Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Bloomberg

The Soda Ban and Helicopter-Mayoring

Today the Michael Bloomberg era in New York City drew to a close. Not officially, of course; Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty was inaugurated at the beginning of January. But today it can begin in earnest, and in modest acclamation: the soda ban is dead. And with it exits a style of governing that will most indelibly be remembered for perhaps its greatest flaw: an obnoxious paternalism that told even the city’s starving homeless precisely what they can and cannot consume.

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Today the Michael Bloomberg era in New York City drew to a close. Not officially, of course; Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty was inaugurated at the beginning of January. But today it can begin in earnest, and in modest acclamation: the soda ban is dead. And with it exits a style of governing that will most indelibly be remembered for perhaps its greatest flaw: an obnoxious paternalism that told even the city’s starving homeless precisely what they can and cannot consume.

New York State’s highest court today rejected the final appeal to keep the ban on large sodas in place. The New York Times headline on the story is “City Loses Final Appeal on Limiting Sales of Large Sodas,” but I think we’re all winners here, the city included. Bloomberg is to be commended for some of his policies: the full-throated defense of public safety chief among them. But Bloomberg got caught up in paternalistic social engineering and the soda ban was one of the most invasive–and illegal–results. The Times reports:

In a 20-page opinion, Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the State Court of Appeals wrote that the city’s Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” in enacting the proposal, which was championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The decision likely will be seen as a significant defeat for health advocates who have urged state and local governments to actively discourage the consumption of high-calorie beverages, saying the drinks are prime drivers of a nationwide epidemic of obesity.

Two lower courts had already sided against the city, saying it overreached in attempting to prohibit the purchase of sugared drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, about the size of a medium coffee cup. By a 4 to 2 vote, the justices upheld the earlier rulings.

In that article, however, you can see who Bloomberg’s real constituents were: first and foremost, the media. Proponents of intrusive statist powers are, according to the Times, “health advocates.” Simply because they say so. Even though some of the schemes the “health advocates” have pursued have been shown to produce exactly the opposite result–that is, the population’s choices become less healthy. But as with most liberal projects, the intentions are all that matter. Who wouldn’t want to ban large sodas? Think of the children.

The irony of the Bloomberg administration’s overreach on sugary drinks is that such helicopter-mayoring overshadowed other policies and came to identify him. He’s been replaced by a much more liberal politician, who may actually restore some of Bloomberg’s reputation. Say what you will about Bloomberg’s nanny statism, but he did not acquire his inspiration for public service by watching the Marxist Sandinistas.

Bloomberg’s record on public safety threatens to be undone by de Blasio, whose election ended the era of hugely popular and undeniably successful police commissioner Ray Kelly, after which the police were instructed to stop gun violence by smiling at passersby. It’s too early to say if the resulting recent spike in violent crime is here to stay, but all indications are that de Blasio’s terrible ideas about public safety are just as irresponsible and unserious as they seemed when they began emanating from Planet Brooklyn during the campaign.

The biggest initial threat to de Blasio’s public approval was his staunch opposition to charter schools. De Blasio prefers to delegate his education policy to the unions, with the result that minority students have even fewer opportunities. De Blasio soon realized that trashing proven educational opportunities perhaps struck the wrong “tone.” (We can cut de Blasio some slack here though: it’s doubtful the Sandinistas had anything to say about charter schools, so the mayor was learning on the job.)

De Blasio represents a different kind of progressivism than Bloomberg’s version of city governance. For Bloomberg, that has advantages. Had he been followed by a more conservative mayor, his successor would have simply built on the better policies Bloomberg instituted while quietly scrapping the restrictions on fizzy bubblech. Instead, he’s being followed by an ideologue testing the limits the people will place on his airy radicalism, using New Yorkers as crash-test dummies.

That may leave New Yorkers pining for Bloomberg, but there’s a caveat: de Blasio has so far shown himself responsive to public opinion. If that ends up curtailing his leftist impulses, such populism will distinguish itself from the pompous elitism with which New Yorkers had in recent years been treated.

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Bloomberg’s Plan Is Good News for NRA

Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

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Michael Bloomberg is no political novice. Though the verdict on his 12 years as New York City’s mayor is, at best, mixed, there is no doubt that his political skills are as keen as his instinct for making money. As Fred Siegel and Sol Stern pointed out in a COMMENTARY article explaining why Bloomberg finally wore out his welcome at City Hall, the mayor deployed his immense fortune to not only buy votes with record campaign expenditures but also to buy political peace by bribing protest groups that might have otherwise been in the streets making his life miserable. That tactic, along with weak Democratic opponents, kept him in power even if it’s a model that no future mayor who is not also a billionaire will be able to use. But it also seems to have reinforced Bloomberg’s blind faith in the ability of money to transform a political debate. It is in this context that we should view his announcement that he will spend $50 million to build a nationwide network of groups calling for gun control.

The purpose of the effort is to copy the success of Bloomberg’s nemesis: the National Rifle Association, a group that has successfully fought off measures seeking to limit or make owning a gun more difficult. What Bloomberg wants is to inspire fear in politicians, even among liberal Democrats who otherwise agree with most of his positions on the issues, but who may stray from the party line about guns. As the New York Times reports, the former mayor thinks his money will help mobilize women to prioritize the gun issue in the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving made it possible to pass tough laws against drunk drivers. The $50 million expenditure will not only dwarf the estimated $20 million spent by the NRA but will seek to target politicians in red and swing states who have crossed party lines to oppose both sweeping gun-control laws or more limited background check legislation.

But the NRA isn’t shaking in its boots. Gun-rights activists are used to being outspent in key legislative races, as they were last fall when Colorado legislators who voted for new gun laws were successfully recalled. But Bloomberg’s mistake isn’t only in overestimating the impact that money can have on this debate. It’s that he doesn’t understand that the NRA’s success hasn’t been so much a function of fear as it is in the passion of its supporters and the broad support their position commands among the public.

The first and perhaps greatest problem with Bloomberg’s plan is that most Americans don’t want the former mayor of New York telling them what to do or which of their constitutional rights need to be impinged upon. Though he talks about wanting to organize the “grass roots,” what he is discussing is a classic top-down operation in which a coastal elite seeks to manipulate voters in flyover country. Bloomberg’s cash was enough to co-opt various minority power brokers in New York as well as to overwhelm unimpressive ballot opponents. But it can’t convince people who support gun rights to shut up. Nor can it manufacture an equally passionate body of gun opponents where none exists.

It is true that polls often show support for some of the measures the NRA opposes. Bloomberg and other liberals believe this is proof that NRA victories in Congress are the result of a shell game in which a small minority manipulates politicians to thwart the will of the majority. But the reason why the NRA has clout on Capitol Hill is not so much the result of the intimidation that Bloomberg says he wishes to emulate as it is in the broad popularity of gun rights. As the aftermath of the December 2012 Newtown massacre showed, the national media’s efforts to demonize the NRA merely increased the number of its contributors and convinced members of the House and Senate that the NRA was actually closer to the national mood than those seeking to come up with new gun laws.

Moreover, Bloomberg’s signal that his efforts will be at the margins of the gun issue rather than on new restrictions such as revived attempt to ban assault weapons won’t fool anybody. One of the chief reasons the NRA has succeeded is because gun-rights supporters rightly believe that the ultimate goal of all gun control is to ban guns, not to merely increase the number of background checks. The fact that New York City’s laws make it onerous if not impossible for an individual to legally possess a gun only emphasizes this point.

The NRA isn’t politically bullet proof and, as it showed in its initial ham-handed responses to Newtown, it can sometimes do more damage to itself than its foes can. But as long as it is matched up against the likes of Bloomberg, it has nothing to fear.

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Kochs Shouldn’t Sink to Reid’s Level

I have made no secret of my disdain for Harry Reid’s continued unraveling. Reid’s practice of leveling false charges about other politicians and even private citizens–calling cancer patients liars, for example, because they have been hurt by ObamaCare–from the floor of the Senate is assuredly a new low for the upper chamber. And his demonization of his fellow citizens with whom he disagrees on policy as “un-American” for participating in the electoral process has shown him to be both a proper heir to the vengeful, debased politics of Ted Kennedy as well as a particularly odious opponent of the democratic process.

And so it is precisely because I find his loathsome attacks on the Koch brothers so contemptible that I think the Kochs’ attempt to hit back, however clever, misses the mark. It’s not that the Kochs shouldn’t hit back–they can handle this as they choose, and are certainly entitled to respond to Reid’s mindless demagoguery. But in the ad they apparently released today, they fight fire with fire, taking aim at Reid’s relationship with liberal billionaire donors. National Review’s Eliana Johnson has the video of the ad as well as a brief write-up on it, and it’s clear that the Kochs have decided two can play this game. It would be far preferable if neither did so:

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I have made no secret of my disdain for Harry Reid’s continued unraveling. Reid’s practice of leveling false charges about other politicians and even private citizens–calling cancer patients liars, for example, because they have been hurt by ObamaCare–from the floor of the Senate is assuredly a new low for the upper chamber. And his demonization of his fellow citizens with whom he disagrees on policy as “un-American” for participating in the electoral process has shown him to be both a proper heir to the vengeful, debased politics of Ted Kennedy as well as a particularly odious opponent of the democratic process.

