Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mr. Vulnerability

Mike Bloomberg has never been known as an empathic kind of guy, but people sometimes do change. And that is why we were fascinated by the NY Times analysis of the mayor's victory: "For the first time in years, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg finds himself governing New York City from a most unaccustomed vantage point: Vulnerability."

So, inquiring minds want to know, will this new vulnerability be translated into an enhanced concern for the welfare of ordinary New Yorkers? Even the NY Daily News editorialists, shameless shills as they have been, see the need for a bit more rachmones from the imperious mayor:

"Bloomberg's record on education, as well as on service delivery in general, was key to reelection. He had a fight on his hands partly because of term limits and partly because so many New Yorkers feel squeezed by rising costs, including taxes, subway and bus fares, parking fees and revenue-producing ticket blitzes. On this front, the mayor must reduce the expense of government. With unemployment at 10% and with the death of the Wall Street cash cow, New Yorkers face service reductions and/or higher levies unless Bloomberg dramatically alters the city's cost structure."

And while the News notes this cost factor, it really doesn't lay appropriate blame where it belongs-at the feet of a mayor who is a true believer in expansive, and expensive, government. In order to realize the News' imperative, Bloomberg will have to somehow reinvent himself-and he should start-if he's serious about this, and aware of what the close vote portends-by cleaning house among his closest advisers. There is simply little creativity in the Bloomberg inner circle.

But he needs to be mindful that the ground has shifted under his feet. The Times captures this potential sea change: "Ninety million dollars and a near-constant loop of negative commercials about his opponent later, the mayor ended election night in possession of a surprisingly modest margin of victory — far narrower than pollsters had predicted and with 100,000 fewer votes than he won in 2005. This could have profound implications for the tenor of a third Bloomberg term, not least that it is likely to hinder the mayor’s well-honed ability to cow Democrats and liberal interest groups."

The race for 2013 is about to start, and the long knives are being sharpened: "You’re going to see Democrats lining up to run in 2013, and they’ll start next week,” said George Arzt, a longtime campaign consultant who generally works for Democrats. “For a mayor who is very confident in himself, this is an earthquake.”

Which brings us to the Council speaker's conundrum. Will Christine Quinn see the narrow Bloomberg triumph as handwriting on the wall-and a signal that she needs to tack closer to her populist roots as an advocate and community organizer? Will Quinn understand the new landscape, and interpret the change as a call for greater independence from the mayor? If so, we could well see, "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

But, even if Quinn doesn't go back to her future as we would wish, the changed political landscape-along with the fact that a good chunk of the electorate is chafing from the mayor's haughtiness-will put inordinate demands on Bloomberg to make adjustments; but at 67 years old, can he really change now? As the Times observes: "Now, given his huge financial advantage in the campaign, he will have to confront the question of whether his five-point margin offers a different mandate: to change his governing style."

We'll see. But the one thing we're pretty sure of, is that the next four years will pose some unique challenges-made more so by the message of no confidence in Mayor Mike that last night's close vote signified. In our view, the amen choir will soon be short quite a few hymnals.