NYC's mayoral politics as municipal theater
Early in his mayoralty, Michael Bloomberg tended to sound matter-of-fact when others expected him to show emotion or urgency.
This week, starting his final year in office, Bloomberg stood characteristically apart from the region's other elected officials when he refrained from criticizing, even mildly, the House Republicans' postponement of a vote on a $60 billion superstorm Sandy disaster aid plan.
"You know, democracy is something that takes a while to come together and to get the results," Bloomberg said after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) assured him in a phone conversation Wednesday that a vote on aid will still take place this month. "As long as it turns out that we get the monies that we think are appropriate . . . all's well that ends well."
We're talking here about municipal theater, New York City style. In it, the city's voters tend to elect mayors with strikingly different acting methods from those of their predecessors. Bloomberg's stage presence differed from Rudy Giuliani's, who himself offered a dramatic departure from David Dinkins. And so on, for Ed Koch, Abe Beame, John Lindsay and Robert Wagner.
Based just on this latest funding fight, it looks as if the pattern will hold for whichever candidate gets to succeed Bloomberg after the November election.
Even former City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. -- hardly known for caffeinated demeanor -- offered a heap of bombast in joining the anti-Boehner chorus, calling the postponement "a travesty of epic proportions." Thompson, the Democratic nominee who lost to Bloomberg in 2009, has declared himself a candidate again.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who showed a cordial working relationship with Bloomberg before commencing her bid for mayor, went on CNN to blast another legislative leader of the rival party.
"What message has Speaker Boehner sent here?" she said. "That people who are the victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, things of that nature, natural disasters, that we become pawns in a political game?" Someone whose government career has been spent in a legislative body knows that this is the standard language of inter-government lobbying.
Also, we heard Lhota push the alarm button after a Nassau judge voided the MTA payroll tax. If the decision is upheld, Lhota warned, "that would be a catastrophe for the services the MTA provides. It would be a catastrophe for the entire region and the entire state's economy that depends on it." (Just add "epic proportions" and you've got Thompson on the latest Sandy move.)
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a Democratic mayoral candidate, called Boehner's delay "unconscionable." But he's also added a proposal of his own to the Sandy-funding fray, calling on Wednesday for a new aid program to restore storm-ravaged homes that could be reimbursed with federal funds.
Next New Year's, when the stage directions finally say "exeunt Bloomberg & Co.," a very different character, still unnamed, will make a dramatic entrance.