What won't matter after mayor's race ends
Consider the "M" word.
Somebody in pundit-land will undoubtedly proclaim a "mandate" if, as pollsters predict, Bill de Blasio wins the mayoralty on Tuesday by a large margin over Joe Lhota.
The word has a nice ring. But count John LoCicero, longtime close adviser to the late Mayor Ed Koch, among the City Hall veterans who assign it little meaning when the time comes to govern -- whether that task falls to de Blasio, Lhota or anyone else.
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"Even if you win big, the reality comes when you start the job," LoCicero said Thursday. "You've got to get your first deputy, your corporation counsel, the budget director, the police commissioner. You walk in there and you're handed a budget from the previous mayor. That's the reality."
LoCicero acknowledges that if de Blasio is elected, he can lay claim to a political mandate on two issues -- a tax to fund pre-K programs and to modify NYPD stop-and-frisk policies.
Whether a mayor wins office by a single percentage point or 40, he has the same broad powers over an array of big agencies under the city charter. But he must live within budgetary balance. And in dealings with Albany and Washington D.C., his electoral numbers back home may matter little, if at all.
Looming ahead is the question of what kind of relationship the next mayor might carve out with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who endorsed fellow Democrat de Blasio in September after the public advocate won the party primary.
Two weeks ago, the Siena Research Institute reported Cuomo's overall approval rating at 73 percent in the city, compared with 60 percent in the suburbs and 50 percent upstate. Last week, by contrast, Siena reported de Blasio with a 62 percent approval rating in the five boroughs.
William Cunningham, former communications director for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also waxes skeptical on the meaning of mandates.
"The guy who had the largest majority was Abe Beame," Cunningham said. He was referring to the Democratic mayor who in 1973 netted 56.5 percent in a four-way general election race against his next-closest competitor, John Marchi, the Republican who got 16 percent -- a 40-point difference.
Soon the city's finances imploded and it faced default on its debts, Cunningham noted. Beame ended up lasting one troubled term.
"No one cared what happened in the election of 1973 when they were trying to balance the books in 1975," Cunningham said. He said it doesn't work to think "the bigger the vote I get, the more of a mandate to carry my agenda in Albany," because "many of the people you have to talk to in Albany also get votes out of New York City."
LoCicero added: "Reality will set in when the mayor finds he has only a certain amount of money and so has to make a decision of who to help and who to cut. There's no magic formula."
Even if you choose to assign the "M" word to election results, political success depends on what the incumbent then does. Gov. Eliot Spitzer won the 2006 election by a 40-point margin. Then his approval ratings plunged even before he was bounced from office in a hooker scandal in 2008.