The End of City Politics?

For the better part of a year now, the primary focus of city politics has been on whether the mayor would run for president. That spellbinding odyssey recently ended, only to see the hero return home. The masses now must ponder what Bloomberg will do starting in 2010, and vice versa. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of would-be heirs to his throne. The lineup includes the city council speaker, the comptroller, a congressman, and another member of the city council. A recent poll found a candidate not yet enthusiastic about running, Brooklyn’s borough president, to be at the front of the pack.

Whether any of these characters are mayoral timber is an open question, but beside my point. What troubles me is how dead city politics have become. In the not-so distant past, the local landscape saw many epic battles, fought by plenty of larger-than-life characters. As many of the essays in Marshall Berman and Brian Berger’s recent collection New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg vividly demonstrate, the city in general used to be a much more lively and contentious place. The piece by the Voice’s Tom Robbins shows that city politics from the Koch through Giuliani years used to be good theater. Nowadays, most people don’t even pay attention to what’s happening at City Hall.

Quiet efficiency, of course, is Bloomberg’s stock and trade. But there’s still plenty of need to debate real issues—such as the city’s growing inhospitality to the poor and working class, its sorry schools, or the overdevelopment wrecking many neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the city council’s only notable action over the last few years was voting to hike its own members’ salaries. Rest assured, things will pick up this time next year, when the 2009 campaign gets going. Those seeking another office will dole out an endless slew of awards and hold regular Sunday press conferences. Their mantra will be some sort of combination of “hope,” “change,” and “experience.” Those slogans, though, will be so 2008. Unless our local pols awake soon from their protracted slumber, voters won’t be turning out in record numbers here in New York City next year.

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This issue marks the debut of the Rail’s new poetry editor, Anselm Berrigan, which we’re all very excited about. Many folks already know Anselm as both an accomplished poet and the artistic director of the Poetry Project. Of his vision for the section, Anselm says, “We will be running poems that work on more than one level. And the poetry editor will print what he likes.” Watch out.

—T. Hamm

Contributor

Theodore Hamm

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