New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has been elected to a third term, despite the two-term limits that New Yorkers voted for twice. His biggest challenge was persuading the City Council to overrule the voters, but he managed that trick thanks to his absolute mastery of money and politics in the Big Apple. And on election day, even his $100 million campaign barely overcame popular anger over the repeal of term limits.
Personally, I wish the Council had just given Bloomberg another term. Don’t get rid of term limits. Just do like the Romans used to do in an emergency. Name Bloomberg “dictator,” an extraconstitutional position with extraordinary authority but limited duration. Then you keep the rules, you just make an exception. And I’m sure Bloomberg would be willing to be addressed as Dictator for the duration of the emergency powers.
Instead, Bloomberg used his money and connections to get the Council to allow all the city officeholders to serve three terms, instead of the two that the people had twice voted for.
He said it was because of the financial crisis -- just as Rudolph Giuliani had suggested that the city shouldn't elect a new mayor in the aftermath of 9/11. Of course, as Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute has shown, New York’s revenues rose 41 percent between 2000 and 2007, while spending increased even faster, so it’s not clear why he’s the man you need in a financial crisis.
But the plutocrat mayor used his personal wealth -- and the city’s tax dollars -- to pressure people to support his bid to stay in office. Last year the New York Times reported:
The mayor and his top aides have asked leaders of organizations that receive his largess to express their support for his third-term bid by testifying during public hearings and by personally appealing to undecided members of the City Council. …
The requests have put the groups in an unusual and uncomfortable position, several employees of the groups said. City Hall has not made any explicit threats, they said, but city officials have extraordinary leverage over the groups’ finances. Many have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropic giving and millions of dollars from city contracts overseen by his staff.
Sounds like a lot of overlap between his personal philanthropy and the city’s own spending, and the Times doesn’t seem to find anything odd about that aspect of the story. And then the New York Post found that the mayor’s tax-funded “slush fund” was being enlisted in the campaign, too:
Mayor Bloomberg showered cash on key City Council members with the power to kill a term-limits extension bill in the last year.
Members of the council’s Government Operations Committee have received millions from Hizzoner’s slush fund, a once-secret pot of taxpayer money the mayor doles out to favored lawmakers for their pet causes….
Five members of the committee secured $3.1 million from the $5.3 million stash in Bloomberg’s 2008 budget. Only three other council members received funds from the mayor in the last year.
And the New York Daily News noted that everyone working for Bloomberg at the City Council hearings is on Mayor Mike’s payroll one way or another:
There was the mayor’s legal counsel and the city’s corporation counsel, both paid with tax dollars, testifying that Bloomberg can and should get another term.
There were aides from the mayor’s Community Assistance Unit, who rounded up pro-Bloomberg speakers from the community and religious and civic groups they work with all day long – many of which thrive on city grants.
There were the dozens of “Ready, Willing and Able” guys from the Doe Fund, which gets funding from the city – and used its vans to bring people to the hearing.
That's why -- to return to my Roman theme -- union boss Dennis Rivera came to praise Bloomberg, not to bury him, at a recent campaign event. Hail Bloomberg, Magister Populi, Magister Urbi.