Monday, October 26, 2009

Buyer's Remorse?

In politics, as most of us know, there is a phrase that's used called, "buyer's remorse." It's used to connote how disillusionment sets in with the voters after their candidate wins-and fails to live up to their often unrealistic lofty expectations. In NYC, however, we're afraid that the term is going to get, in the jargon of the philosopher Nietzsche, "transvaluated."

Because in this city it isn't the voters who have bought anything, it is the free spending Mike Bloomberg-who has now broken the land speed record in this category. As the NY Times reports: "Michael R. Bloomberg, the Wall Street mogul whose fortune catapulted him into New York’s City Hall, has set another staggering financial record: He has now spent more of his own money than any other individual in United States history in the pursuit of public office."

Bloomberg, being the buyer in this context, is the most likely one to be subject to the proverbial buyer's remorse-having bought the voters and gotten what he wished for, he must confront the daunting political problems he will inherit and, in our view, may well regret what he so freely spent to get. So, to mix metaphors, since he has broken all known election spending records, he will soon find himself subject to Pottery Barn rules: "you break it, you buy it"

Or, in Bloomberg's case, own it-since now he will be subject to a much higher standard; particularly since he proffered his own indispensability as the rationale for overturning the term limits law. As the Times points out:

"The spending has drawn howls of protest from good-government groups and advocates of campaign finance reform. In interviews, several said, angrily, that the mayor’s decisions to rewrite New York City’s term limits law and then spend wildly to secure re-election, have undermined democratic principles. “Whether Bloomberg wins or loses, the toxic combination of mega-spending and crass use of his office to bypass the voters on term limits will always be a stain on his mayoralty,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “These twin assaults on municipal democracy will undermine his political clout in a third term and sadly fuel public skepticism about elections and elected officials,” Mr. Russianoff said."

Gee, we can't wait for the scathing Times editorial denouncing this profligacy as a stain on democracy-and its subsequent endorsement of challenger Thompson. Sorry for the reverie folks. But, back the Bloombucks bacchanal: "He has spent at least 14 times what his Democratic rival in the race, William C. Thompson Jr., has: $6 million. A Thompson campaign spokeswoman on Friday called the mayor’s spending “obscene.” Since late September, the pace of Mr. Bloomberg’s spending has drastically accelerated: He is now sending nearly $1 million a day into the city’s economy. The bulk of the money is devoted to advertising on television, radio and the Web, but much of it bankroll ls a first-class approach to parties, snacks and travel. The campaign has spent $322,521 on food, $293,953 on transportation, $176,066 on furniture and $39,858 on parking."

All seen as overkill, of course: "His lavish spending has confounded political consultants and campaign finance experts, who said that his popularity with New Yorkers, and his built-in advantages as a two-term incumbent, should be sufficient to win him re-election. “The main thing money does is allow you to get name recognition,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group in Washington. “But in this case, with Bloomberg, because he’s so well known, it’s more like, he can do it, so why not?”

So a Bloomberg third term is a potential combustible mix-and if things go south with the city's fiscal condition, as they appear to be going now, than Mike may really be in for it. Especially since, as Crain's Insider reported last week, he doesn't really have any clear third term goals: "In an appearance in which he otherwise seemed relaxed and well-prepared, Mayor Bloomberg's response to the final question at yesterday's Crain's Breakfast Forum suggests that a third term might lack the goal-driven agenda that has characterized his first two. When asked by Crain's editorial director Greg David what he would like to add to his legacy in a third term—beyond improving schools and lowering crime—the mayor did not have a clear answer."

The third term, then, may not be such a charm for our less than charming chief executive. Not that the tabloids would even notice-given their myopia over the Bloomberg campaign spending.

And this was made clear on Saturday when both the Post and the News buried the spending story-Liz, however, did her usual good job on her blog. And adding insult to injury, the Post's rather snarky lead political story is about a large fine that the Thompson campaign received for its posters!-from the Bloomberg sanitation department, no less: "It looks like Bill Thompson is going to easily win the write-in vote over Mayor Bloomberg -- unfortunately for him, the people doing the writing are city Sanitation agents. The Sanitation Department reported yesterday that Thompson's campaign is facing a hefty $125,775 bill for plastering city property with 1,677 illegal campaign posters."

You'd think that the Post would have the decency not to pile on-seeing that Bloomberg is doing such a good job all by himself at playing the schoolyard bully role in this election. And, in our opinion, given the spending disparities in this campaign, Thompson probably deserves a pass on this offense. In fact, he should be allowed, like Lady Godiva, to ride naked down Broadway just so he can attract a bit of attention amidst the electoral blizzard from Bloomberg ($30 million on TV ads alone!).

The city's political problems-along with those of the state as well-are going to present huge challenges. When he first came into office, Bloomberg broke his campaign pledges, and raised taxes to obscene levels-something that we're all still paying for today. With that gambit apparently foreclosed, he's left to emulating Mack the Knife-and with his dour unlovable personality we just might enjoy the spectacle, and the public distaste that it generates, once the cuts begin.