Myths of Michael Bloomberg

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Megan McArdle lived in New York her whole life and I lived there for three months, but she's basically wrong about the successes of Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani.

For most offices, like city council, the Democratic primaries decide the election. That means that there are a lot of extremely powerful interest groups with very powerful electoral machines invested in the primaries. And they are far to the left of both America, and most of New York, which is why City Council meetings tend to sound like the forlorn remnants of a Socialist Worker's Reading Group.

These groups tend to nominate mayoral candidates who are a) fairly far to the left and b) extremely noticeably in hoc to many small interest groups who are not popular with most of the voters. However, a mayoral race is high profile enough that all the people who normally just reflexively vote Democratic will actually know something about the candidate. Like, for example, his name. And what makes the candidate popular with the interest groups almost definitionally makes them unpopular with the broad electorate.

The Republicans, meanwhile, nominate socially moderate, and somewhat fiscally conservative candidates who resonate with the majority of New Yorkers who are not members of a government union or activist group. Hence, Rudy and Mike.

This was true in 1989-1997, the three elections that featured Giuliani as a candidate. But coming up to the 2001 election it stopped being true. The Democratic Party had taken its lumps and ceded that Giuliani had been basically right about crime, about Broken Windows, about some aspects of the welfare state. Mark Green, the liberal Democratic Public Advocate who'd engaged in some epic Beowulf-Grendel clashes with Rudy, won the endorsement of Bill Bratton, Rudy's (estranged) first police commissioner. As David Plotz summed up in a 2001 Green profile:

Green is more practical on policy questions than Republicans will concede. Like most New Yorkers, he has come to realize the hopelessness of the free-spending, chaotic urban liberalism of a generation ago. Giuliani has turned even Democrats who loathe him into imitators… Green now favors welfare reform. He would abolish parole. And he has challenged the teacher's union, the most powerful interest group in New York Democratic politics. Green wants to hold teachers to higher standards, make it easier to fire incompetent teachers, and give principals more power to move teachers.

Yes, Green nearly blew the primary election and gave it to Fernando Ferrer, an absolute special interest candidate and a puppet of Al Sharpton. He still had a 40-point lead over Michael Bloomberg and the numbers didn't really move until 9/11. That started a huge swing to Bloomberg which Green aided by freaking out and saying he would have done as good a job on 9/11 as Rudy. (This seems less offensive six years on.) Giuliani endorsed Bloomberg and his post-9/11 Midas touch gave him the election, narrowly.

Obviously McArdle (and a few million other people) lived through this, but so soon after Karl Rove's adieu it seems worthwhile to point it out. The GOP's lock on Gracie Mansion has less to do with New York's one-party interest group-driven politics than the political serendipity of 9/11, just like Bush's 2002 and 2004 election wins obviously owed more to his "bullhorn moment" and al Qaeda fears than Rove's Shaolin realignment-fu.

More Bloomberg by me here and by Kerry Howley here.

UPDATE: McArdle responds:

Mmmm . . . maybe. I concede that 9/11 had a big impact, but it's more complicated than that. The Democratic primary was supposed to be held on September 11th; one of my friends saw the towers hit as she came out of the voting booth. The primary ended up being held on September 25th, and Green's ultimate win may plausibly be attributed to a rightward shift post-9/11. The nomination in 2005 went to… Fernando Ferrer.

Most of this sounds right, although one reason Green nearly lost the nomination to Ferrer was his September 26th endorsement of Giuliani's plan to extend his term of office. Green was set to crush Ferrer in the runoff election. Remember, the two candidates eliminated in the first round of voting were bland New Democrat Alan Hevesi and Queens conservative Democrat Peter Vallone. Their voters weren't about to jump to Ferrer.

Anyway, I'm only dredging all of this up because it's tough to isolate the effect 9/11 had on politics. In retrospect Karl Rove's brilliance and John Kerry's bumbling and the pushes to give the GOP an advantage on education (NCLB) and health care (Medicard Part D) issues look, in retrospect, to have mattered less than the 9/11 effect.

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  1. They need to bring back Ed Koch. Not the real one, mind you, but the Family Guy cartoon version…

    Beas-terds…

  2. Sorry Dave, you’re wrong. As someone who lived in NYC for the Rudy years, 9/11, and the Bloomberg/Green election, I have to agree with McArdle.

