In electing New York City mayors, it's all about-face

Four former New York city mayors assemble at Four former New York city mayors assemble at the 20th anniversary of the "Power Breakfast" at New York's Regency Hotel. From left are John Lindsay, Abe Beame, Ed Koch and David Dinkins. (March 8, 1994) Photo Credit: AP

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

Every New York City mayor draws intense public inspection -- and ends up with a unique and lasting caricature. Crafted by pundits and fellow pols, this public image is based, fairly or not, on personal style, policy and circumstance.

Remarkably, every mayor's public profile has seemed to differ to a dramatic degree from that of his predecessor, a rule that has held true for at least a generation.

"Most people can't change themselves. They look for change on the outside -- and the easiest thing to change is their leader," said Mitchell Moss, professor at NYU's Wagner School, who at times advised Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "It's for the same reason people dye their hair -- they want a new look."

So if voters look for the antidote to a long-term incumbent, try imagining an ideal candidate to succeed Bloomberg. How about a personally bankrupt, chain-smoking, retired first baseman who endorses fried food and gun ownership and points populist fingers at Wall Street?

Nobody vying for the job matches that description.

But the problem takes care of itself. In every case in the crowded field, the candidate's background and demeanor seems to differ in key ways from Bloomberg.

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That isn't difficult, when you consider that Bloomberg won office post-9/11 as a divorced Boston-accented business legend who'd never campaigned before.

It is to be seen how, not whether, the new mayor departs from Bloomberg.

Democrats debate stop-and-frisk policies, private employment laws, school governance and business needs, all with an eye to changes.

Even the lone self-made billionaire in the race, John Catsimatidis, who, like Bloomberg, switched from Democrat to Republican, cuts a wholly different profile.

If you don't think Bloomberg differed from Rudy Giuliani, who endorsed him in 2001, consider that the current mayor overhauled Giuliani's emergency-management protocols, scrapped the city's solid-waste plan, canceled tax cuts, hiked the property tax and scrapped a controversial "decency commission." The new police commissioner, Ray Kelly, reshuffled his department.

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These departures emerged in 2007 while Giuliani was running for president. Bloomberg said his successor wouldn't inherit a big deficit as he did.

Former Giuliani deputy Joseph Lhota -- now running for mayor -- criticized the comments as revisionist history and said "profligate spending" by the Bloomberg administration has caused long-term budget gaps.

Giuliani's changes from predecessor David Dinkins' one-term tenure are the subject of numerous books and commentaries.

The recent death of three-term mayor Ed Koch brought recollections of a shoot-from-the-lip style that contrasted markedly with that of predecessor Abe Beame -- the unimposing accountant and clubhouse Democrat who succeeded a charismatic Republican, John Lindsay.

By tradition, in this kind of election year, opposites of the incumbent attract votes.

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