Commentary Magazine


Big Names Still Passing on NYC Mayor’s Race

In a 2009 story about the succession of the Dalai Lama, the New York Times reported that the “search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet.” The Times continued: “Then, the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which — Ah — he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo,” where a young child was found and determined to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Though not quite so fanciful and dramatic, the search for the next mayor of New York City, after two very high-profile mayors who became national figures, sometimes attracts a disproportionate amount of intrigue and suspense. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is alive and well, but he, too, turned his head in an attempt to guide his people to their next leader–and apparently fixed his gaze on Foggy Bottom. The Times reports today:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has long struggled to imagine a successor with the combination of star power, experience and grit to fill his shoes.

But not long ago, he was struck by an inspiration: Hillary Rodham Clinton, the retiring secretary of state.

In a phone call confirmed by three people, Mr. Bloomberg encouraged Mrs. Clinton to consider entering the 2013 mayor’s race, trading international diplomacy for municipal management on the grandest scale. She would, he suggested, be a perfect fit.

Much about the call, which occurred some months ago, remains shrouded in mystery. But Mr. Bloomberg’s overture to the former first lady highlights the level of his anxiety about the current crop of candidates, his eagerness to recruit a replacement who can rival his stature and his determination to become a kingmaker in the political arena he will soon exit.

Bloomberg was famously unwilling to “soon exit” when his term-limited time in office drew to a close, so he had the rules changed to allow him to stay in office. The people needed him, and no one had yet banned large sodas. And it is something of a testament to this unwillingness to let go that Bloomberg wants to choose his successor. But it is also a reasonable concern: the current crop of candidates is surprisingly underwhelming on the Democratic side, and almost literally empty on the Republican side.

New York City Republicans have apparently failed to convince Police Commissioner Ray Kelly–the city’s most popular major figure, and for good reason–to run on the GOP ticket (or run at all). The old Nixon aide Roger Stone used the opening to push conservative commentator and Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp to run. Cupp, like Hillary on the Democratic side, politely but firmly declined. Another GOP possibility is Joe Lhota, who served under Rudy Giuliani and is currently head of the city’s transportation authority, though he lags in early polls to the Democrats, as does former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, a former Democrat who served in the Obama administration who is working to make the party switch to run on the GOP ticket.

Hillary Clinton seems to be laying the groundwork early for a 2016 presidential run, which would preclude her from simultaneously running New York City–a mayoralty that is more akin to running a state with a dash of national security frontline policymaking. The job is a tall order, and Clinton seems to have her heart set on the White House for now. But Bloomberg’s choice of Clinton is revealing; though perhaps Hillary would make a good mayor, Bloomberg chose her for all the wrong reasons. The Times continues: “In Mrs. Clinton, it seems, a mayor known for his sometimes unsparing critiques of those in public life sees a globe-trotting problem solver like himself.”

New Yorkers would no doubt cringe at that sentence. When Bloomberg considers himself a globe-trotting problem solver, what he means is someone who spends a lot of time talking about problems that need solving. In fact, Bloomberg’s biggest weakness as a mayor is that he is not a problem solver. As I wrote in the days after superstorm Sandy, Bloomberg had been warning that inclement weather would cause near-unprecedented storm surges. Yet instead of securing the city’s infrastructure or pushing plans to build storm surge barriers, Bloomberg was content to just be a prophet of doom.

The city of New York thrives when in the hands of real problem solvers–like Giuliani, or Ray Kelly at the NYPD. Giuliani was the embodiment of hardheaded practicality, a seeming contradiction but one that explains what it takes to be mayor of New York. Bloomberg’s legacy is already shaky; the last thing he should be doing is trying to find a Davos schmoozer to fill his shoes.

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