Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"This is Hardly a Mandate"

Mike Bloomberg escaped last night by the leather skin of his wallet-and the five point margin that no one expected to be that close, could very well be a harbinger of some tough times ahead for the big spending incumbent. As the NY Times reports: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pulled out a narrow re-election victory on Tuesday, as voters angry over his maneuver to undo the city’s term limits law and his extravagant campaign spending provided an unexpected lift to his vastly underfinanced challenger, William C. Thompson Jr."

So, as it turns out, New Yorkers weren't so easily bought-and hats off to their independence: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pulled out a narrow re-election victory on Tuesday, as voters angry over his maneuver to undo the city’s term limits law and his extravagant campaign spending provided an unexpected lift to his vastly underfinanced challenger, William C. Thompson Jr."

The folks were truly pissed off by the over turning of term limits as well as his incessant intrusion of campaign commercials, junk mail and telephone calls that drove people nuts: "But voters from Park Slope in Brooklyn to Morrisania in the Bronx seemed torn. While they praised his competence and intelligence, many were put off by what they saw as Mr. Bloomberg’s heavy-handed move to rewrite the law that would have limited him to two consecutive terms, saying it was obviously self-serving. The mayor had previously opposed any undoing of term limits, which voters had approved twice."

And the political pushback will soon begin. As Juan Gonzales observes in the NY Daily News:

"No doubt, many voters rebelled against the constant harangue of Bloomberg flyers and those nasty Bloomberg commercials and phone calls and just wanted them to end. The mayor will still call this a democratic victory - final proof that New Yorkers endorse his naked power grab last year to overturn term limits. He fools no one. In the midst of the city's worst economic crisis in 60 years, Bloomberg spent money like a million drunken sailors to buy his job for the third time. Quite simply, he buried democracy under mountains of cash - because he could. Mike Filippou, a former worker at the Stella D'Oro factory, was one those in the Bronx who voted for Thompson. A Connecticut private equity firm shuttered Filippou's factory a few weeks ago. The closing followed a yearlong struggle between the plant's owner and its unionized workers. The owners wanted to drastically cut pay and benefits. When they couldn't succeed, they closed the plant and sold the brand to an Ohio company. "Bloomberg never lifted a finger to save our jobs," Filippou said. "At least Thompson tried."

Make no mistake about it, as our new comptroller points out, this will be no third term cakewalk. As the News reports: "Bloomberg will face scrutiny from a new public advocate and controller - vocal opponents of his term-limit extension, who are expected to spend four years throwing hard punches at him. "This third term will not be a cakewalk," said Councilman John Liu, elected last night as the next city controller. "The well of good will has been substantially drained, if not evaporated altogether."

And Gonzales hones in on three areas where trouble lies ahead for the good will drained mayor:

"1) Computerization of government. Under Bloomberg, city agencies spent billions for new computer systems that haven't delivered what they promised and have exploded in cost - beginning with the new 911 system. Many of those contracts were awarded with little or no bidding. It's a scandal waiting to be unearthed.

2) Land development. Bloomberg's people spent years giving favored developers public spaces, city subsidies, and friendly zoning for huge megaprojects - many of which stalled in the economic slowdown. The price will now come due.

3) Education reform. The mayor's biggest claim has been improving the school system. But as more independent reviews come out of his reforms - from charter schools to improved test scores - proof mounts that much of the progress is smoke and mirrors. City test scores could prove to be as reliable as all those Triple A-rated subprime mortgages Bloomberg's Wall Street friends peddled."

And speaking of the second point, isn't it fortuitous that the Kingsbridge Armory fight will be first up on the land use agenda-with the very issues that Juan cites, particularly the question of large subsidies-livening the debate down at the city council this month. In addition, we just might also get people taking a second look at the entire Willets Point project-wondering whether this is simply another boon for wealthy real estate speculators and not in the larger public interest.

But we come back to the shocked Bloomberg ballroom for our final observations. Right up until the very end, the mayor had the spending faucet turned on full blast, partying like it was 1999. So we can take a great deal of satisfaction with the swells shocked realization, amidst the free beer wine and liquor, that widespread dissatisfaction exists with what the mayor did over the past year-a dissatisfaction that will animate the next four difficult years.

The Daily News is right on this, and we'll give the paper's Erin Einhorn the last word: "As thousands of supporters milled around waiting for a victory speech they expected hours earlier, Bloomberg aides sat glumly in an anteroom staring into their BlackBerries as the embarrassingly close results trickled in. "This is not what they expected," a Bloomberg campaign consultant fretted. "People are going to think it's a waste of $100 million." Another aide sorrowfully checked his iPhone, muttering, "This is hardly a mandate."