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New York Daily News

 

Stuck in the Middle: In Mayor’s Race, Working Families Have Two Lousy Options

September 27, 2009

By Fred Siegel, Harry Siegel

The candidate with working-class roots has been a ubiquitous figure this year, with ads touting a leader who attended public schools and is offering voters a “Middle Class Affordability Plan” and a “Five Borough Better Transit Tour.”

That candidate, of course, is the city’s wealthiest man and two-term mayor, who’s self-financing a campaign expected to cost about $80 million.

“A product of public schools, he worked and took out student loans to help pay his way through college,” reads the ad script. “But as far as he’s come, Mike Bloomberg’s never forgotten his roots. He works for a dollar a year as our mayor, and takes on special interests for the benefit of middle class families.”

Candidate Mike, friend of the middle class, emerges, groundhog-like, every four years - only to fade from view once the election is done, replaced by Mayor Mike, who raises property, sales and income taxes, tickets anything that moves, makes sweetheart deals with developers and touts his vision of a “luxury city.”

The middle-class message on the campaign trail is especially salient this year as Wall Street continues to stagger and the city’s unemployment rate has hit double digits for the first time since 1993, when Gotham was nearly bankrupt.

Especially salient - and especially hollow. As mayor, Mike Bloomberg has never been a friend of the middle class. He has simply had the political good fortune of finding himself in a city where none of his political opponents are, either.

With presumptive middle-class standard bearer Rep. Anthony Weiner having bowed out of the race long ago - because, he said, of the ability of “billionaires to swamp middle-class candidates” - Bloomberg will face off against City Controller Bill Thompson.

Thompson has tried to take up the middle-class cudgel. But despite new poll numbers showing that half of all New Yorkers are tired of Bloomberg, Thompson - a career politician of admirable amiability but limited accomplishments - has run a subdued campaign that’s generated little enthusiasm.

While Bloomberg’s own record is more hype than substance, Thompson’s campaign seems to be based largely on the fact that he’s a Democrat.

It’s ironic and deeply unfortunate. After 16 years of Republican or independent mayors, the GOP, which could be offering an attractive alternative vision to middle-class New Yorkers, barely exists except as a party line for rent. In a slip last week, Bloomberg took that logic to an extreme, saying that the Democratic candidates for the other citywide offices, controller and public advocate, are “running against nobody, I assume” - much to the dismay of the Republican candidates in those races. The Daily News headline summed it up nicely: “Mike With ’Nobody.’” Meantime, the Democrats, having run four consecutive mayoral candidates of limited appeal, are similarly diminished.

The collapse of the traditional party identities, exemplified by Bloomberg himself - who’s been a Democrat, a Republican or an independent as the situation suited him - has opened the way for the emergence of a new two-party system - in which neither of the two is speaking for cash-strapped New York.

The alternatives are Bloomberg, party of one, and the fast-rising Working Families Party - not really a party so much as an electoral expression of the city’s public sector unions.

Should the candidates of the WFP win the Democratic runoffs for controller and public advocate on Tuesday, as seems likely, Bloomberg will be given an enormous political gift. After eight years of giving the public-sector unions raises that ran well above the rate of inflation, the political ascent of the WFP will allow Bloomberg to present himself, however implausibly, as a sound fiscal manager.

Lucky, and absurd. Yes, this is the same Bloomberg who has given teachers 43% raises and gotten almost nothing in return. The same Bloomberg who has raised taxes and fees and let the burden on small businesses rise to crushing levels.

Bloomberg’s purportedly middle-class vision has always involved subsidies running ever-higher up the economic scale, paid out as a cut of Wall Street profits. But with much of the finance sector on federal life support, that would require ever higher taxes that in turn squeeze out the private sector middle class.

So while the rise of a party to the Democrats’ left presents the mayor with a convenient foil, the difference for voters is mostly cosmetic.

The middle class is left with two choices, neither of which is attractive. The Working Families Party wants to hold the public sector harmless in this, the Great Recession, which means higher taxes on everyone else. Bloomberg, if we’re to believe his campaign rhetoric about more middle-class subsidies, wants to continue buying support, which will also mean higher taxes.

New York, dependent on exceptionally high taxes, will lag behind the national recovery. And when the federal stimulus money dries up, the future will be rough for the middle class, never mind the deluge of campaign advertisements claiming otherwise.

Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2009/09/27/2009-09-27_stuck_in_the_middle_in_mayors_race_working_families_have_two_lousy_options.html

 

 
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