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National Review Online


'Mr. Big' in the Big City

October 24, 2008

By Fred Siegel

Shut out as a national candidate in 2008, Bloomberg buys his way back into City Hall.

For the past year, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has been on a perpetual campaign for higher office. He's toured the country and run an ad campaign touting his educational "achievements," as a stepping stone to national office.

His lavishly funded and enormously effective p.r. operation has garnered adoring articles in Esquire, Vanity Fair and GQ on how this post-partisan philosopher-king of sorts has had supposedly extraordinary fiscal and educational accomplishments. But as Bloomberg, whose billions make it possible to insert himself into any campaign at almost any time, lost out on his presidential and vice-presidential hopes, he was reduced to buying a third term as mayor of Gotham. And that's where his problems began.

Bloomberg has been a moderately competent mayor at best, with limited achievements. He has nearly doubled the education budget—without any corresponding improvement in student outcomes, according to the national tests. He has gone on the greatest public-spending spree since the days of John Lindsay in the 1960s, leaving New York facing a grim fiscal future.

New York has a term-limits law—twice ratified by public referenda—that limits the mayor and the city council to eight years in office. That brings us to the mystery of Michael Bloomberg.

Mayor Mike's unprecedented spending and "anonymous" donations to New York interest groups have helped garner a 70-percent approval rating. The Bloomberg machine, backed by his friends on the editorial boards of the major newspapers, would have very likely helped him win a referendum on extending term limits from two to three terms, thus democratically providing him with a way to stay on stage.

But there were dangers in taking the democratic path. Between now and a February 2009 referendum on term limits, notes Lehman College's Doug Muzzio, the voters are likely to be hit by hikes in their income-tax, water, and subway-fare costs. The tough times, though softened for the political class by Bloomberg's deep pockets, might have produced only a narrow victory unbefitting a Great Man.

Instead, operating on the basis of ambiguities in the city charter, he turned to his martinets on the city council to overturn term limits, thus not accidentally giving themselves a third term as well. Bloomberg—who, according to some sources has convinced himself that he's doing the public a favor by refusing to get out of the limelight—seems, not unreasonably, to have expected an easy ride from a city council famous for being easily bought. When it came to the question of horses and carriages in Central Park, the council held 13 hearings—but terms limits? They were rammed through after two days of "deliberation."

These high-handed tactics produced an unexpected backlash and Bloomberg won with only 29 votes on a 51-member "legislative body" accustomed to near-unanimous decisions.

The path is clear for Mr. Big's third term, but will he serve it out? City Hall, notes political consultant Jerry Skurnick, is only a consolation prize for someone who believes he's entitled to a place on the national or international stage. Should he be offered a cabinet position in the next presidential administration, or should he be given the chance to replace the scandal ridden Dominic Strauss Kahn at the International Monetary Fund, he's likely to flee from the difficult decisions he would have to make as mayor in an economic downturn.

There might be a silver lining in all of this for New York. For the last five years, while Bloomberg has been playing a golden tuba as the sky was raining Wall Street diamonds, there was little point in criticizing him. But the criticism and even open hostility elicited by his power grab has cracked his carapace of immunity. If the city is lucky, this will be the beginning a of a mayoral campaign that may be forced to talk about what life will be like in New York without Wall Street—or at least, without Wall Street as it used to be.

Original Source:



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