And so it is precisely because I find his loathsome attacks on the Koch brothers so contemptible that I think the Kochs’ attempt to hit back, however clever, misses the mark. It’s not that the Kochs shouldn’t hit back–they can handle this as they choose, and are certainly entitled to respond to Reid’s mindless demagoguery. But in the ad they apparently released today, they fight fire with fire, taking aim at Reid’s relationship with liberal billionaire donors. National Review’s Eliana Johnson has the video of the ad as well as a brief write-up on it, and it’s clear that the Kochs have decided two can play this game. It would be far preferable if neither did so:

The ad, “Steyer Infection,” juxtaposes Harry Reid’s denunciation of the Koch brothers with a narrative about Reid’s relationship with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his brother Jim, who runs a ratings service for children’s products.

“This is about two very wealthy brothers who intend to buy their own Congress,” it shows Reid saying in a speech earlier this month on the Senate floor. “You see when you make billions of dollars a year, you can be I guess as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be.”​

The narrator says, “Billionaires like Tom Steyer, who just hosted Reid and other Senate Democrats at his San Francisco mansion? Steyer has a history of ‘environmentally destructive business ventures.’ And he wants regulators to strangle energy opportunities here in America, even though he helped finance the second-largest coal company in Indonesia.”

Here’s the ad itself:

Again, it is rational to respond to allegations and to push back on Reid. There’s no question Reid’s a hypocrite, though that’s far from his worst quality. As Johnson’s report notes, the Kochs are apparently being targeted as “out-of-state billionaires” in ads funded in part by Michael Bloomberg–in other words, an out-of-state billionaire. And Reid’s unseemly brand of crony capitalism is certainly worth addressing.

But the Kochs’ ad doesn’t merely explain that Reid accepts support from prominent billionaires while slamming those who are supported by other, conservative billionaires. It turns into an attack ad on the Steyers. If the Kochs and Steyers take this game to its logical conclusion, the airwaves would be blanketed during election season by wealthy philanthropists attacking each other. No thank you.

Such a development would reinforce the notion–pushed by Reid, among others–that what is important in these statewide elections is not who is running for office but who is funding them. It actually embraces the stereotype of politicians as bought-and-paid-for agents of powerful moneyed interests. The Kochs presumably think this is a caricature–otherwise why take it so personally–but this would bring the caricature to life.

The national media’s lack of outrage, with rare notable exceptions, toward Reid’s McCarthyism is certainly dispiriting. The silver lining, I suppose, is that the next time the mainstream papers complain about a lack of civility in American politics the only appropriate response would be to laugh them out of the room. Indeed, the New York Times editorial board even gave its endorsement to this abuse of power. Apparently the problem with Joe McCarthy, in the Times’s estimation, was that he was simply working for the wrong political party.

Nonetheless, two wrongs don’t make a right. The ad attacking the Steyers attempts to prove Reid’s hypocrisy by applying Reid’s own floor speeches to the Steyers’ political and economic activity, implying the path of attack is fair game. Reid’s example is one that should not be followed. It would be quite troublesome if it instead became standard.

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Bill de Blasio’s Mandate

While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

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While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

Back to the polling on New Yorkers’ attitudes toward their city: a majority say the economic condition of the city is good, and closing the income gap between rich and poor rated the lowest of four voter priorities even at the height of the de Blasio campaign. How do these numbers square with de Blasio’s landslide victory? Perfectly, as a matter of fact.

De Blasio was practically handed the mayoralty after winning the Democratic nomination and never looking back. But the primaries garnered 20 percent turnout. As the New York Times explained, this means de Blasio’s initial victory was bestowed on him by “about 3 percent of all New Yorkers.” The Times also reported that turnout in the general election was a record low of 24 percent–noticeably lower, even, than the turnout for Michael Bloomberg’s election to a third term.

This also casts some light on the question of what kind of national momentum this Progressive Moment has. New York is a liberal city. Seattle is a liberal city. It’s certainly notable that de Blasio is the first registered Democrat elected to lead New York in two decades, but it’s not as though statist excesses were rare in the Bloomberg administration–and, let us not forget, Bloomberg was a former registered Democrat who changed his registration in order to avoid a Democratic primary and then dropped his Republican registration while in office.

Some, such as reporters at Politico, suggest the local progressives may elevate the conversation to the national level. The outlet has a story about the crucial relationships de Blasio will have to manage, and President Obama is at the top of the list:

De Blasio’s going to want attention from the federal government that Obama probably won’t be able to give, and Obama’s going to be pressured to respond more fully to the kind of progressive politics that de Blasio represents.

Will he, though? Will the leftwing mayor of New York put pressure on a second-term president to follow his lead? Anything more than lip service is highly doubtful, and class warfare rhetoric was part of the president’s speeches before most people outside New York knew much about de Blasio. You could argue, in fact, the opposite: Americans on the whole seem more concerned about inequality than New Yorkers. But then you’d have to contend with the fact that for five years Obama has been pushing inequality as a stain on the national conscience and his approval ratings have been in a nosedive.

In that way and in others, the president offers de Blasio a cautionary tale. Obama was elected in the midst of an economic crisis, and he chose to push for an unpopular health-care reform bill despite the fact that health care was not a top priority for voters in 2008 and at the time Americans favored keeping the current health-care system. The lesson for de Blasio is how easily an administration can be knocked off-course if public opinion is discarded as soon as the sun sets on Election Day.

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Turkey with a Side of Propaganda

In 2007, with the fall holidays approaching, the Star-Ledger published a guide on how to handle uninvited guests. Do you tell the guest to get lost? How do you moderate their inappropriate behavior without making a scene? How do you adjust seating arrangements? Fortunately, you aren’t always obligated to confront the uninvited guest directly if someone else is responsible for bringing them to the party. According to one “conflict” expert quoted by the paper: “You find a way of saying, ‘The person who showed up is a jerk, how did you meet this person?’ You deal with it indirectly.”

The question the article didn’t address, but which many Americans may soon be wondering, is: what if it’s the president of the United States? Or the mayor of New York City? Though you may not have invited Barack Obama or Michael Bloomberg to your family holiday gatherings, they would like to be a presence at your table nonetheless. The president’s intrusion into your private family gatherings is due to, of course, ObamaCare. The health-care reform law is not only still broadly unpopular, but due to its disastrous rollout it’s also not getting much help from the media.

I wrote earlier this week about the limits of the administration’s ObamaCare propaganda efforts, but its supporters are poised to get more creative–and obnoxious. A portion of the website BarackObama.com has been set aside for what it is calling “Health Care for the Holidays.” It begins with a typically unfunny (the administration’s famous lack of a sense of humor really hamstrings such efforts) video depicting parents having “the talk” with their wayward son.

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In 2007, with the fall holidays approaching, the Star-Ledger published a guide on how to handle uninvited guests. Do you tell the guest to get lost? How do you moderate their inappropriate behavior without making a scene? How do you adjust seating arrangements? Fortunately, you aren’t always obligated to confront the uninvited guest directly if someone else is responsible for bringing them to the party. According to one “conflict” expert quoted by the paper: “You find a way of saying, ‘The person who showed up is a jerk, how did you meet this person?’ You deal with it indirectly.”

The question the article didn’t address, but which many Americans may soon be wondering, is: what if it’s the president of the United States? Or the mayor of New York City? Though you may not have invited Barack Obama or Michael Bloomberg to your family holiday gatherings, they would like to be a presence at your table nonetheless. The president’s intrusion into your private family gatherings is due to, of course, ObamaCare. The health-care reform law is not only still broadly unpopular, but due to its disastrous rollout it’s also not getting much help from the media.

I wrote earlier this week about the limits of the administration’s ObamaCare propaganda efforts, but its supporters are poised to get more creative–and obnoxious. A portion of the website BarackObama.com has been set aside for what it is calling “Health Care for the Holidays.” It begins with a typically unfunny (the administration’s famous lack of a sense of humor really hamstrings such efforts) video depicting parents having “the talk” with their wayward son.

The talk is about health insurance. The son seems to be old enough to be off his parents’ insurance plans but young and healthy enough to be exactly the kind of insurance consumer ObamaCare desperately needs to succeed in order to subsidize others. The video runs above the following tagline:

This holiday season, millions of Americans have a chance to get quality, affordable health insurance—many for the first time. If you have family members who are uninsured, you can play a big part in helping them find coverage that works for them. It might not always seem like it, but your family listens to you. So have the talk.

That is followed by the four steps to having the talk. The first is “Send a packing list”–tell your relatives that if they want to come home for the holidays, they really ought to bring their latest W-2 IRS form. Step two is “Planning Your Health Care Talk,” including the exhortation to “Be persistent.” Don’t take no for an answer, because coming from the government that message is never creepy or coercive.

The third step is “Conversation Tips.” Here is how the website instructs you to badger your family members into submission:

Start by asking: “Have you thought about signing up for health insurance on the new marketplace?”

Offer to walk them through it: “Would you like to take some time with me to sign up right now?”

Ask them to make a plan, and commit to it: “When do you plan on signing up?”

Don’t forget to follow up: “Have you signed up yet?”

No pressure, of course. And the final step is for the state’s dedicated servant: “Pledge to have the talk,” written above a form for you–the distinguished ambassador from the Ministry of the Best Interests of the People–to fill out to promise to use your time with your family to read the government’s talking points to them.

Though he cannot match that mobilization of resources, Michael Bloomberg wants in on the action. If you’re already planning to hector your family about the virtues of the benevolent state’s brave new programs, you might as well go all-in. The Washington Examiner reports:

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the liberal gun control group bankrolled by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has sent out gun control talking points for supporters as they approach their friends and relatives.

“Everyone has friends and relatives with strong opinions and shaky facts,” the email informs supporters. “You can help set the table straight — all you need is this simple guide to Talking Turkey about guns!”

If you really want to give your family a memorable holiday season, give the gift of government-programmed self-righteousness. They won’t forget it. Because you won’t let them.

