Friday, October 30, 2009

Psst--Election in November
I've been wanting to write about next week's New York City municipal elections (or, indeed, anything) for awhile now, but have found it almost as difficult to work up enthusiasm for doing so as for the contests themselves. For one thing, "contests" is too strong a word: of the three citywide offices to be determined, the Democratic candidates for two are running virtually unopposed--as someone who follows these things fairly closely, if I can't name their opponents, I think that counts as "virtually unopposed"--and the third features a two-term incumbent billionaire mayor against a guy who's held one of those other citywide offices for eight years but, I'd wager, even today could probably walk through plenty of New York City neighborhoods and go unrecognized.

Almost any time a public official is seeking another term, the election serves as a referendum on the incumbent. (The 2004 presidential election--a feat of evil political wizardry possibly unmatched in American history in which Bush advisor Karl Rove somehow made the contest about challenger John Kerry--is the only exception I can think of offhand.) But Mayor Bloomberg, by virtue of his ubiquity, is the only issue in this contest: even his opponent, Bill Thompson, has based his campaign almost entirely on the mayor's about-face regarding term limits. Bloomberg himself has implicitly acknowledged his hypocrisy on this, all but saying, "If that's your issue, then go ahead and vote against me." His bet is that in the minds of most voters, the quality of governance he's provided outweighs the procedural shenanigans he unleashed to perpetuate his tenure. (The Gotham Gazette has been running a series of interesting and informative assessments of different aspects of Bloomberg's mayoralty, with this one particularly recommended.)

It's all but assured that he'll win that bet, as polls continue to show about a 15-point margin in favor of the mayor. For myself, after vehemently opposing Bloomberg in 2001, even more fervently supporting him four years later, and loudly and repeatedly voicing a wish that he'd run for president in 2008 for awhile after that re-election win, I'm now almost indifferent. I had planned to vote for him, unenthusiastically. The way he manipulated the term limits question, enlisting fellow billionaire media moguls to get the law revised without turning to the voters, was pretty vile, as is the unlimited spending and general arrogance of the man; there's also the historical truth that third terms in New York City or State never go well. On the other hand, his vaunted political independence is real and admirable, he's not for sale, his priorities--with some glaring exceptions--are ones I agree with, and his data-driven approach to governance is well suited to the municipal setting. Then he campaigned with the vile-as-ever Rudy Giuliani, and didn't disavow a characteristically toxic Il Douche statement; now it might be a coin flip whether I vote for Bloomberg or some third-party type whose name I don't yet know. (I have no interest in Thompson. He's been an okay Comptroller, but like almost every NYC Democrat who gets nominated for citywide office, he comes pre-corrupted. It's nice that he has such admiration for CUF policy research that he essentially devoted an entire campaign speech to our recent work, but I have absolutely no faith that he could successfully implement any of it.)

Mostly I'm just depressed by it all. Our local democracy is a joke unworthy of the name. Turnout for September's Democratic runoff elections for Comptroller and Public Advocate was below 8 percent, a record low; the initial vote, two weeks earlier, saw 11 percent turnout. If we show no respect for our democratic institutions, why should the likes of Michael Bloomberg?

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