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Running against Bloomberg

New York City voters will choose Democratic and Republican candidates for mayor tomorrow, and the vote in the Democratic primary is shaping up in many ways as a commentary on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 12 years in office.

The major Democratic candidates are probably in reality within a few degrees of each other politically, but have presented themselves to voters in significantly different ways. Early on, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn led the polls and appeared to many to be on the way to becoming the city's first woman mayor. As the second most powerful person in city government, she tempered the West Side activism of her earlier days and allied herself with Bloomberg. If the polls are right, this was a big political mistake.

Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate, emerged from the pack through timely and rigorous attacks on the Bloomberg's NYPD stop-and-frisk program. His family -- his African-American wife and their son -- played a big role in attracting what polls indicate will be a significant chunk of the black vote ... old-fashioned ethnic politics. Bill Thompson, who is black and is in second place in the polls, is struggling to claim that vote.

Bloomberg gave what could turn out to be a crucial last-minute  boost to de Blasio by denouncing him in a weekend interview -- providing enough of a push to possibly put de Blasio over the 40 percent mark he needs to avoid a run-off against the No. 2 vote-getter. 

Bloomberg has accomplished much in 12 years in office: recovery from the 9/11 attack; lower crime rates; massive re-zonings; and many innovations  in health and education. He had the courage to say the obvious when others were not willing to do so: guns are dangerous; there is a First Amendment right to build a mosque.

Given that, why would a negative word from Bloomberg boost the prospects of a candidate seeking to replace him in office?


Any official in such a high-profile office is likely to make decisions that turn off some voters now and again. But I wouldn't say the rise of an anti-Bloomberg mayoral candidate stems from any individual issue, including the stop-and-frisk controversy. It's more a matter of Bloomberg's style.

The huge amount  of money Bloomberg spends from his personal fortune to buy off critics or level would-be obstacles -- say, the Republicans in the State Senate, or segments of the city's influential non-profit sector -- brings him far more power than public officials normally have based on a mandate from voters. That combination of money and power is disturbing.

Then, too, there is a certain Big Brother aspect to his administration. This goes in many directions, from the huge increase in searches of innocent people walking down the street, to surveillance of mosques, to a ban  on large soft-drink containers, to increasing numbers of red-light cameras and surveillance cameras. Pulling all the strings his wealth and power allowed, Bloomberg managed to get a third term as mayor even though the law -- a law he once supported -- had said a mayor was limited to two. In overcoming the will voters expressed in two referenda, he subverted democracy. 

In the end, this may not be the city New Yorkers want.



About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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From a distance, New York mayors tend to look better than the mayors of, say, Chicago and Los Angeles look from an equal distance. At the same time, the one New York resident with whom I have been in steady contact for his more than 50 years in Gotham (my best man whom I have known since freshman year in college, which is even longer ago) refers to Michael Bloomberg as "El Duce." But that's what he has called every mayor starting with, I believe, Ed Koch. FWIW, he will hold his nose and vote for de Blasio in the primary, but if de Blasio loses the primary, he will do terrible things (like writing in his own name) in the general election. In any case, no matter who wins, even if it is his man for now, it will be El Duce. New Yorkers!


Many years ago as a classroom teacher I lived in the Bronx.  Learned many things.  Chief among them was that NYC politics was a tribal affair to the core.  Issues matter little.  Ethnic connections matter a lot.  Think: Balkans more than boroughs.

In an clumsy attempt to help his protege's flagging campaign to succeed Mayor Moneybags, Bloomberg has played the race card - nothing that is unexpected or out-of-bounds in NYC politics.  It's been that way since before the days of Tammany Hall.  

You'd think with all that money Bloomberg could have hired some hip consultants to test market the best way to make such a blatant appeal to remind all those Irish, Italian and Jewish voters that with the De Blasio's Gracie Mansion would become decidedly mixed-race.  

While this kind of ethnic politics worked well against folks like Michael Dinkins or a Mario Biaggi, this time it only underscored the very appeal of someone like De Blasio.  Maybe New Yorkers feel that they would like their mayor and his family to look like most of them? 

D'yah think that  Bloomberg will become a Republican again now that he doesn't have to face re-election anymore?  D'yah think that Anthony Weiner will finally understand that no voters want someone who obviously has no self-control?  Probably not -  on both accounts.

I'm on my way to vote for Quinn.  A neighborhood organzing group in her Council District always seemd to work pretty well with her and I thought she wasgood on neighborhood issues.

Off to vote on the trusty old voting machines resurrected for this primary. I am doing Thompson, Brewer, and Stringer....

