The Song Remains the Same
Rather than “run the risk” of repeating myself, I have opted for certainty. Four years ago I wrote the following about the city’s last mayoral campaign—and alas, history is repeating itself, too.
The Brooklyn Rail, November 2005
The $64,000,000 Pyramid
More than anything else, money has been the determining factor in the most lopsided mayor’s race that, mercifully, will end in early November. Regardless of what one thinks of Mayor Bloomberg, it is obvious that any candidate who can spend $64 million (as of the end of October), or 17 times more money than his opponent, stands a pretty good chance of winning. Needless to say, there isn’t much that money can’t buy in this town.
The point of the city’s progressive public financing system—which provides matching funds of up to 6-1 in cases of financially mismatched elections such as the present one—is to create a reasonably level playing field. The justification for candidates like Bloomberg being able to circumvent that system is the Supreme Court’s ruling, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), that the self-financing of political campaigns is protected under the First Amendment.
But as anyone subjected to Bloomberg’s deluge of ads on the airwaves, in print, and everywhere else knows, a self-financed political campaign isn’t free speech—it’s paid media. Lots of it.
In his dissent to the portion of Buckley v. Valeo dealing with self-financed campaigns, Thurgood Marshall explained quite reasonably that financing restrictions reduced “the natural advantage of the wealthy candidate” and “promoted equal access to the political arena by all potential candidates.” Alas, Marshall’s views now seem quaint, as the Age of Equality ended with the ascent of Ronald Reagan.
The only present obstacle to the reign of Bloomberg is term limits. And we can only hope that Mayor Mike doesn’t finance a campaign to do away with them. Otherwise, future challengers will face a similar fate as the current one, who in this election at least, will be remembered simply as poor Freddy Ferrer.
Four years later, Mike’s millions are everywhere, buying the loyalty of media, nonprofit groups, and anyone susceptible to advertising saturation. So why he is so repeatedly and ridiculously rude to any reporter or public official who dares to ask him a challenging question? As the old adage goes, perhaps there is something he just can’t buy. And on that account, I’ll end with something I’ve never heard anyone, including myself, say before: “poor Mike Bloomberg.”