New York City Mayor: Bloomberg Overkill? : It's All Politics With term limits thrown out the window, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems to be a lock to win a third term.
NPR logo New York City Mayor: Bloomberg Overkill?

New York City Mayor: Bloomberg Overkill?

I'm not sure there's even a "Thompson for Mayor" button. hide caption

toggle caption

By many accounts, Michael Bloomberg has been a very good mayor for New York City; certainly that argument could be made for most of his first term. The economy was soaring, crime was down, and race relations were nowhere near the nadir they had fallen when David Dinkins (1990-1993) or Rudy Giuliani (1994-2001) were in office. After two terms, he still remains very popular. But the conditions facing the city are not as rosy as they were four years ago.

Meanwhile, there is something unnerving about watching Bloomberg in his bid for a third term. It's not that his record isn't worth another four years; it's more the kind of tactics he is employing. And it's not that he's spending another fortune — $65 million at last count — to get re-elected. It's that, with all polls showing him comfortably ahead of his opponent, City Comptroller William Thompson, he is flooding the airwaves with attacks on Thompson, unnecessarily in my view.

Of course, if it weren't for his money, Bloomberg wouldn't be Mayor Bloomberg.

Flashback to 2001, when Mayor Giuliani was completing his second term and ineligible for a third. He tried to overturn term limits so he could run again but was rebuffed. As it was, his numbers were really unimpressive; he was a divisive figure who was either loved or loathed. Then came 9/11, and Giuliani was hoisted into the role as "America's Mayor." But legally he couldn't stay on at City Hall.

So he did the next best thing: he made sure that billionaire Bloomberg would be his anointed successor. Giuliani, whose popularity in days and weeks after 9/11 was at stratospheric heights, campaigned tirelessly for Bloomberg, a lifelong pro-choice/pro-gay rights Democrat who ran on the GOP line because he had no chance at becoming the Democratic Party nominee.

With Rudy's imprimatur and his own fat wallet, Bloomberg won a narrow victory. Four years later, after a very successful term, he was re-elected in a landslide. Not bad for a Republican in 5-1 Democratic New York City.

Then he began to get restless. At some point in the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, there were indications that Bloomberg was entertaining thoughts of the White House — running as an independent. In June of 2007, he quit the GOP and declared himself an independent. But a bid for president never materialized.

Then, with 2009 and the end of his mayoralty staring at him in the face, Bloomberg rammed a bill through the City Council that disposed of term limits — allowing him to run a third time. It was a controversial measure, and not as popular with the voters as he thought it would be. But with a compliant City Council, it was a done deal from the get go. Four years ago, Bloomberg's argument was that he should be re-elected because the city's economy was booming. Now his argument, and his argument for overturning term limits, was that the city's fragile economic condition (a $5 billion budget deficit) demanded him to finish the job.

With the city GOP basically non-existent, he had the Republican line for the asking; he is also running as an Independent. Some Democrats who were preparing to run, such as Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn (who lost in the 2005 primary), decided there was no way they could surmount the Bloomberg bankroll and withdrew from consideration. Thompson, an early candidate, stayed in the race. He is his party's nominee. He is going to lose big time.

It's tough running against a limitless checkbook and, in fairness, a popular incumbent. But it's been tough getting media coverage in this year's campaign as well, and in fact many voters have no idea who Thompson is — even though he has been in citywide office the past eight years.

He would be the city's second African-American mayor; Dinkins was the first. But unlike the Dinkins (or Obama) campaigns, he has not lit up the black community. And while he is a calm person running a calm campaign, the same can't be said about his opposition. Bloomberg has belittled his time as president of the city Board of Education — "You don't get a medal for rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic," the mayor said during a debate last week. Giuliani, campaigning for Bloomberg once again, went even further, reminding voters that the city was once gripped by "the fear of going out at night and walking the streets," and suggesting that if Bloomberg were to lose, "this city could very easily be taken back in a very different direction — it could very easily be taken back to the way it was with the wrong political leadership."

A race-based appeal? Some thought so. But Bloomberg didn't distance himself from the remarks. And Thompson knew that making a federal case of it would get him nowhere. Few people are listening.

Bloomberg would probably win without having to spend $65 million. He could win without trashing Thompson. He has been a pretty successful mayor. There is something about his campaign that just seems unsettling — and unnecessary.