Friday, November 06, 2009

Lipstick on a Mandate Pig

As the reality of just how little Mike Bloomberg got for all of his election cash outlay really sinks in, the mayor continues to try to present his sorry showing as a bold departure from the anti-incumbent trend that characterized so many other races in the region and around the country. But, as Wayne Barrett points out, it's simply the old lipstick on a pig metaphor at play: "The key question coming out of this election is whether Mike Bloomberg got the message. Can he listen to voters he'll never face again? If Bloomberg L.P took a hit like he did Tuesday, wouldn't the company take stock and make real changes?Bloomberg spent $80 million in 2005 and won by 19 percent of the vote. He spent more than a hundred million this year (the final number isn't in yet), and won by 4.6 percent of the vote. Diminishing returns on an investment like that might trigger a change at the top in the corporate world."

C'mon Wayne, tell us how pathetic it really was: "In 2005, Fernando Ferrer got 503,219 votes; last night Bill Thompson got 506,717 (Ferrer's final tally includes absentee and affidavit ballots, while Thompson's is not yet final). Bloomberg's total dropped from 753,089 in 2005 to 557,059 now. The big difference between the elections is that Bloomberg will get between 180,000 and 200,000 fewer votes than four years ago when all the paper ballots are recorded. Bloomberg will also get the lowest total vote of any mayoral winner in a two-candidate race since 1917, when John Hylan got 314,000 votes. Ed Koch got 868,000 votes when he ran for a third term in 1985, hundreds of thousands more than Bloomberg. If Mike reads his measly vote as a mandate for more of the same, he is delusional. Yet that's how he spun it election night and today -- as a towering triumph over anti-incumbent sentiment."

Brave words, perhaps, but even Mike doesn't really believe that his victory was a big triumph-and his effort to mend fences is a good indication of what the mayor truly understands about this vote of no confidence: "Michael R. Bloomberg, stung by an election outcome that revealed resentment over his undoing of the term limits law and his extravagant campaign spending, moved quickly Wednesday to strike a conciliatory tone as he reached out to the Democratic establishment that backed his opponent in the mayor’s race."

But as Mike himself, our own NYC Popeye, is wont to say: "I am who I am." So don't expect that the mayor will all of a sudden transform into a cuddly empath. And then there are those intractable problems that Bloomberg's campaign extravaganza did so much to keep hidden.

Michael Goodwin captured this yesterday in a satirical look at the mayor's "legacy." "It was not an inspiring or informative campaign, but he bought the job, fair and square. After eight years of a supine City Council and media support, Bloomberg owns the problems as well as the power. There will be no honor in joining the pantheon of three-termers if he leaves Gotham on the brink of ruin. Fixing the finances is key. Everything else depends on it, especially the gains in public safety."

And things are going to go south pretty fast: "The current course is unsustainable, with projected spending outstripping revenues by billions as far as the eye can see. While the national recession and Albany spendthrifts share some blame with Bloomberg, the crisis provides the perfect opportunity to renovate the city's fiscal house. Because the state could run out of cash by the end of the year and because Bloomberg ruled out even more ruinous tax hikes, he has no choice except serious spending cuts and restraint."

But let's not forget the Popeye analogy-one that Clyde Haberman also uses this morning-and the mayor, being who he is, can be trusted to simply ignore his campaign rhetoric in order to courageously, "make the hard choices," that normal pols shy away from. So we disagree with Goodwin on this, and the columnist himself hedges: "Or at least he should have no choice, but that's where the campaign disappointed most. Some of the mayor's words and deeds actually sent the opposite message. He refused to say how he would get out of a $5 billion hole next year, and oddly added in the final debate that revenues were coming in slightly better than expected, as if there were no worry."

Of course he did. Here is someone whose wealth has left him all alone on a self made pedestal-unaccountable to the wishes or the views of any other human being. And not only that-he has clearly demonstrated that there is no consequences when he simply ignores what he had previously said, and embarks on a course that's 180 degrees different from what he had promised (the tax hike in 2002 as a prime example).

So, if being forewarned is being forearmed, get ready for the old tax and fee hiker to emerge soon-Freddy Krueger-like. And Goodwin, usually sharp in this regard, misses the Bloomberg essence: "When he emerged onto the political scene in 2001, he promised his wealth would buy him independence and said he wouldn't owe favors to unions and other special interests. Maybe that's the mayor we'll finally get in the third term."

Unfortunately, that Bloomberg self portrait was in reality a caricature-and his aggrandizement of government, along with those who make up its work force, was a natural concomitant of how Mike sees the world. Asking him to see it differently would amount to the expectation that Popeye could somehow transform himself into Blutto.