The Bloomberg Referendum

Written by Tom Allon on . Posted in News Our Town, News Our Town Downtown, News West Side Spirit.


What’s at stake on September 10 and November 5

The primary election season is, thankfully, coming to a close and after all the forums and tv commercials and media coverage of issues and sexcapades, it’s finally decision time.

It is feeling like September 10th will be a referendum on the Bloomberg era, with Christine Quinn and the GOP contenders (Lhota and Catsimatidis) giving the city the clearest choice of continuing the three-term mayor’s defining policies.
Bill de Blasio has defined himself as the un-Bloomberg. He would, likely, do as much as possible to roll back Bloomberg’s legacy, except perhaps the smoking ban in restaurants and bars.
But when it comes to public safety and taxing millionaires and other populist ideas, de Blasio has articulated the clearest vision of all the candidates. You may not agree with him, but it’s crystal clear what de Blasio wants to do if he becomes Mayor.
At the risk of making an improper analogy, one could say de Blasio represents the “hope and change” candidate.
Quinn has fallen into the same trap that bedeviled Hillary Clinton in 2008: vote for me, because I’m experienced and get things done. That is not resonating against the “hope and change” candidate de Blasio, who is surging in the polls.
Bill Thompson, a very smart and decent man, has also tried to run a more nuanced and careful campaign, banking on his “base” — the African-American vote and perhaps a Latino plurality — to propel him to a run-off.
That still might work, but a teeanger named Dante de Blasio, with a 1970s-style afro hairdo seems to have thrown a wrench into Thompson’s smooth road to the run-off.
But let’s forget the political calculations and electoral math and get back to why this election matters a lot.
There’s a huge amount at stake in this primary and general election season. Public safety, a hard-earned and 20-year struggle, is likely to undergo disruptive changes as a new mayor and police commissioner take over in January, 2014.
The city’s budget, which has ballooned to $70 billion annually (from $42 billion when Mike Bloomberg took office in 2002), is going to be challenged by the long-expired city union contracts and the question of retroactive raises for city workers.
The education reform movement that championed co-locating charter schools with district public schools, closing down “failing” schools, pushing high-stakes testing and teacher evaluations as a way to ramp up accountability, a top-down structure that disenfranchised many public school parents — these policies are all at risk if any of the Democrats not named Quinn becomes our next mayor.
We will learn on September 11 if the endorsements of the daily newspapers really matter anymore. With Quinn and Comptroller candidate Scott Stringer sweeping the Times, the News and the Post, it will be quite fascinating if Eliot Spitzer and both Bill’s prevail on September 10th.
That result would be a triumph — in Spitzer’s case of name recognition and money over institutional support and union muscle.
If the run-off is a tale of two Bills (Thompson and de Blasio) then this result will not only be a repudiation of the large newspapers, but of the Bloomberg legacy, because the mayor and his minions have not-so-secretly backed Quinn in this long primary battle.
In fact, I heard a rumor recently that Mayor Bloomberg convinced Arthur Sulzberger at the Times to overrule his editorial board’s selection of de Blasio as their endorsement choice. I don’t know if this is verifiable, but after the Times caved in 2008 on term limits, after so strongly supporting it for so long, this rumor at least has the ring of truth to it.
I am looking forward to the end of this long, sometimes absurdist, primary season.
But then it’ll be time for the brusing run-off and a potentially exciting general election — where the Republican has won the last five times.
Will that streak finally end? That, dear reader, is a topic for a future column.

Tom Allon, the president of City and State, NY, is the former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor. Questions or comments? Email tallon@cityandstateny.com

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