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.



Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, 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). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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