is in the most existential of political positions: Most voters, according to a recent poll, don’t want him, and yet are unable to defeat him. A majority believe New York City is going in the wrong direction, and a third of respondents could not name anything Bloomberg has done in his 8 years in office. Nevertheless, he faces no significant opposition in November’s election.
This is, of course, because of his money. You can hardly find a purer example than Michael Bloomberg of a politician who bought his job. He was widely forgiven this stark reality because he managed to turn his money into likeability (he was rich but ordinary) for a good part of his first two terms. But now, with the good feelings having faded, he is going on to buy a third term, spending so much dough—$20 million to date
—that nobody without $20 billion of his or her own (and there is no one else in New York City with $20 billion) could reasonably run against him.
There are a number of reasons why Michael Bloomberg—who I voted for the second time he ran, and who I continue to rather like—is in trouble (although not in trouble). But none of these reasons involve a failure of policy (just as poll respondents could not name a Bloomberg accomplishment, I’ll bet, that if asked, they couldn’t have named a failure, either). Rather they are more about an expression of nature.
The first big thing against him is that he changed the rules. The law limited a New York City mayor to two terms. Michael Bloomberg used his financial muscle to make sure everybody who might have opposed his bid to change the law, would not. And they didn’t. He changed this law in such an extra-political fashion, without even a concern for democratic appearances, that he must have known he was going to lose some love. But he had to change the law to keep the job, so you take your lumps, I suppose he figured.
Then the grumpiness. Every week there’s a new story—and they are the most interesting stories in New York City politics—about the mayor dissing some shmoe
who he feels dissed him first. The streak of arrogance and cruelty and easily hurt feelings, which he was so often accused of in his business days, seems to be back.
And then the money. It’s not just that he’s buying his job, but that he didn’t lose any money in the financial collapse. Instead, he made money. That’s not sharing the pain.
This is probably his deepest problem. Not that he’s still Croesus rich, but that the rest of us, feeling awfully blue about no longer being rich (or, even, employed), need someone to blame.
One of the unique things about Michael Bloomberg, who is clearly more capable than any of the oddballs and lightweights that might possibly replace him (most poll respondents, while not liking him, nevertheless say he continues to do a good job), is that we can blame him for everything that has gone wrong, but not have to worry about replacing him. Like a king, sort of.
I never understood why he wanted a third term when he could have left office as the unlikely and accidental mayor who became beloved by all its citizens. But if you can buy something, and if you want it enough, it’s hard not to.
His political calculation now is probably that people will come to like him again precisely because he stayed around when no one wanted him.
It could work.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.