Home > Uncategorized > The Discrete Charm of Mayor Bloomberg’s Power Grab

The Discrete Charm of Mayor Bloomberg’s Power Grab

Michael Bloomberg has been acknowledged in most quarters as a good mayor, combining a steady managerial hand with bold approaches to tough problems. No one has succeeded in making the argument that his wealth has worked against him, or corrupted him. In fact, to many, his wealth has insulated him from the temptations befalling mere mortal politicians: making deals for campaign contributions.

However, there is another temptation to which he is apparently vulnerable and from which his wealth has not shielded him: the charms of eternal power.

At the outset of his tenure, Bloomberg promised he wouldn’t run for more than two terms. He repeatedly emphasized his support of the City’s term limits rule, and once called any effort to revise the limits “disgusting.” Yet as the end of his second and presumably final term loomed, he retracted this view, concluding that he is indispensable to the people of New York.

The mayor’s 11th hour conversion from supporter of term limits, to opponent, has provoked anemic opposition. Fifty city council members, or at least the 29 voting to allow him to run for a third term, concluded that their will, or the bending of it to Mr. Bloomberg’s, was a fair exercise of their legislative power, even in the face of two referenda by the voting public to the contrary.

Leading advocates of term limits, like the redoubtable Ron Lauder, who, for better or worse became the public face of term limits, lost his zeal for the fight, and caved. The teachers union, presumably ill disposed to the mayor because of his steadfast support for chancellor Joe Klein, also backed down from a resolution opposing Bloomberg’s bid.

Mayor Bloomberg now finds himself sailing calm waters in the port of his ambition. In the wake of the recent dismissal by the United States Justice Department of a civil rights challenge to the third term, the tepid response in Albany to a Senate bill restricting his effort, and his endorsement by the City’s Republican parties even after the Mayor spurned them to run for President as an Independent, no real obstacles remain to Bloomberg’s running for a third term. Incredibly, this startling power grab appears inevitable.

So the question becomes, if no one seems to care that he’s riding roughshod over his own promises, the judgment of his fellow New Yorkers in two referenda, and the resulting law limiting him to two terms, then what is really so wrong about what he’s doing? Or to put it another way: if the leaders of our democracy don’t seem to care, are his actions really a threat to democracy?

They are, and here’s why: because politicians are not supposed to change their minds in bald pursuit of their self interest, and they’re also not supposed to maintain power for its own sake. Sound old fashioned? Self-restraint in the face of the temptations of power is what men and women of integrity do. They do it to inspire and maintain public confidence in the capacity of elected representatives to do right by the people that elected them. Each time a politician disappoints that expectation, we lose a little more confidence in a system we were taught once to believe in.

Faith in the political system is no less important to our spirit as free men and women, then confidence in the financial system is to our economic well being. We are living in the painful reality of what happens when people lose confidence in the financial system. Yet the same collapse has been occurring, if more gradually and less violently, to our political system over the last 30 years.

After the loss of anything precious, we lose daily touch with the value of what we’ve lost. We close off the space where our hopes once nourished our optimism. A plurality of New York City voters — 46% — believe the term limit extension approved by the City Council for the benefit of Mr. Bloomberg is not the right thing for the city, yet they believe his continued service of mayor is.

Clearly, then, there is a wide gulf between rectitude and convenience, and this gap is the breeding ground of cynicism.  It takes a leader to close the gap not exploit it. While claiming his indispensability for leadership, the mayor forfeited its most essential aspect: respect for the people’s confidence in their leaders.

Yet, even if he wins in November, the mayor’s resulting political harvest may be a barren one. The people have a funny way of rebelling against those who manipulate the rules, especially these days, when the millions who obey them are now compelled to bail out the few who consistently broke them. Explosive reactions in democracies are often set up on a long fuse. Last November’s national election is a case in point.

New Yorkers may not rebel now, nor at the polls in November, but they’ll get there, as the problems of transportation, education and public safety are seen by New Yorkers in the new light of the mayor’s opportunism.  Just another politician is how he’ll be viewed;  a fitting return on Mayor Bloomberg’s investment in the cynicism of the electorate but a disappointing conclusion to a career that at once seemed so fresh and honest.

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  1. David F. Silverman
    April 14, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Dear Mr. Brody,
    I a former New Yorker are in complete agreement with your point of view. The simple truth is if you (Mayor Bloomberg) doesn’t set an example of what is right or wrong then why should anyone else. People in power can easily be corrupted by the power that they create it is there responsibility to take the high ground and set an example. In Yiddish we call it being a mensch. Mayor be a mensch and take the high road. Lead by example don’t corrupt by example.
    Keep up the good work Mr. Brody, we need more people like you to keep the public aware of the problems or potential problems larking in the wings as well as the ones so blatant that be assume they are correct because they are out there. My hat goes out to you

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