    Mark Green, even if he technically espoused GOP-esque policy points, was known as a wacky Democrat already and acts like it when in public view. Bloomberg was a boring, charisma-less douche, but I voted for him solely because he wasn’t Mark Green (or Ferrer, another nutcase). Please note that his superdeluxe nanny impulse was not in view at the time.

    Most New Yorkers like to vote Democrat and burnish their liberal credentials and street cred, but when it comes down to it, they vote GOP for mayor because that’s where the real policy comes from and the GOP candidates seem to be the only sane ones (whether this is true or not is debatable).

    All the wealthy people with apartments on East End Avenue or Central Park West who want to go walk their dog at 11 at night may talk like a Democrat, but for mayor it’s time to vote for people like Rudy.

  3. I’ve been thinking that a good measure for the health of the United States is how much or little non New Yorkers have to care about New York politics. When we can say ‘not at all’, we must be near Nirvana.

  4. But JasonL! New York City is America’s City! And Rudy Giuliani is America’s Mayor!! 😉

  5. it’s true, we are better than you!

    but seriously, mark green’s biggest weakness is that he is mark green. his public persona is basically the most obnoxious mix of someone like chuck schumer and kathie lee gifford.

    but yeah no one outside of new york should really give a shit about “america’s mayor.” speaking of which, what fucking protoplasm came up with that?

  6. “Most New Yorkers like to vote Democrat and burnish their liberal credentials and street cred . . .”

    Do the others like to “vote Republic”?

    Why does Episiarch hate good grammar? Why did Joe McCarthy?

  7. It is perhaps useful to bear in mind that New York races are not, strictly speaking, two-party affairs. Thanks to fusion system, candidates can run on several party lines, and that’s proven important to every non-Democrat elected since Fiorello LaGuardia ended his reign as the last representative of the anti-Tammany Republican Party. Giulliani ran three times not only as a Republican, but on the Liberal Party line.

    John Lindsay was elected as a Republican and a Liberal in ’65, lost the Republican line in ’69, and yet was reelected as a Liberal in a three-way race that year. Vinnie Impellitteri had earlier won the race in 1950 on the one-off “Experience Party” ticket after Tammany denied him the Democratic line.

    And Bloomberg had support in both of his elections as the candidate of the Independence Party — in 2001, the votes he polled on the Independence line were greater than the difference between himself and Green.

    And it should be noted that Koch, who always had conservative leanings (going back to endorsing Lindsay in ’65 even while he, Koch, was serving as a Democratic district leader) won reelection in ’81 as both the Democratic AND the Republican candidate.

  8. Oh, Mark Green was so AWFUL. Those of us who lived through that campaign can be forgiven for rejecting him based solely on personality, or lack thereof. I voted for Bloomberg that year. By the time he came up for re-election four years later, I had conveniently made the decision to never vote again; and it’s worked well for me so far.

  9. And Bloomberg had support in both of his elections as the candidate of the Independence Party — in 2001, the votes he polled on the Independence line were greater than the difference between himself and Green.

    Not only did his margin of victory on the Independence Party line, but in 2005 47% of the Black community didn’t vote Democrat and voted for Bloomberg. I don’t think Bloomberg’s victory can be seen in traditional “party” terms as the Black/independent alliance and the grassroots movement which produced it were very much in play – For more on the Bloomberg Story read an article by the person who ran both his indpeendent campaigns, Jacqueline Salit http://www.independentvoting.org/Bloomberg.html

  10. There is no GOP lock on Gracie mansion. The GOP does not live there.
    Mr. Bloomberg, a lifelong democrat before deciding to run on a GOP ticket, has renounced the GOP and said he is an independent (which everyone knew anyway).
    It is a bit hard to tar a pragmatist like Bloomberg with the true blue GOP brush, and espeically of the Guiliani kind.

  11. There is no GOP lock on Gracie mansion.

    No, but one can hope that voters see what a complete disgrace the City Council has become and continue to elect mayors who at least give lip service to opposing some of their more outrageous power-grabs.

  12. but yeah no one outside of new york should really give a shit about “america’s mayor.” speaking of which, what fucking protoplasm came up with that?

    New Yorkers.

  13. New Yorkers.

    Yeah, right. Newsflash: New Yorkers don’t a shit about the rest of America 🙂

  14. don’t GIVE … preview dammit

  15. Yeah, right. Newsflash: New Yorkers don’t a shit about the rest of America 🙂

    No, they love America – most are just only dimly aware that they aren’t the entirety of it. 🙂

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