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Bill de Blasio and New York’s New Normal

Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy later this month, remembrances of that era are everywhere. But in 2007, the New York Times reported on another reason to look back to 1963:

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Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy later this month, remembrances of that era are everywhere. But in 2007, the New York Times reported on another reason to look back to 1963:

As 2007 draws to a close, it seems very likely that there will be fewer than 500 killings in the city (as of Sunday evening, there had been 492) for the first time since reliable records started being kept.

That was 1963.

The body count that year reflected the beginnings of what was to be an alarming rise in the city’s murder rate through 1990.

So if you live in New York today, you may remember the bad old days of high crime, but you probably don’t remember the last time the city was as safe as it has been in the current era. That’s the message Republican candidate Joe Lhota tried to send in his campaign ads against de Blasio. But the ads fell flat.

In fact, the reality of New York in 2013 left Lhota–a former deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration–grasping to conjure visions of a dangerous past as prologue. In one ad, he used footage from a recent biker gang attack to make his point. Yet this made no sense: showing recent crimes that took place under the “right” kind of public safety strategy is surely not a very good way to argue against theoretical changes in that strategy.

It was a riddle Lhota never came close to solving: how do you explain the consequences of certain policies to voters who aren’t familiar with either the consequences or the policies? Lhota might as well have been regaling the crowds with stories of how he used to walk to school uphill in the snow both ways while carrying his shoes.

But that doesn’t mean the new normal worked solely to de Blasio’s benefit. The very same elements that helped him win the mayoral election will likely have the opposite effect once in office. What kind of tolerance will the brunch-and-farmer’s-market crowd have for unsafe streets? De Blasio doesn’t want to find out.

And that means de Blasio will be confronted with a fact many on the left have, against all evidence, relentlessly denied: the NYPD is keeping the city safe. As Heather Mac Donald explained in the New York Post just before Election Day:

In the ’90s, the local press incessantly promoted other cities’ crime records as rivals to New York’s, so desperate was it to discredit the idea that New York’s dependency-routing Republican mayor and his newly assertive police department were behind the New York turnaround. Yet, by decade’s end, those other cities’ crime declines — most notably San Diego’s and Boston’s — flattened out or reversed. …

Today, Boston’s murder rate is twice New York’s; Washington DC’s is three times New York’s; Baltimore’s, five times. If New York’s blacks faced the same homicide risk as San Diego’s blacks, our city’s overall homicide rate would be nearly 75 percent higher.

Policing alone explains the New York crime-fighting difference. New York was nearly the same city in 1990 and 2010 regarding the same liberal “root causes” of crime — income inequality, poverty and drug use have not diminished. Even conservatives’ own pet “root cause” of crime — illegitimacy — hasn’t improved.

That will be a reality check for de Blasio, who subscribes to the classic liberal mode of governance: decry the rich while depending on them for revenue. This approach to governing really should have been discredited long ago: the rich already keep the city running with tax revenue and the money they spend around the city, and enabling the poorer city dwellers to improve their standard of living doesn’t get any easier when you soak the job creators.

But again, it’s hard to discredit something people have no memory of. There is no frame of reference for so many younger New Yorkers or those who have moved to the city in recent years. The New York they know–the only New York they know–is the one they live in now. They expect de Blasio to keep it that way.

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De Blasio’s Advantage: No One Believes Him

The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.

More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:

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The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.

More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:

While too much political friction brings paralysis, too little presents the opportunity for major mistakes. For the good of the city, de Blasio has to see this danger coming. He needs to get used to saying no to his friends, and even turning some of them into enemies. …

Similarly, de Blasio, who has made a career of channeling complaints about the NYPD, will soon be the commander-in-chief of those armed forces, responsible for driving the murder rate lower and holding the line on quality-of-life crimes.

Deep down, despite all his criticism of Bloomberg, de Blasio knows: If he loses a handle on crime, the jig is up.

Indeed it is. De Blasio is unlikely to get himself a second term if he reminds New Yorkers of the bad old days of crime. But what’s more interesting, and no doubt frustrating to conservatives, is the fact that progressives who run on dismantling successful security policies get elected because these days, voters just don’t believe them. Maybe it’s the Obama effect: years of shamelessly vilifying the American national-security establishment turned into obsessive targeted assassination, the surveillance state on steroids, and a third and nearly a fourth new military engagement in the Middle East once Obama grasped the levers of power.

There’s a certain amount of condescension in this view, probably unwarranted with regard to both Obama and de Blasio. Obama has always seemed to understand the difference between foreign entanglements, as he sees them, and domestic security. His tech-heavy campaigns and nanny-state addiction to control foreshadowed his policy agenda. For his part, de Blasio is an experienced political operative who has worked for both Clintons in New York–and for David Dinkins, whose failed mayoralty resulted from the last time New Yorkers elected a Democratic mayor.

De Blasio capitalized on the public’s Bloomberg fatigue, but even the outgoing mayor, having been a campaign target, told the New York Times after the two met post-election that he wasn’t sure de Blasio was silly enough to govern as he campaigned:

Still, Mr. Bloomberg offered a hint that his successor may find governing a metropolis to be slightly more complicated than the more abstract terrain of a political campaign.

“He’s got to make his own decisions,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Some things will look easy, and then he gets into them, he’ll find them more difficult, and maybe he’ll change his mind.”

There’s that condescension again, as the Times translates Bloomberg’s message: governing is “slightly more complicated” than not governing. De Blasio is getting the Obama treatment at this point. The true liberal governing agenda is so reckless that most people on the left just assume liberals are making empty promises, and those on the right hope they are.

It’s the strange reality of post-9/11 politics, and a testament to the success of figures like Rudy Giuliani. New York has suffered through periods in which it was difficult to imagine the city at or near its true potential. It is now difficult for New Yorkers to imagine that mindset, thanks in large part to the public servants who helped rescue the city from the Dinkins era. It is characteristic of this new confidence–which borders, at times, on a very un-New York complacency–that few are willing to believe a progressive will govern as a progressive, that liberalism is fun in theory but there are too many lives at stake to put it into practice.

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Minding the (Gender) Gap in New York City

Of the several New York Democratic mayoral candidates who lost this week’s primary to Bill de Blasio, only one constituted something of a surprise: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. It’s not that Quinn was ever considered a shoo-in–far from it. But she had media buzz building for quite some time, a consistent early lead in the polls, and the tentative support of Michael Bloomberg (which probably cost her votes in the end, but gave her candidacy an early boost).

Unlike Anthony Weiner, Quinn didn’t seem to have any skeletons refusing to stay in the closet. Unlike Bill Thompson, Quinn was able to poll a lead when matched up against the entire field of candidates, while Thompson needed a second-round run-off to build a lead. And it must be said that her current speakership and the media attention she received for being openly gay (she married her partner last year) gave her at least a head start on both the late entries and the no-names. Yet she placed third. What happened?

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Of the several New York Democratic mayoral candidates who lost this week’s primary to Bill de Blasio, only one constituted something of a surprise: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. It’s not that Quinn was ever considered a shoo-in–far from it. But she had media buzz building for quite some time, a consistent early lead in the polls, and the tentative support of Michael Bloomberg (which probably cost her votes in the end, but gave her candidacy an early boost).

Unlike Anthony Weiner, Quinn didn’t seem to have any skeletons refusing to stay in the closet. Unlike Bill Thompson, Quinn was able to poll a lead when matched up against the entire field of candidates, while Thompson needed a second-round run-off to build a lead. And it must be said that her current speakership and the media attention she received for being openly gay (she married her partner last year) gave her at least a head start on both the late entries and the no-names. Yet she placed third. What happened?

A lot of things. But one thing that does not seem to have played a significant role is her gender. That’s one takeaway from today’s New York Times story, “In Quinn’s Loss, Questions About Role of Gender and Sexuality.” But the article seems to answer those questions pretty effectively:

Exit polls showed no gender gap in the results and indicated that Ms. Quinn lost for a number of reasons — her close association with the plutocratic incumbent mayor, her rivals’ ability to outmaneuver her on the issue of stop-and-frisk policing, and her inability to be a change candidate in an election in which voters sought new direction.

Still, her supporters wonder: Why has New York, home of tough, talented women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Anna Wintour, proven resistant to female candidates? And was it simply too much to expect the electorate to embrace a candidate who would be not just New York’s first female mayor, but its first openly gay one, too?

In interviews with allies and opponents, as well as members of the Quinn campaign team, not one person blamed her loss wholly, or even mostly, on gender.

Exit polls showed no gender gap, and neither her supporters (including those who worked for her) nor her opponents thought it made much difference, if at all. But you get the feeling that this article gets written one way or the other. Had there been a “gender gap” in the exit polls, we’d be reading an article about how the fact that Quinn is a woman worked against her in the race. Now that there wasn’t a gender gap, the Times is concerned: why not? That is, why didn’t New York’s women show some solidarity?

The Times has no trouble finding sources who will blame that on Quinn, but the criticism of her in the article is so gobsmackingly unfair as to leave the reader wondering why anyone would put their names to the comments. One explanation is one that is backed up by the exit polls: Quinn–admirably, I might add–insisted on running a campaign on the issues instead of gender identity. “I don’t get up in the morning thinking about how I’ll approach this as a woman or a lesbian; I think about the issues,” she apparently told a room full of accomplished women who wanted to tell Quinn how to run a campaign as a woman.

Identity politics did work against her, though, in two ways. First, New York City identity politics are ethnic and racial. As the Times story notes, there was neither a gay vote nor a women’s vote. Without such a voter base, it was to Quinn’s disadvantage that she represented swanky neighborhoods in Manhattan and was thus somewhat detached from the lives of so many of the New Yorkers whose votes she wanted.

