is fertile ground for the challenger. In order to really take hold, Thompson must demonstrate that the underlying rationale for the hijacking of the term limits-the idea that Bloomberg was uniquely qualified in these tough economic times-is simply false; and, in fact, the tough situation that the city finds itself in can be traced directly to the mayor's lack of fiscal acumen and his assault on New York's tax payers and small businesses.

To beat Mike Bloomberg, you first must deconstruct the Myth of Mike-and the resulting immanent critique can send the entire jerry-built house of cards toppling quickly to the ground. And a major plus for Thompson-something he needs to exploit-is that he is, unlike the mayor, a truly personable guy. The Bloomberg fatigue has as much to do with a certain degree of overexposure to the mayor's imperious personality, as it does with any particular policy that Bloomberg has advanced.

Ken Sherril captures this: "In 2005, Mr. Bloomberg managed to sway many Democrats who were impressed by his post-9/11 leadership in rebuilding New York, his against-the-grain push to ban smoking from restaurants and his insistence on raising property taxes and even income taxes on the wealthy. But this time, there is a greater wellspring of discontent, Mr. Sherrill and others said; one colorful example is a new anti-Bloomberg newsletter called Fed Up New Yorkers."

But the crucial variable here is Thompson himself. If he can begin to believe that winning is possible, and that optimism can be transposed in the campaign to the voters, than it can become self-fulfilling: "If nothing else, Mr. Thompson seems much more engaged than he was just a month ago. When asked about Mr. Thompson’s mood, Eddy Castell, his campaign manager, said: “He is certainly growing more upbeat every single day. He’s ready for the next couple of months.” Let's hope so.