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City & State


Running For Neighborhood Mayor

May 13, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

The mayoral candidates are having trouble distinguishing themselves. The best way for one aspiring mayor to break away from the pack, though, may be to run on something that seems boring: improving bread-and-butter public services, from transportation to noise-code enforcement.

As they slog through primary debate season, candidates on both sides of the ballot are learning the perils of a crowded race.

On the Democratic side, the way to get attention is to say something crazy. Comptroller John Liu promises to abolish the NYPD’s stop, question and frisk practices—not to improve them. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson says it’s "disgraceful" for the NYPD to watch for potential terrorists among alienated young Muslims. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio runs TV ads attacking popular Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has decided that if she can’t say something insane, she won’t say much beyond small-ball stuff like advocating subsidized day care.

On the Republican side, the two viable candidates are bickering in obscurity. Former MTA chief Joe Lhota and supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis have spent a month now arguing over Lhota’s 2012 bridge-toll hike.

Catsimatidis knows that conservative voters in remote parts of the outer boroughs hate tolls. But the positive ideas he’s presented—more vocational schools and more tech investment—are things that Mayor Bloomberg is already doing. Lhota has been mum on big policy, too.

When the candidates get around to proposing something sane and original, they may find themselves stymied. What do the people want? At first glance, the results of a recent poll commissioned by the Manhattan Institute may not offer much help.

One thing was clear: Voters don’t think New York is in crisis. "Majorities say the subway is safe, the city is clean, and the police can be trusted," concluded pollster John Zogby.

Beyond that, the public is either divided or inconsistent. People like Bloomberg’s performance (48 percent) and they don’t (49 percent). They think public sector retirement benefits are too expensive (44 percent) and they don’t (40 percent). They favor the NYPD’s stop, question and frisk policies (47 percent) and they don’t (48 percent).

Even on a supposed lightning-rod issue like bike lanes, there’s no consensus: 40 percent favor them and 24 percent don’t, while another 30 percent object to their (cheap) cost.

As usual, people are disappointed with public education. Sixty-nine percent think students emerge unprepared, and 40 percent think education is our biggest challenge.

The public’s remedy for this problem, though, is for the city to spend more (59 per-cent). But the education budget has doubled during the Bloomberg years. And with only 16 percent of people polled thinking that the mayor’s office should play the largest role in education, it’s unclear what the voters want here, anyway, besides more money.

Moreover, all of the candidates are already duly promising to fix education—just as all candidates always do. But that still leaves them in a draw.

The public did give a clear answer in a couple of cases. One: mass transit. A vast majority of city residents—62 percent—think the outer boroughs are poorly served by transit and believe, too, that "investment should be made to expand existing services and create new ones." (On Staten Island 73 percent of respondents desired such investment.)

Another big one: noise pollution. A whopping 78 percent said that it’s a "major or minor" problem—making this issue clock in behind only panhandlers (83 percent) as a quality-of-life challenge.

Finally: public employee health benefits. Respondents may have been divided on retiree benefits, but a full 60 percent think that public workers should pay the same premiums for healthcare that private sector workers do, compared with 28 percent who disagreed.

A mayoral candidate could succeed by proposing one grand vision—a 21st-century transit system—with one small vision: better enforcement in reducing nuisances like idling buses, panhandling and club-land noises.

And how to pay for the former? Force public employees to pay something for their healthcare (right now, 95 percent pay nothing).

When there’s no acute crisis, people focus on everyday issues. Candidates risk looking irrelevant if they’re railing against manufactured outrages when voters are wondering why their smaller-scale complaints aren’t addressed.

Original Source:



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