Second, some of those Manhattanites turned on her. And here is where her gender made a difference. From the story:

Critiques of Ms. Quinn’s physical attributes came from many corners, even the wealthy Upper East Side women who helped raise money for her mayoral bid. “Why can’t she dress better?’” they would ask Rachel Lavine, a Democratic state committeewoman who was on Ms. Quinn’s finance committee.

“I might think that St. John is not the end all and be all of fashion,” Ms. Lavine said, referring to the upscale clothing line favored by wealthy, older women. “But that’s what they’re saying. ‘Why isn’t she wearing a size two St. John’s dress?’ There’s that kind of constant commentary.”

Referring to Ms. Quinn’s rival Bill de Blasio, she said, “You don’t hear that about de Blasio — ‘Why can’t he buy better-looking suits?’ ”

Her female supporters badmouthed her because they didn’t like the brand of clothing she wore. It’s to Quinn’s credit that she showed no interest in playing these games, either by trying to disqualify criticism of her as simple prejudice or by changing her appearance. She lost, but she lost honorably–against the advice of many of her supporters.

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Bloomberg’s Exit and the Future of Education Reform

There are a number of obstacles to being able to draw generalizations about New York City voters from the results of the mayoral primary elections. Such obstacles include the factional nature of city elections, the prominent role of identity politics in a multicultural city, and the challenges of polling such elections.

There is also the low voter turnout for primaries, as summed up succinctly by Daily News Opinion Editor Josh Greenman, responding to assumptions that the Democratic primary was a referendum on Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “Last night was huge rebuke of Bloomberg? No. Just 20% of Democrats voted, and 48% of them told exit pollsters they approve of job he’s done,” Greenman tweeted.

So Bill de Blasio’s victory last night may not have meant much about New York voters overall, but that’s not how opponents of choice in education see it. Politico reports:

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There are a number of obstacles to being able to draw generalizations about New York City voters from the results of the mayoral primary elections. Such obstacles include the factional nature of city elections, the prominent role of identity politics in a multicultural city, and the challenges of polling such elections.

There is also the low voter turnout for primaries, as summed up succinctly by Daily News Opinion Editor Josh Greenman, responding to assumptions that the Democratic primary was a referendum on Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “Last night was huge rebuke of Bloomberg? No. Just 20% of Democrats voted, and 48% of them told exit pollsters they approve of job he’s done,” Greenman tweeted.

So Bill de Blasio’s victory last night may not have meant much about New York voters overall, but that’s not how opponents of choice in education see it. Politico reports:

De Blasio’s education platform boiled down, in effect, to a pledge to dismantle the policies that Mayor Michael Bloomberg enacted over the past decade in the nation’s largest school district.

Those policies, emphasizing the need to inject more free-market competition into public education and weaken the power of teachers unions, are not unique to New York City; they’re the backbone of a national education reform movement that has won broad bipartisan support. Yet the reform movement has also triggered a backlash from parents and teachers who see it as a threat to their schools, their jobs and the traditional concept of public education as a public trust.

For those activists, de Blasio’s victory – coming on top of a handful of other recent wins for their side – is a sign the tide might slowly be turning.

The article cites the successful anti-reform movement galvanized to oust Adrian Fenty in Washington D.C., though there have been victories for the school choice movement since then, and certainly victories in reining in union power. Those victories owe something to the financial crisis and increasing government debt, a fiscal backdrop that turned the hoary liberal clichés of “fair share” and inequality against Democratic interest groups like public unions, whose job security and generous health and retirement benefits are financed by increasingly struggling taxpayers.

Put simply, the public unions’ math never added up, and they could not win the argument that they had a right to bankrupt their states because of benefits they won from favored politicians. That’s why reform-minded governors had an easier time getting union members to contribute more to their own benefits than in measures designed to curtail unions’ political organization and clout. The unions are betting that without a fiscal sword of Damocles hanging over their heads the public will lose interest in this fight, and they can turn the momentum away from dismantling a major source of their funding: the failing government monopoly on childhood education.

If the unions are able to decouple financial concerns from those related to political organization, proponents of education reform will need to be able to win an argument over the latter to stop the tide from turning. How to openly attempt to disempower public unions without appearing to be motivated solely by the lure of partisan advantage? True independents on the issue are likely to be swayed to whichever side they believe is representing the best interests of the students.

It’s easy to argue that teachers’ protected salaries and high benefits can hurt the students by forcing cuts in other areas, such as books, computers, tutoring, or sports programs, that fall on the backs of the students. But there hasn’t been much of an attempt to argue the political power of the unions per se harms the education of the students. Some, however, are beginning to do just that. The Heartland Institute draws attention to a new study from the University of Chicago’s Johnathan Lott and the University of Florida’s Lawrence W. Kenny that finds that “students in states with strong teachers unions have lower proficiency rates than students in states with weak state-wide teacher unions.”

From the conclusion:

Strong unions should have a greater impact on student proficiency rates in math and reading than weak unions. The small literature on union strength has used district-level variables – the size of the district and the restrictiveness of the district contract – as measures of union strength. But state-wide teachers’ unions are often successful in influencing state regulations on education by being the major contributors to candidates for the state legislature. The state-wide teachers’ unions that contribute more are expected to exercise more influence and thus be stronger unions. We may be the first to use the state-wide teachers’ union financial resources as a measure of union strength and find that students in states in which the teachers’ union has high dues and high spending have lower test scores than students in states with low dues and spending. Union strength matters and indeed matters more than any other variable in our regressions.

Beyond the moral and financial cases for school choice and broader education reform lies the most important issue: the effect of public policy on the actual education received by the students. If liberal politicians like de Blasio are going to try to push the momentum back in favor of their union allies, reformers should be able to argue persuasively that it will come at the expense of the students.

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Bloomberg’s de Blasio Disaster Foretold

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comments in an interview published over the weekend “shook up” the race to succeed him, as the Wall Street Journal describes it. Bloomberg took issue with what he thought has been an overly class- and race-based campaign by the current Democratic primary frontrunner, Bill de Blasio. While that may sound like exactly the sort of campaign a modern liberal Democrat would run–especially in New York City, where identity politics predominate–the charge was actually unfair.

What’s more, Bloomberg seemed realize this as he said it, as his explanation for his comments indicates:

Mr. Bloomberg said in the interview published Saturday in New York magazine that he thought Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the front-runner, was running a “class-warfare and racist” campaign because he had persistently highlighted income inequality and his biracial family. Mr. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American.

“I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.”

Not to split hairs, but it’s not quite like Bloomberg pointing out his Jewish background. De Blasio isn’t black; given the degree of controversy over race-related issues both in the city and the country recently, it’s not outrageous at all that de Blasio would feel compelled to demonstrate that he can understand issues facing the African-American community through personal connection.

At any rate, what you sense from Bloomberg is frustration, not outrage. I don’t think Bloomberg cares about ethnic political appeals by de Blasio or anyone else. What most likely bothers him much more is that de Blasio appears to be a disaster waiting to happen. His ideas for the city range from the terrible to the dangerous. De Blasio is leading the “Dinkins Democrats,” as I referred to them here.

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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comments in an interview published over the weekend “shook up” the race to succeed him, as the Wall Street Journal describes it. Bloomberg took issue with what he thought has been an overly class- and race-based campaign by the current Democratic primary frontrunner, Bill de Blasio. While that may sound like exactly the sort of campaign a modern liberal Democrat would run–especially in New York City, where identity politics predominate–the charge was actually unfair.

What’s more, Bloomberg seemed realize this as he said it, as his explanation for his comments indicates:

Mr. Bloomberg said in the interview published Saturday in New York magazine that he thought Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the front-runner, was running a “class-warfare and racist” campaign because he had persistently highlighted income inequality and his biracial family. Mr. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American.

“I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.”

Not to split hairs, but it’s not quite like Bloomberg pointing out his Jewish background. De Blasio isn’t black; given the degree of controversy over race-related issues both in the city and the country recently, it’s not outrageous at all that de Blasio would feel compelled to demonstrate that he can understand issues facing the African-American community through personal connection.

At any rate, what you sense from Bloomberg is frustration, not outrage. I don’t think Bloomberg cares about ethnic political appeals by de Blasio or anyone else. What most likely bothers him much more is that de Blasio appears to be a disaster waiting to happen. His ideas for the city range from the terrible to the dangerous. De Blasio is leading the “Dinkins Democrats,” as I referred to them here.

De Blasio attacked rival candidate Christine Quinn for her qualified support for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose leadership of the NYPD has helped keep the city safe and make it a model for the rest of the country. Kelly’s name has even been floated to run the federal Department of Homeland Security, a suggestion supported by Republicans and Democrats. De Blasio’s idea of city governance is to locate what has worked in the past–a focus on safe streets and a pro-business atmosphere that has enabled the city to rake in the tax revenue that keeps services running and the social safety net intact–and promise to shred it.

So, if de Blasio is such an irresponsible choice for mayor–and to be fair, he may not intend to keep his promises (threats?) if he wins the election–why would he win in the first place? The answer is because a meager minority of Democratic primary voters will choose the Democratic nominee tomorrow, and because of the Democrats’ partisan advantage in the city that party’s nominee will become the favorite–though far from guaranteed victor–in the general election.

And de Blasio is poised to take a commanding lead into the primary because of the weakness of the rest of the field. Anthony Weiner has cratered in the polls after new scandals arose and he began speaking in a British accent and taunting elderly voters. (A strange, but perhaps not too unexpected, sentence to write.) That left the election without a traditional candidate from the boroughs, putting Queens in play and giving an advantage to the Brooklyn-based de Blasio.

