Bloomberg as Don Quixote: Tilting at Windmills or Preparing for his Next Regency?

He is a capable man, a man of genius, but he is a liar, an egoist, without moral principles. It is true undoubtedly that all great men have had in their makeup a bit of the charlatan … by Mr. B is surrounded by a crowd of corrupt and corrupting men.”*

No, not Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker of the House Thomas H. Reed referring to the 1888 candidate for the presidency James G. Blaine.

As the battle between the mayor and the union escalates the union has aired a $1.2 million TV campaign, a 30-second spot  running for ten more days skillfully attacking the mayor’s ability to run schools, schools educating the children of millions of viewers of the spots.

The mayor, fending off a steady assault from the union that has eroded public confidence in his ability to run schools (See polls here and here), lashes back,

As Capital New York reports:

“If there’s ever a ways to force somebody to not come to an agreement, it’s to run ads calling them bad things,” said Bloomberg, during his regular Friday morning radio show. “I mean, what kind of a strategy is this? And they’re not stupid. They know what they’re doing. So they’re deliberately trying to keep us from having a contract. It’s the only rational explanation.”

Michael Bloomberg is unique as a mayor, neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative, not partisan or bipartisan, his is apartisan. He has chosen issues that support a constituency he has chosen to woo: the residents of the Republic of Manhattan, and the spinoffs in the tony sections of near Brooklyn and Queens. Pro-choice and gay rights, anti-gun and pro-environment, for a “healthier” New York, i.e., a virtual ban on smoking, posting calories in restaurants and trying to outlaw 16 oz. beverage containers.. Manhattan, with pedestrian malls, refurbished parks, bike lanes and farmers’ markets attract visitors, and their dollars, from around the globe.

If you live in the outer reaches of the boroughs you are less sanguine about the mayor. Males of color can recount the imposition of “stop and frisk,” hundreds of thousands of “stops” for no apparent reason except the race/ethnicity of the victim.

For the mayor the sound bite, “New York is one of the safest cities in America” is worth the wrath of those whose civil rights were trashed.

The late plowing of snowy streets, the endless tickets for parking infractions or homeowner summons so alienated the outer borough populace that the 2009 mayoral election was closer than the pundits predicted.

The mayor essentially bought off the City Council, ignored two voter referenda and allowed the City Council and his honor to run for a third term – clearly, and as it turns out incorrectly, prohibited by the City Charter.

In spite of spending $105 million of his own dollars the mayor squeaked through by 50,000 votes (4.3%) with his opponent William Thompson beating him by a plurality of 55,000 votes in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

A rare political loss, his edifice complex, the plan to build a massive West Side stadium was defeated by Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver, a member of the NYS Assembly representing the Lower East Side. In typical fashion the mayor surreptitiously supported a Silver opponent in the next election.

The politician must raise dollars, must seek to build alliances, to satisfy a voter base, to construct an attractive personal narrative. Bloomberg is not the traditional politician he is the anti-politician. Rather than fawning over a post Sandy presidential visit, rather than the “Christie Hug,” he abjures a presidential visit; it would detract from the recovery efforts, and, of course, remove the spotlight from the mayor.

The mayor is the master of the media –  he is the creator of media giant, Bloomberg LLP.

In addition to its financial services offerings, Bloomberg launched its news services division in 1990. Bloomberg Television (originally known as Bloomberg Business News) has over 2,000 employees and 145 bureaus around the world, producing more than 5,000 stories daily... It now provides information to approximately 350 newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The Economist, The New York Times and USA Today.

In his eleven years at the helm of New York City story after story has burnished the reputation of the mayor. He is master of the media – the “stop and frisk” abuses are trumped by national stories praising the mayor for lower murder rates – “the safest big city in America” is the message, not police patdowns.

A New York Post story accusing union leader Mulgrew with having an affair with a teacher splashed across the front pages – my guess – not by accident.

The mayor has used his limitless dollars to fund political campaigns to support issues and to threaten to oppose those on the other side.

A flirtation with a run for the presidency, a la Ross Perot, faded quickly.

The mayor jumped on the education reform band wagon early on, the sound bite was easily achievable – increase test scores and graduate rates. Joel Klein appeared to be “turning around” a dysfunctional system – another jewel in the mayoral crown, until Klein’s reputation began to falter. In a rare error he stuck with Klein too long and the Cathy Black fiasco began to resonate. A glorious record of education victories came under the spotlight, sullied, courtesy of the teacher union.

As the deadline of January 17th approaches the mayor is unconcerned over the details of anyteacher evaluation settlement- his concern is the spin. As Mr. Mayor becomes Mr. Citizen he seeks to position himself for his next life, whatever it might be.

Talking heads crow about the lack of bipartisanship in the houses of government, in reality it is partisanship that has dominated the halls of government. The portrayal of Lincoln as the manipulating politician who will do anything, to basically lie and bribe to achieve his goal: in the movie the passage of the 13th amendment, was not the exception.

Michael Bloomberg is the exception, he stands apart from the partisanship of day to day politics – he picks and chooses issues to gild his lily – to prepare for his next challenge. For some he is a fatuous Don Quixote, stumbling to find windmills and creating havoc in his quest.

He has no interest in becoming a statesman, “A statesman,” Thomas Reed quipped, “is a successful politician who is dead.”

Bloomberg will find a path to an endgame in the teacher evaluation kerfuffle – one that allows him to escape unscathed.

If the mayor is seeking a motto to put on his family crest I would suggest Lucius Accius, a Roman poet, who wrote, “Oderint, dum metuant, for those of you lacking a classical education, “Let them hate, so long as they fear.”

* James Grant, “Mr. Speaker: The Life and Times of Thomas H. Reed, The Man Who Broke the Filibuster,” New York, 2011.

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One response to “Bloomberg as Don Quixote: Tilting at Windmills or Preparing for his Next Regency?

  1. As Shakespeare said- The fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves”. The voters of .N.Y.C. elected the mayor. why are we either surprised or upset by what he does. In one sense he’s more honest than most politicians. He’s doing what he SAID he was going to do to Education. Do our students deserve this? Ask their parents who voted for him.

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