One thing personal fortune did for Bloomberg was that he did not have to compromise his principles to satisfy donors. The school system which has always been fiercely independent did not like him even tho reform of the system was necessary. Yet he was a popular mayor. As far as his coattails go people do not want to be told who to vote for. More imporantly the candidate must make her own appeal. Bloomberg or anyone else can't help with that. 

Just voted. Love voting and not just because I'm from Chicago. The one civic thing we do that seems to hearten the neighborhood. People out canvasing on the corner for their candidate. "Vote for my brother, please." Veteran voting ladies, know your name, know your party, thank you for voting. Old machine worked perfectly!

After work I'm heading to Bensonhurst to be a poll watcher for a city council candidate. I hope my machines work as well as yours did. Otherwise it's going to be a looooong night. 

The second-to-last line of Isaac Chotiner’s New Republic item on the New York magazine interview of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg: “Bloomberg's essentially successful mayoralty certainly makes up for a number of his defects.”

This sort of sums up for me the ambivalence I sense a lot of voters feel about Bloomberg's legacy, what with the qualifier ("essentially sucessful") and hedge ("a number of defects"--which ones?). There's a lot of summoned vitriol about the overturning of term limits, and legitimate and understandable anger over stop-and-frisk, and a general feeling of something not being quite right about the New York he's leaving us (too expensive, too gentrified, too many condos and not enough smoky bars or OTBs). But he was returned to office twice, and even as late as July (according to Marist) his favorables were at 53%; now, after a summer of the field running explicitly against his mayoralty, he's still at 46%, which other ostensibly reviled incumbents would probably be happy to get out of town with. I get the sense that, in spite of themselves, a considerable number of New Yorkers do have the city they want yet are uncomfortable admitting it. That may say something about the kind of person who lives in New York now. Or it could just say something about a mayor whose essentially successful time in office helps make up for some of his faults. 

I have to say (grudgingly- and in complete agreement about the defects) that I think Bloomberg did a decent job.  I think we weathered this horrendous recession pretty well, considering. And I think the service programs, affordable housing programs, the kinds of things easy to kill in tough times, survived better than I would have expected. My friends often pose the question: but which people benefitted from this administration? I don't think this adminstration just benefitted the well-off; I feel like poor people and poor neighborhoods did better under this mayor than under some of his predecessors. 


"Just voted. Love voting and not just because I'm from Chicago."

The only reason your vote counted was because you were a Democrat. LOL


If you're concerned about the survival of Catholic schools your choice is clear - you should vote for Anthony Weiner.  I'm surprised the hierarchy hasn't endorsed him.

"Weiner proposed helping non-public schools — he cited cash-strapped Catholic schools in particular — with publicly funded support that they are already entitled to, including technology, health care and security.

'We’ve made it much too difficult for parish schools in this city and they are an asset and we should all mourn when they disappear.'"



Jim Jenkins wrote:

While this kind of ethnic politics worked well against folks like Michael Dinkins or a Mario Biaggi, this time it only underscored the very appeal of someone like De Blasio.

I am perplexed as to how "ethnic politics" worked against both Dinkins (David not Michael, I assume) and Mario Biaggi.

I was represented by Mr. Biaggi for many years and remember well his downfall.  He accepted bribes in the Wedtech scandal, resigned from Congress and was ultimately convicted of many Federal crimes and sentenced to prison.  How exactly did ethnic politics work against him?   I see how Giuliani used ethnic politics against Dinkins.  I see no parallel to Biaggi whatsoever.  Biaggi did not lose his seat in Congress to a Jewish State Assemblyman because of ethnic divisions.  He lost because he was corrupt and was headed to jail in the middle of his re-election campaign.

Generally speaking -- I think you are painting NYers with way too broad a brush, Mr. Jenkins. (Or maybe you need to come back and experience NYC and the Bronx anew!)  While there is no doubt tribalism plays a role in many political races in NYC (and in many other places too!), issues do matter to many NYC voters.  As  Mr. Moses points out in this piece, issues such as ending stop and frisk helped de Blasio separate himself from the field.

His overall demeanor on stop and frisk makes Bloomberg seem like the keeper of a gated community who just doesn't understand why the help mind having their pockets searched on the way home for the day, especially since he pays them so well.  Those unpleasant qualities seem to have really risen to the fore over the last six months as he has tried to defend stop and frisk against judicial oversight.  So while Bloomberg might be a net positive for the city, as with all averages, those who are on the receiving end of his negatives might be more than willing to emphasize the negatives at their next voting opportunity.  Quinn just seems to have been caught in the middle having been a little too subservient to Bloomberg at the wrong time and on the wrong issues and doesn't have the personality to overcome that perception.

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