Bill Thompson is another candidate whose weak poll standing has always hidden his strength in a second-round runoff, which takes place if no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote. And of course there is the once-putative frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been startlingly unable to connect with voters and has run a campaign that suggests she never took her competition too seriously, inexcusably in the case of Thompson.

And that brings us back to Bloomberg. The mayor had tentatively sided with Quinn as his successor, but that was only among the likely candidates. He spent his final term in office undermining any credibility Quinn had by desperately casting about for a different successor. He was even willing to import one; he reportedly asked Hillary Clinton and Ed Rendell to run.

The whole circus left the impression that Bloomberg feared leaving his legacy in Quinn’s hands. But the recent Democratic primary contest suggests he feared a Quinn candidacy, not a Quinn mayoralty. He might have expected Quinn to fumble the handoff, which is exactly what happened. If that’s the case, Bloomberg gets points for prescience.

It’s surely possible Quinn could still win, of course. If there’s a runoff, the calculus changes–though, it should be noted, probably not to Quinn’s benefit, demographically. There is some irony here for Quinn. She ran to the left once she saw her rivals do so. That was probably a mistake, and it could cost her the election. Had she secured her place as the “responsible” Democrat, she could have portrayed de Blasio as the extreme candidate he is–well-meaning but eminently naïve and dangerous if given a job with real citywide responsibility, which he has never had.

Instead, Quinn may have convinced voters that there wasn’t enough daylight between her and de Blasio ideologically to make much of a difference. At that point, the election becomes solely about personality and, yes, identity politics. That’s where Bloomberg’s frustration finally boiled over, because that’s where Quinn is most likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Could a de Blasio Win Give GOP a Boost?

After months of buildup, the citizens of New York City will finally be heading to the polls tomorrow. The buzz surrounding the race for mayor has consistently made national news. Unfortunately for the future of New York, however, that buzz has centered largely on the scandal-plagued candidacy of Democrat Anthony Weiner. While all eyes are on the Democrats facing off tomorrow, with a come-from-behind Bill de Blasio campaign taking center stage, the Republicans in the race, John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota, have largely escaped the media’s glare. Many view tomorrow’s primary as the conclusion of the race with tomorrow’s winner the automatic general-election victor. Past electoral history, including the relatively recent victories of Republican Rudy Giuliani and independent Mike Bloomberg serve as warnings that in New York City “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

While there is very little reliable polling to be had for the Republican primary taking place tomorrow, the limited data available seems to indicate a Lhota victory over the billionaire businessman Catsimatidis. Presuming de Blasio and Lhota win tomorrow, in the general election all is not lost for the Republican contender.

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After months of buildup, the citizens of New York City will finally be heading to the polls tomorrow. The buzz surrounding the race for mayor has consistently made national news. Unfortunately for the future of New York, however, that buzz has centered largely on the scandal-plagued candidacy of Democrat Anthony Weiner. While all eyes are on the Democrats facing off tomorrow, with a come-from-behind Bill de Blasio campaign taking center stage, the Republicans in the race, John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota, have largely escaped the media’s glare. Many view tomorrow’s primary as the conclusion of the race with tomorrow’s winner the automatic general-election victor. Past electoral history, including the relatively recent victories of Republican Rudy Giuliani and independent Mike Bloomberg serve as warnings that in New York City “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

While there is very little reliable polling to be had for the Republican primary taking place tomorrow, the limited data available seems to indicate a Lhota victory over the billionaire businessman Catsimatidis. Presuming de Blasio and Lhota win tomorrow, in the general election all is not lost for the Republican contender.

As recently as the end of July the presumed Bloomberg successor Christine Quinn was leading the polls after Anthony Weiner’s implosion after new details emerged of the sexting scandal that brought down his career in the House. Democratic primary voters have had very little time to get to know each candidate as they somewhat schizophrenically wavered between the half-dozen possible contenders. What might sound appealing to more left-wing primary voters, taxing the rich and an end to the controversial but effective stop-and-frisk program of the NYPD, would likely go over less well with more moderate and pragmatic New Yorkers, especially middle-class voters in the outer boroughs.

These voters will likely not see the allure in targeting the rich, the famed 1 percent they heard about for months from the largely white and privileged youth who took over a public square in Lower Manhattan last year, calling themselves Occupy Wall Street. These voters have watched as the policies of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, including stop-and-frisk, lowered the city’s crime rate considerably over his tenure. Democrat de Blasio has promised to remove this popular and effective police commissioner from office, a move that wouldn’t be taken kindly by those who have benefited from his work. 

It’s too soon for any general-election polling between de Blasio and Lhota, but the Observer’s Politicker blog has already taken note of Lhota’s potential cross-party appeal:

A surprising number of this morning’s attendees said they, too, were planning to cross party lines for Mr. Lhota because they considered this year’s crop of Democratic candidates–especially front-runner Bill de Blasio–too liberal, soft on crime or polarizing.

Susan B., 61, who lives in the West Village and declined to give her last name, said she’d grown “increasingly uncomfortable” with city Democrats over attempts to rein in the controversial stop-and-frisk police tactic and attempts to halt surveillance of Muslim communities.

According to unnamed sources speaking with the New York Posteven independent and relatively liberal current Mayor Michael Bloomberg may also be leaning toward supporting the Republican Lhota if de Blasio is tomorrow’s Democratic victor. While his endorsement may not carry much weight with voters, it serves as an interesting window into the thought processes of New Yorkers who, while overwhelmingly liberal, also don’t want to see a return to the days of former New York Mayor David Dinkins. Though any Republican optimism in deep blue New York may seem delusional, this match-up might make the next two months a bit more interesting than if a more moderate Democrat were nominated.

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Bloomberg’s Potentially Deadly Legacy

Yesterday a local newspaper reported:

Part of the city’s problem-plagued 911 system failed so many times yesterday that [Fire Department] dispatchers were forced to revert to using pen and paper to jot down calls, while patrol cops were enlisted to take victims to hospitals.

Problems were so rife that by afternoon, cops were told to call their department’s own Emergency Service Unit for help, sources said. Otherwise, they were to transport victims to hospitals in their radio cars.

Sounds like an item from a disaster, a terrorist attack or perhaps, sadly, Detroit. That system-wide shutdown of emergency services took place in New York City just this week, the New York Post reported. The issues with the 9-1-1 system and emergency responsiveness have been heavily reported by the Post in the last several weeks, especially after an incident during last week’s heat wave involving a mayoral candidate and several members of the media. With cameras rolling, an intern at an event for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn collapsed in the heat. After waiting for over thirty minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Quinn decided to call in the big guns: not Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but instead Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

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Yesterday a local newspaper reported:

Part of the city’s problem-plagued 911 system failed so many times yesterday that [Fire Department] dispatchers were forced to revert to using pen and paper to jot down calls, while patrol cops were enlisted to take victims to hospitals.

Problems were so rife that by afternoon, cops were told to call their department’s own Emergency Service Unit for help, sources said. Otherwise, they were to transport victims to hospitals in their radio cars.

Sounds like an item from a disaster, a terrorist attack or perhaps, sadly, Detroit. That system-wide shutdown of emergency services took place in New York City just this week, the New York Post reported. The issues with the 9-1-1 system and emergency responsiveness have been heavily reported by the Post in the last several weeks, especially after an incident during last week’s heat wave involving a mayoral candidate and several members of the media. With cameras rolling, an intern at an event for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn collapsed in the heat. After waiting for over thirty minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Quinn decided to call in the big guns: not Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but instead Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Quinn’s staff made a second call while waiting, to a Jewish volunteer ambulance service called Hatzolah. Despite receiving the call after 9-1-1 dispatchers and despite 96-degree temperatures on the fast day of Tisha B’Av (Hatzolah’s Orthodox volunteers had been fasting, without food or water, since 8 p.m. the night before), Hatzolah arrived first, treating and whisking the intern away before the city’s ambulance arrived. The FDNY blamed the delay on a shortage of ambulances, a spike in call volume, and the low priority given to the intern, who had been reported as conscious and responsive by the individual who placed the initial 9-1-1 call. An anonymous individual affiliated with the ambulance corps, the EMS, had another story:

A move to modernize city ambulance records has become a technical nightmare for city EMTs, who told The Post the system is leading to delays and slower response times.

The new tablet-computer-based system for recording ambulance calls has been hampered because the devices often freeze up and can’t send information when a Wi-Fi signal is unavailable, sources said.

“It’s a very weak wireless system, but the city got what they paid for,” groused one technician. “They were too cheap to pay for a stronger system.”

Instead of recording vital information about each “aided” case on paper, EMS technicians are required to enter data on the tablet. A wireless router is attached to the EMS truck and provides the Wi-Fi signal.

But when a signal can’t be found, or is weak, the ambulance crews struggle to submit the data, which is mandatory before heading off for new emergency calls.

The system, a $2 billion boondoggle, was well known for its limitations before its implementation in May. In March the Post was given a confidential report on those limitations:

Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial $2 billion effort to modernize the 911 system — billed as a cure-all for every emergency-communications ill — was labeled a boondoggle by the city’s own experts two years ago, The Post has learned.

The project “does not have a defined business case” for spending $2 billion on a new 911 system, Gartner Consulting told City Hall in a March 2011 report marked “draft — confidential.”

The consultant’s 45-page report, reviewed by The Post, explained the city was wasting its money by plowing ahead without resolving key problems. It slams the high-tech system for management failures and computer glitches, and clobbers key communications officials for refusing to cooperate and, instead, battling over turf.

