Monday, October 05, 2009

What Does Michael Bloomberg Know That We Don't?

David and Goliath; Karen Silkwood versus Kerr-McGee; Thompson versus Bloomberg?

Well, not quite.

But the sheer ubiquity and increasingly shrill tone of Bloomberg's ad campaign against Bill Thompson, his opponent, is a wonder to behold -- awe-inspiring -- especially to a New York-based media observed like myself.

While Comptroller Bill Thompson is an affable New York career pol with an impressive pedigree, he has never particularly distinguished himself in the gladiatorial fundament that is New York City politics. New Yorkers -- after the well-meaning but essentially ineffective mayoralties of David Dinkins and Abe Beame -- have kind of inured ourselves to the idea that affable career public servants may not have what it takes to govern this fundamentally unruly city of cacophanous ambitions and go-go kinetic energy. In recent history Ruth Messinger, Freddy Ferrer and Mark Green -- affable public servants, all -- have been neglected by the electorate in their various quests for the Mayoralty of New York, the third toughest elective job in American politics. In an ordinary electoral head-to-head, keeping those facts in mind, Michael Bloomberg would probably have made short work of Bill Thompson.

But this is not the average-ordinary political season. Bill Thompson is the second African-American candidate to get the Democratic nod for the Mayoralty. And with the demographics of New York such that roughly a quarter of the electorate is African-American (and a little more than a quarter Latino), that could, potentially, be a problem for a former white Republican in an overwhelmingly majority Democrat city. Bloomberg, a billionaire media mogul who is deeply admired by his peers, has a lot to lose in this race. He has all the advantages -- money, incumbency, name recognition -- but for some reason he is spending his fortune like a drunken sailor on shore leave on media ad buys.

What does Michael Bloomberg know that we don't?

Billionaires -- Teresa Heinz, Ross Perot -- have a touch of the ermine-clad authoritarian in their personality make up. It is not inconceivable that that dictatorial trait was always there, laying dormant. Or it may just be that "The Boss" character trait is the ultimate consequence of the needs of attaining such fabulous wealth and the billionaire trappings of obsequious servants, courtiers and underlings constantly below foot (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment).

Most believe Bloomberg will win? How could he not? He is on track to spend between $75-$100 million. He outspends Thompson, already, by a 9:1 ratio. But there is an anti-incumbent mood in the City. Does the diminished value of incumbency -- and Bloomberg's reversal of the electorates wishes -- spell an uphill battle for the billionaire mogul? The vast amounts of money he is spending would suggest as much, or at least argue for a certain political paranoia (a state of being, incidentally, not altogether alien to billionaires or dictators). Yesterday's Sunday NY Times story highlights the degree to which Bloomberg's controversial path to a third term is alienating voters, effectively putting "a ceiling on good will toward the mayor.”

Again: What does Michael Bloomberg know that we don't.

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