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Janison: What's in a mandate, anyway?

Bill de Blasio (Charles Eckert)

Bill de Blasio (Charles Eckert)

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 Republican 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.

“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 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 Cuomo, who endorsed fellow Democrat de Blasio in September after the public advocate won the party primary.

Two weeks ago, the Siena College Research Institute reported Cuomo’s overall approval rating at 73% in the city compared with 60% in the suburbs and 50% upstate. Last week, by contrast, Siena reported de Blasio with a 62% 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,” said Cunningham. He was referring to the Democratic mayor who in 1973 netted 56.5% in a four-way general election race against his next-closest competitor John Marchi, the Republican who got 16% — 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.

Dan Janison is a Newsday columnist.

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