The consultants report also found:

* Repeated failures of the emergency-response software were reported but were not fixed.

* The NYPD refused to merge its system for dispatching units with that of the FDNY and the EMS — although that was a key reason for creating the new system. And the departments would not work together to create a unified management structure for the new system.

With Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaving office in January after an election to replace him in November, a lot of attention has been paid to the transgressions of certain candidates eyeing his job. Being mayor of New York City isn’t a job for the weakhearted, as anyone who watched former Mayor Giuliani in the days and weeks following September 11, 2001 can attest. His replacement, Bloomberg, has the utter failure of a relaunch of the 9-1-1 system on his record, and any deaths or injuries that result are the sole responsibility of the man who, despite countless warnings from consultants that he himself hired, insisted on launching a program that the city couldn’t afford and that didn’t fit its needs.

The amount of times that the system has shut down since its launch in May when there were no major events precipitating the failures should strike fear into hearts of New Yorkers who are not unaccustomed to being the site of disasters both natural and man-made in the last decade and a half. With the mayoral election fast approaching, New Yorkers should be holding candidates’ feet to the fire on the condition of the emergency services and their ability to respond to personal emergencies as well as major catastrophes. This is an issue that affects each and every New York City resident, and if Bloomberg’s failure is allowed to stand as it is, he or his replacement will soon have to answer for an incident far more embarrassing and potentially disastrous than an overheated intern passed out in the midday Brooklyn sun. 

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Is Bloomberg a Lobbyist or a Mayor?

Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

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Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

The trip, and the earlier revelation that the city’s own Web hosting services were used by the group, raised eyebrows. Bloomberg’s staff have claimed that the group’s activities, even in Nevada, impact New Yorkers, thus justifying the expense with their tax dollars. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011 Fred Siegel and Sol Stern wrote for our magazine about how Bloomberg had used his private largess to wield unprecedented political power in the city:

Bloomberg [has] spent tens of millions of dollars annually between elections to make sure that not too many influential New Yorkers would risk criticizing him. Mayor Bloomberg’s predecessors, from Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani, had also been tempted, and had at times given into the temptation, to use the power of incumbency and control of taxpayer funds to reward allies and punish enemies. The difference is that Bloomberg was able to channel his private philanthropic giving each year to hundreds of the city’s arts and social-service groups with the reasonable expectation that the gratitude these groups felt to their patron would extend to their patron’s political causes. At the very least, it would make the groups and their influential boards of trustees think twice before criticizing the mayor’s policies.

At an event last week the group held a rally where the names of victims of gun violence were read in solemn remembrance. Famously, or perhaps infamously would be the better word, the name of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a bomber in the Boston Marathon attack, was read. The group later claimed that the name found its way on the list thanks to a list found on the Salon website. Considering Tsarnaev was on his way to bomb Times Square when he was, thankfully, shot dead by the Boston Police Department, is a fact that someone on the group’s staff should have been aware of.

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has used city resources to pay for his own pet projects. In his campaign against sugary drinks, advertisements on the subway have been ever present, and recently sponsored tweets were even purchased by the city warning about the dangers of juice. If the mayor cared to be careful with New Yorkers’ money he would be best advised to store it away for a rainy day.

That rainy day might come soon, as a pending $40 million lawsuit by the family of a young girl was recently filed. While the mayor was spending his energies campaigning against guns and telling New Yorkers what to eat, he was also forcing the implementation of a deeply flawed 9-1-1 system. The pending lawsuit involves the death of a young girl who died while waiting for medical attention after Bloomberg’s newly installed multimillion dollar system crashed inexplicably for several minutes just days after its launch. Instead of sending city staffers to Nevada, there are more than a few problems the Bloomberg administration could and should be addressing that are much more immediate to the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers much closer to home.

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Did Beck Cross the Line? Yes.

Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

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Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

First, even if that is a picture of Lenin, Beck chose one in which the Bolshevik’s arm is raised in a manner that is suspiciously like that of the Nazis. That there is an armband on the figure’s arm is reminiscent of Hitler, who habitually wore the swastika in that fashion, rather than Lenin and the Communists, with whom that image is not generally associated. So even if it is proved that the original image is not that of Hitler, Beck and his staff clearly were trying to fudge the issue in order to make it seem more like a villain whose picture is far better known in the United States.

The imposition of the slogan “You Will” on the image of Bloomberg was also the sort of phrase that is more associated with the Nazis than Communists. Leni Riefenstahl’s classic Nazi documentary was entitled “Triumph of the Will.” Communist rhetoric, especially that of Lenin, often sounded more utopian than authoritarian even if it covered an equally murderous intent.

Nor did Beck tell his audience that it was Lenin that he wanted them to see and not Hitler when inveighing against Bloomberg. Given the concerted attempt to confuse onlookers in this matter, Beck had no right to cry foul if they drew the conclusion that he was clearly trying to entice them to arrive at.

Second, even if we were to concede that Beck was trying to associate Bloomberg with Lenin, that is not a whole lot better than the Hitler analogy. While the image of Lenin would take the use of the Holocaust out of the equation, it must be pointed out that the man who transformed Russia into the evil empire of the Soviet Union was also a mass murderer. Estimates about the number killed in the Red Terror that followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917 vary, but there is no question hundreds of thousands died. The toll of those who perished in Soviet jails and camps or at the hands of the secret police he unleashed is equally high. If one considers that he set in place the mechanism by which Stalin murdered tens of millions, he must be placed in the pantheon of the 20th century’s worst murderers.

I happen to share Beck’s disdain for Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state liberalism. A year ago when the mayor first proposed his soda ban, I wrote here to condemn the measure and reminded readers the issue was “freedom, not soft drinks.” But comparing this infringement on personal liberty to mass murder, whether committed by Nazis or Communists, is not a rational or reasonable argument. At best, Beck’s stunt could be called hyperbole. At worst, it is the sort of demonization that undermines public discourse in a democracy.

It is true that many on the left play this same game. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is just as guilty as Beck. Indeed, in denouncing Beck for what he, too, assumed was an inappropriate Nazi analogy, the left-wing talker called the tactic “Hitlerian.” That was hypocritical as well as over the top.

The bottom line in this discussion remains the same. By using this sort of imagery against Bloomberg, Beck is doing more than making a fool of himself again. He is doing serious damage to the cause of defending the Second Amendment. He deserves no apology. He and the NRA (which sanctioned his stunt) owe one to Bloomberg as well as to conservatives whose cause he has damaged.

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Beck Crosses the Line Again

The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.

That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

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The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.

That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

In writing this, I can already hear the complaints of conservatives who will say those of us who oppose Bloomberg’s politics should not attack Beck since that undermines the cause of defending gun rights as well as the cause of liberty that Beck said in his remarks was his sole motivation. But anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between an anti-Semitic mass murderer and a liberal American Jew need not bother deluging my email inbox with their pointless criticisms. Calling liberals Nazis doesn’t hurt liberalism. It hurts conservatives. Making such comparisons is not just a manifestation of a lack of good taste or an unwillingness to treat the Holocaust as a singular historic event. Resorting to attempts to delegitimize the other side is a sign of an inability to make reasoned arguments.

It should be stipulated, as Ron Kampeas noted at his JTA blog yesterday, that this is not the first time Beck has crossed the line when it comes to the Holocaust. As I wrote here in November 2010, his attack on leftist financier George Soros as a Nazi collaborator was just as inappropriate. Soros is a scoundrel, but Beck had no business pontificating about what a teenaged Jewish boy trapped in Nazi-ruled Hungary might have done. Similarly, Beck mischaracterized Soros’s efforts to undermine Communist governments when he was one of the good guys in that struggle.

As I wrote then:

Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading. There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo. Instead of providing sharp insight into a shady character, all Beck has done is further muddy the waters and undermine his own credibility as a commentator.

By depicting Bloomberg as a Nazi, he has repeated that offense. And the fact that he is generally on the same side on many issues as me and is a warm supporter of Israel doesn’t render him exempt from the criticism he richly deserves about this.

As for those who will dismiss this as just a joke, I’m afraid I have to point out there are some topics that just aren’t funny. It is an axiom of political combat that the first person to call someone a Nazi always loses. Call Bloomberg what you like, but to portray him as a Nazi simply crosses a line that no responsible person should even approach. That Beck finds it impossible to engage in political debate without behaving in this manner tells us all we need to know about him.

Beck owes Bloomberg an apology. So does the NRA. Just as important, they owe supporters of Second Amendment rights an apology for debasing the debate and undermining their cause in this manner.

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Mayor Anthony Weiner?

When a popular Democratic politician leaves office under the cloud of scandal and disgrace, the foremost question on his mind is when–not if–the media will begin reconstructing his career for him. There was the lionized Bill Clinton, who was impeached. Then there was former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, whose rehabilitation included a CNN show and a regular spot in Slate, where he proved to be an utterly conventional polemicist and shallow political thinker.

And now we have the effort by the New York Times to resuscitate Anthony Weiner, whose congressional career was marked by erratic public temper tantrums and an inability to control himself or the volume of his voice. He left Congress after being caught in a sex scandal involving a college girl, and then falsely accused conservatives like Andrew Breitbart of making the story up. At every step in the scandal Weiner chose the least honorable path. Before the scandal ended his congressional term, Weiner was considered by some to be a favorite for the next New York City mayoral election. Now, two years after the scandal, he says he still wants to be mayor, and may in fact run for the Democratic nomination this year for the fall general election. Could he actually win?

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When a popular Democratic politician leaves office under the cloud of scandal and disgrace, the foremost question on his mind is when–not if–the media will begin reconstructing his career for him. There was the lionized Bill Clinton, who was impeached. Then there was former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, whose rehabilitation included a CNN show and a regular spot in Slate, where he proved to be an utterly conventional polemicist and shallow political thinker.

