Yesterday's City Council testimony by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg—part of the mayor's "Smoke-Free Workplace" campaign, which would impose a a California-style ban on smoking in both restaurants and bars—may have raised emotions on all sides of the issue. But for one New York voter, the strongest emotion of all was remorse.
I'm not really sure what I expected when I pulled the lever for Mike Bloomberg in the New York City mayoral elections nearly a year ago. Looking back on it, I'm not even sure I expected him to win, considering his 16-point deficit in the polls just a week before the election.
More than anything else, I wanted to at least register my distaste for the opportunistic, weasely Mark Green, whose desperation to live in Gracie Mansion was even more off-putting than Al Gore's lust for the White House.
But Bloomberg did win, thanks in no small part to a last-minute push made possible by his $50 million campaign war chest. Following in the footsteps of a man notorious for his much-maligned quality-of-life campaigns, Bloomberg—an alleged Republican in a Democrat town—was set to run the country's biggest city, and try to turn it into a nanny state more tightly controlled than anything his predecessor, or his state's U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton, could ever imagine.
Ultimately, Mike Bloomberg's problem is that he hasn't spent enough time in the real world. Even though, or perhaps because, he is fantastically wealthy (ranking 29 on the 2002 Forbes 400 list of richest Americans) Bloomberg is able to entertain a worldview not dissimilar to that of an "earnest young person" who sets out to change the world by hanging out at subway stations collecting signature to save the snail-darter or traveling the world with papier-mache puppets to protest capitalism. When he talks about smoking, "Mayor Mike" sounds like a 7th-grader who's just gotten his first in-school lecture about the dangers of tobacco and decided to rush home and warn his Pall Mall-sucking mom.
"I think anyone who smokes is crazy," Bloomberg has been heard to declare. He essentially accuses City Council members who vote against him of murder—or something pretty damn close. Indeed, his morals are so outraged by the thought of anyone smoking tobacco that it's even clouded the business sense that made him wealthy. (Bloomberg's thoughts on marijuana, though, are a different story.) Testifying yesterday before the City Council, Bloomberg actually said, "If I owned a bar I would love to have this legislation passed because I would be making money based on how much alcohol is consumed, and if people are not smoking they will probably be drinking more."
Well, yes, people would be drinking more. At home, where they can fire up a Camel without being hassled.
But it's not just his ludicrous campaign to ban smoking in bars and restaurants that makes me regret my vote. Time after time, Bloomberg seems determined to out-Rudy Rudy, a man who took an out-of-control city and made it a beacon of urban management.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, just wants to make New York a beacon of micro-management.
Take his noise crusade. Almost any civilized human being will agree that the inventor of car alarms should be run over by an ice cream truck. But just as Bloomberg's desire to stamp out smoking in bars misses one of the fundamental natures of the business, so too does his so-called Operation Silent Night (which could theoretically let cops ticket people for talking too loudly) fail to grasp part of the charm of New York City—namely, that it's a loud place. This when the city's subways regularly blast through what the strap-hanging mayor considers acceptable noise levels.
And it's not just the infringement of personal liberty issues, like the right to smoke in a bar or hoot a little too loudly upon exiting it, that make Bloomberg's management of the city disturbing. Bloomberg has made clear his intention to use taxpayer money not only to finance abortions but also to force doctors in public hospitals to learn the procedure even if they are ethically opposed to it. This plan would "make pro-life taxpayers finance what they believe to be the slaughter of innocents," as feminist writer Wendy McElroy noted, and even more disurbingly, would violate doctors' long-recognized rights to their own ethical positions on the matter.
I guess I was a fool to believe that Bloomberg—a former Democrat who changed party affiliations to run for office—would become anything but what he is today. After all, the signs were there; The New Republic reported long before election day on the future mayor's penchant for micromanagement, and employees at his media empire have long had to cope with filtering software more sensitive and politically correct than a Smith College undergrad. I can't take back my vote, and I sure as hell (er, heck, as the Bloomberg computers would make me put it) wouldn't want to have given it to Green. But considering that he is in charge of a city that took a hit of 3,000 lives and $100 billion last September, doesn't Bloomberg have more important things to worry about than how his city's citizens choose to blow off steam?