And now we have the effort by the New York Times to resuscitate Anthony Weiner, whose congressional career was marked by erratic public temper tantrums and an inability to control himself or the volume of his voice. He left Congress after being caught in a sex scandal involving a college girl, and then falsely accused conservatives like Andrew Breitbart of making the story up. At every step in the scandal Weiner chose the least honorable path. Before the scandal ended his congressional term, Weiner was considered by some to be a favorite for the next New York City mayoral election. Now, two years after the scandal, he says he still wants to be mayor, and may in fact run for the Democratic nomination this year for the fall general election. Could he actually win?

The forces working against Weiner are well known. He is a charmless boor, a bully and an egomaniac and a tactless geyser of spite and malice. But there are also forces working in his favor that seem to give him a chance.

As the Times article notes, Weiner has a campaign war chest of $4.3 million plus the $1.5 million in public matching funds he would get if he runs. But even more beneficial to Weiner’s chances is the weak field currently in the race, especially on the Democratic side. The presumptive favorite is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. But current Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been sending the clear message that he would prefer someone with more stature and perhaps a national profile, and has been undermining Quinn from the very beginning.

A bigger weakness for Quinn is geographical: Quinn represents the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chelsea, SoHo, and Greenwich Village. In the world of New York City identity politics, she might as well represent Guam. Ever since Weiner left the stage, there has been chatter about an opening for a candidate “from the boroughs”–New York-speak for an ethnic outer-borough candidate who can appeal to minorities. Weiner was presumed to be that candidate, being a Jewish congressman representing a district in Brooklyn and Queens. (Weiner’s old seat was won in a special election by a Republican after the intervention of Ed Koch on his behalf.)

A look back at the last half-century or so of New York mayors tells you that Quinn would be an outlier. Bloomberg came from the business world. He was preceded by the Brooklyn-born Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani was preceded by David Dinkins, a Manhattanite but one with deep ties to the city’s black community. Before Dinkins came the late Ed Koch, who was born in the Bronx and served four terms in Congress representing the Westchester suburbs. Koch was preceded by Abe Beame, a product of the Brooklyn political machine. Before Beame was the liberal Republican John Lindsay, the first truly post-Tammany city mayor who won a three-way race that included William F. Buckley.

It’s conceivable that even a badly flawed candidate from the boroughs could give Quinn a run for her money. But aside from whether he would win, a run for mayor would be a logical move. On this, Weiner benefits from what would seem to be a weakness: he doesn’t really know how to do anything else. From his perspective, he isn’t exactly flush with career options, so taking a shot at public redemption has quite the upside.

Additionally, as the article notes, if Weiner runs and loses, he could always run again having already used this election to repent his sins and excise the stench of scandal. Of course, there is always the possibility that an unlikable, obnoxious politician with a history of dishonesty and self-destruction like Weiner would just get right back in his own way, further embarrassing his family and cementing his reputation as a toxic has-been.

If Weiner decides the rewards far outweigh the risks of running, Quinn shouldn’t get too confident: often the most dangerous opponent is the one who thinks he has nothing to lose.

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What Would Montesquieu Make of Modern New York?

In the wake of the latest New York City corruption scandal, the New York Times convened a panel to answer an interesting question: Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains, to our knowledge, above and disconnected from the sea of corruption around him; it is because rich politicians have less need for the money of others, and are therefore less corruptible?

Leave aside the low expectations–Bloomberg may be many things, but at least he’s no crook–and the liberal goggles through which the Times views the issue–Mitt Romney’s honest wealth makes him cold and out of touch; Bloomberg’s honest wealth makes him honest–and there is actually a very old question here about politics and the ideal nature of republican governance.

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In the wake of the latest New York City corruption scandal, the New York Times convened a panel to answer an interesting question: Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains, to our knowledge, above and disconnected from the sea of corruption around him; it is because rich politicians have less need for the money of others, and are therefore less corruptible?

Leave aside the low expectations–Bloomberg may be many things, but at least he’s no crook–and the liberal goggles through which the Times views the issue–Mitt Romney’s honest wealth makes him cold and out of touch; Bloomberg’s honest wealth makes him honest–and there is actually a very old question here about politics and the ideal nature of republican governance.

Montesquieu believed that because bad laws and their consequences are so difficult to undo or unravel in a democracy, representative government required that its elected practitioners possess virtue. This may sound obvious, but he wasn’t arguing the benefit of virtuous leaders; he was arguing the necessity of them for the system to survive. Virtue, to a monarch, was highly preferable to the alternative but its absence, in his mind, did not fatally undermine the functionality of the government. He also made the seemingly counterintuitive point that men who make laws to which they are not obligated have less need for virtue. (This is highly debatable, and something on which I think he was mistaken. But his underlying point is sound: self-interest begets temptation.)

He restates this explicitly in his collection My Thoughts: “What usually makes a man wicked is that he finds himself in circumstances in which he is more influenced by the utility of committing crimes than by the shame or danger in committing them.” Virtue–offering shame in this case–is a form of rationality. Earlier in that passage Montesquieu also makes an eloquent case for the kind of Western democracy that would later emerge and prove him prescient in the cauldron of the 20th century:

The laws make good and bad citizens. The same spirit of timidity that makes a man exacting in his duties in one republic will make a man cunning in another. The same spirit of boldness that makes a man love his Country and sacrifice himself for it in one State will make a highway robber in another.

The system matters. So, as Montesquieu might say were he to visit modern-day America: What’s the deal with New York? The city, like the state and many others, is high on democracy but seemingly low on virtue. Bloomberg, who governs much like a classic British aristocrat buoyed by his wealth and noblesse oblige, appears to possess the virtue his colleagues lack but is somewhat mystified by the self-rule they practice. What gives?

As one might imagine, the answer is complex. In part, the corruption around the mayor is encouraged, but by no means justified of course, by the distortions to the democratic process; the city might gain from more freedom, not less. State Senator Malcolm Smith, at the center of the current corruption scandal, wanted to bribe his way onto the mayoral ballot which, thanks to campaign finance law, was the destination, not the journey, as Bob McManus explains in the New York Post today:

But the ballot, not the office, was where Smith’s real opportunity lay. Running for office brings access to the city’s six-dollars-for-one, taxpayer-funded campaign-contribution-matching system.

Clearly Smith was in a position to deliver state money to others — see above, Bharara’s complaint — so why not use that influence to attract “contributions” from corrupt favor-seekers? Multiplied by the match, that would create a pot of cash that an imaginative fellow like Malcolm Smith would have no trouble putting to beneficial use.

There is also the question of defining corruption. It’s true that Bloomberg hasn’t been caught doing anything that would land him in prison, but is that where we draw the moral line too? Bloomberg’s vast riches enabled him to skirt the normal party process and shape-shift politically to ease his path to office in the way citizens of more modest means could never hope to. Once in power, he used his private wealth to essentially buy the acquiescence and silence of those who might otherwise be tempted to criticize or challenge him, as Sol Stern and Fred Siegel explained in COMMENTARY in 2011:

The difference is that Bloomberg was able to channel his private philanthropic giving each year to hundreds of the city’s arts and social-service groups with the reasonable expectation that the gratitude these groups felt to their patron would extend to their patron’s political causes. At the very least, it would make the groups and their influential boards of trustees think twice before criticizing the mayor’s policies.

The vehicle for Bloomberg’s gifts was the Carnegie Corporation. During the 2005 election year alone, Bloomberg donated $20 million to Carnegie, which in turn distributed the mayor’s largesse to 400 arts and social-service groups in gifts of $10,000 to $100,000. Officially, the donor to Carnegie was listed as “anonymous,” but as New York Times reporter Sam Roberts pointed out, all the groups were aware that the generous benefactor also had a day job at City Hall. “That Mr. Bloomberg is the source of the Carnegie contributions has long been an open secret and cannot help but benefit the mayor politically,” Roberts wrote.

His political shape-shifting also meant Bloomberg was less constrained by principle and less accountable for his actions in office. He also was prevented by law from serving a third term, so he simply had the law changed so he could stay in power. That may make him more ethical than Malcolm Smith, but that’s a low bar–and it’s far less clear that Montesquieu would approve.

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Why Biden Won’t Fold on the Gun Ban

Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

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Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

The vice president is following a script heavy on emotion and symbolism and light on practicality. Of course, that’s national politics much of the time. But it hasn’t had much success thus far on the gun control debate. The best example of this failure is not Reid’s decision to pull the gun ban from a bill that might otherwise pass the Senate and at least enact some additional regulation of gun purchases, but rather what happened when New York State passed a gun bun.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed to emotion after the Newtown tragedy and created a crisis atmosphere to force through a restrictive gun ban. The bill Cuomo proudly signed was a perfectly contemptible example of bad governing. He would like it to go on his resume has having taken action on an issue of import, but it really attests to how ill-served voters are to have someone like Cuomo represent them in office. At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson explains:

The NY Gun law effectively banned the purchase of new pistols because pistols are not generally made to hold 7-round magazines, and even if some manufacturers would produce such magazines for the NY market, it still presented a constitutional problem:  Under the Heller and McDonald cases, the state cannot effectively ban handguns either outright or by setting up irrational and onerous obstacles.

Such a law can only be written and supported by someone who doesn’t know much about handguns, constitutional law, or reasonable policy enforcement. So says Cuomo himself, about his own bill:

But after weeks of criticism from gun owners, Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday that he would seek to ease the restriction, which he said had proved unworkable even before it was scheduled to take effect on April 15.

The gun-control law, approved in January, banned the sale of magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition. But, Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday, seven-round magazines are not widely manufactured. And, although the new gun law provided an exemption for the use of 10-round magazines at firing ranges and competitions, it did not provide a legal way for gun owners to purchase such magazines.

The obvious question is: Couldn’t Cuomo have found all this out before signing the bill? And the obvious answer is: Absolutely. But Cuomo saw an opportunity to “do something” and took it. Which brings us back to Biden. The vice president and Bloomberg gave a press conference surrounded by family of victims of the Newtown massacre and urged the political class to pass a gun ban in the name of those victims. Isn’t this exactly what ran aground both in New York and in the U.S. Senate?

It is. But Biden has much more of a stake in passing hearty gun control than even Cuomo, and certainly than his boss in the White House or Harry Reid. Biden was tasked by President Obama with leading the way on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut. Biden is trying to build his own White House resume, independent of Obama’s, because while Obama never has to face the voters again, Biden may want to run for president to succeed Obama. To do that, he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a schmoozer. The only way Biden has a shot is by establishing competence and authority. Biden, unlike Obama, Reid, and even, to a lesser extent, Cuomo, has too much riding on this losing hand to fold.

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Bloomberg’s Soda Grab and the Administrative State

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides at the NYC Department of Health seem to have been caught unawares Monday when Judge Milton Tingling Jr. struck down their “Portion Cap” ban on large sizes of sweetened beverages. They probably realized the mayor’s signature nanny-state initiative was unpopular with ordinary New Yorkers; but lulled, perhaps, by favorable press, they hadn’t realized how vulnerable it was on legal grounds as well.

In the short term, Judge Tingling’s decision is a delicious win for consumer liberty against the Napoleonic New Bossiness streak in the city’s chief executive. As has been pointed out, however, the judge would not necessarily have struck the regulations down had they been adopted by the New York City Council rather than imposed by the mayor’s appointees through administrative fiat; he wasn’t recognizing any general right of individuals to decide for themselves what foods to consume. Moreover, the judge’s diagnosis of the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” because they were riddled by so many exceptions is at best double-edged from opponents’ standpoint; would we really prefer rules redrafted so as to allow fewer exceptions?

But yesterday’s decision should cheer us for other reasons. It holds the Gotham administration accountable for overstepping the separation of powers, an important principle in the safeguarding of liberty. (In a profile of Judge Tingling, the New York Times notes that he’s been skeptical of government claims to power in a number of other cases as well.)

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides at the NYC Department of Health seem to have been caught unawares Monday when Judge Milton Tingling Jr. struck down their “Portion Cap” ban on large sizes of sweetened beverages. They probably realized the mayor’s signature nanny-state initiative was unpopular with ordinary New Yorkers; but lulled, perhaps, by favorable press, they hadn’t realized how vulnerable it was on legal grounds as well.

In the short term, Judge Tingling’s decision is a delicious win for consumer liberty against the Napoleonic New Bossiness streak in the city’s chief executive. As has been pointed out, however, the judge would not necessarily have struck the regulations down had they been adopted by the New York City Council rather than imposed by the mayor’s appointees through administrative fiat; he wasn’t recognizing any general right of individuals to decide for themselves what foods to consume. Moreover, the judge’s diagnosis of the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” because they were riddled by so many exceptions is at best double-edged from opponents’ standpoint; would we really prefer rules redrafted so as to allow fewer exceptions?

But yesterday’s decision should cheer us for other reasons. It holds the Gotham administration accountable for overstepping the separation of powers, an important principle in the safeguarding of liberty. (In a profile of Judge Tingling, the New York Times notes that he’s been skeptical of government claims to power in a number of other cases as well.)

Under separation of powers as generally understood at the time of the Framers, an executive agency cannot enact new legislation on its own, that being a role constitutionally reserved for the legislature. Especially during the Progressive Era and New Deal, these barriers were eroded as administrative agencies claimed a power to issue regulations that looked more and more like traditional legislation, under powers deemed to have been delegated by the legislature. Still, there are some limits, both under the U.S. Constitution and in New York (which under a 1987 case called Boreali v. Axelrod applies its own, quirky standard in evaluating whether a regulation oversteps the separation of powers.) And those limits to delegation were at the heart of the soda case.

The New York City Health Department was asserting a breathtakingly broad definition of its powers, on the grounds that successive city charters give it sweeping authority to address all matters relating to health. Under the interpretation advanced by Bloomberg’s lawyers, this vague charter language would empower the department to issue pretty much whatever diktats it pleases for New Yorkers to obey on any topic somehow related to advancing health. (They did concede that the department could not take actions that were otherwise unconstitutional–say, suspending freedom of the press or quartering troops in civilian homes during peacetime.)

Against this, Judge Tingling reasoned (as have judges in other cases) that the charter language could not have been meant to grant the department an absolute and monarch-like authority over a subject populace; natural and reasonable limits must be read into it. What are the natural and reasonable limits to the authority of a public health agency? Looking at cases where the agency’s authority to act had been upheld, the judge noted instances of emergencies, particularly those relating to epidemics of contagious or communicable diseases. Those are indeed the traditional functions at the core of a public health agency; saving us from voluntarily assumed dietary choices that may very gradually undermine our health is not among them. So if the agency wishes to assert powers in these new areas, it must ask the legislature for new authority.

In that legal finding is the germ of a much-needed rebuke to some actors in the public-health movement, who have taken the centuries of moral and practical authority originally built up by their colleagues from the fight against epidemic infectious disease and dubiously sought to apply it to a dozen other health-related questions of life and lifestyle, including not only doughnuts, soft drinks and salty snacks but also such supposed “disease vectors” as gun ownership and overreliance on cars for commuting.

It’s about time someone told them no. Let’s thank Judge Tingling for doing that.

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Bloomberg Spends His Time on Soda, Not Record Homelessness

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a press conference to discuss a judge’s decision to strike down his infamous soda ban. The mayor told reporters he was confident the ban would be upheld by higher courts, and explained why the soda ban has been such an integral part of his administration: “It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to try and save lives.” 

On that point, I agree with Mayor Bloomberg. His administration should be doing everything it can to save the lives of its citizens. Would a ban on soda (he calls it “portion control”) actually save lives? The research indicates that the soda industry is already suffering. Today the New Yorker quoted a soda industry statistic showing a 12-percent decrease in non-energy drink sales for the carbonated soft drink industry since 2005. Despite that decline, obesity rates have continued to climb. Attempts to institute taxes on soda have proven futile in fights against obesity and there has been little successful research conducted into if reduced soda intake would effectively reduce BMI (body mass index). Putting aside the egregious violations of individual liberty that this and many other Bloomberg pet projects commit, the soda ban would also likely achieve few, if any, of its aims.

If Bloomberg were so interested in saving lives, he should be focusing on how to do so within the bounds of his powers as mayor–powers that wouldn’t be challenged in court and fought over long after he leaves office. In 2004, shortly after becoming mayor, Bloomberg delivered a speech outlining his administration’s goals, including promising to lower the city’s shelter population as well as tackling other issues related to the homeless. The Atlantic Cities reports on how that turned out:

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On Monday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a press conference to discuss a judge’s decision to strike down his infamous soda ban. The mayor told reporters he was confident the ban would be upheld by higher courts, and explained why the soda ban has been such an integral part of his administration: “It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to try and save lives.” 

On that point, I agree with Mayor Bloomberg. His administration should be doing everything it can to save the lives of its citizens. Would a ban on soda (he calls it “portion control”) actually save lives? The research indicates that the soda industry is already suffering. Today the New Yorker quoted a soda industry statistic showing a 12-percent decrease in non-energy drink sales for the carbonated soft drink industry since 2005. Despite that decline, obesity rates have continued to climb. Attempts to institute taxes on soda have proven futile in fights against obesity and there has been little successful research conducted into if reduced soda intake would effectively reduce BMI (body mass index). Putting aside the egregious violations of individual liberty that this and many other Bloomberg pet projects commit, the soda ban would also likely achieve few, if any, of its aims.

If Bloomberg were so interested in saving lives, he should be focusing on how to do so within the bounds of his powers as mayor–powers that wouldn’t be challenged in court and fought over long after he leaves office. In 2004, shortly after becoming mayor, Bloomberg delivered a speech outlining his administration’s goals, including promising to lower the city’s shelter population as well as tackling other issues related to the homeless. The Atlantic Cities reports on how that turned out:

In January 2013, for the first time in recorded history, the New York homeless shelter system housed an average nightly population of more than 50,000 people. That number is up 19 percent in the past year alone, up 61 percent since Bloomberg took office, and it does not include victims of Hurricane Sandy, who are housed separately.

The Bloomberg administration has blamed the economic crisis for the record numbers of homeless citizens in city shelters, but City Limits took Bloomberg and his administration for task on their wavering commitment to solving the problem, which has now turned into a crisis:

In the final chapter of his tenure, Bloomberg and the Department of Homeless Services appear worn out on the issue, maybe downhearted by the size of the problem. A sense of helplessness has grown where there was once a hint of notable successes. For all the brash ambition in the mayor’s final state of the city speech in February, homelessness didn’t merit a mention.

The Mayor’s staff and press office have spent a considerable amount of time and energy promoting a soda ban that the research suggests will be ineffective. Instead of spending the city’s limited resources in this manner, Bloomberg would have better served the city of New York by upholding his promise to homeless New Yorkers to get them off the street and into homes. The next mayoral election is in November. If Bloomberg decides to punt the issue to his successor, New York City’s homeless will spend at least one more winter in the cold.

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