A billionaire mayor with Republican support is getting a pass for re-election from mainstream media and large sectors of the Democratic Party, including many who consider themselves liberals and progressives. This conversation I had with a self-described liberal (actually a fictional composite from several people I talked to) shows how effective the mayor’s multi-million dollar effort has been to create a populist image going from right to left that hides his conservative politics. I will call this Bloomie voter “Libberg.”
Angotti: Why vote for Bloomberg?
Libberg: He’s not Giuliani.
Angotti: But Giuliani’s not running. And eight million other New Yorkers aren’t Giuliani either. I’m not Giuliani, vote for me! Okay, I’m not running, but Bill Thompson and Tony Avella aren’t Giuliani either.
Libberg: They don’t have a chance.
Angotti: Because people like you write them off. And Bloomberg has a big advantage because he undermined public campaign financing, which liberals fought hard for.
Libberg: But at least Bloomberg isn’t egging on the police and alienating minority communities like Giuliani did.
Angotti: Then why is stop-and-frisk in minority communities up under Bloomberg? And what about Sean Bell? Omar Edwards? The militarization of the police during the Republican Convention? The crackdown on Critical Mass? So tell me what did Bloomberg do in the seven years that he wasn’t Giuliani?
Libberg: He’s a good manager. In hard times we need someone that can deal with the budget.
Angotti: If he had been such a good manager why did we get into this fiscal mess?
Libberg: The collapse of the economy was far beyond his control.
Angotti: That would be true for most mayors, but he’s among the wealthiest people in the world and a secure member of the culpable class. He’s supposed to be an expert on finance but never forecast the collapse of the financial sector. Why did he let government rely so heavily on Wall Street revenues? Why did he spend billions of tax dollars to subsidize downtown office development and the Yankees and Mets stadiums, and propose other boondoggles like the Jets Stadium? And then cut our services when his budget didn’t balance?
Libberg: He made government more efficient and the gains will be long-term. Like he started the 311 system.
Angotti: Which disproportionately serves wealthier neighborhoods. And he uses 311 as an excuse to cut and abuse the city’s 59 community boards, the closest thing we have to grassroots government.
Libberg: He got rid of the school bureaucracy.
Angotti: Yeah, and did everything possible to bust the teachers’ union, manipulate parent councils, make principals into high-paid executives and teachers into testers.
Libberg: Well, he’s a strong supporter of affordable housing.
Angotti: Sure, he uses it as a fig leaf to sell his zoning schemes that feed gentrification in our neighborhoods. Under his watch we lost more affordable units than we gained. He never backed strong rent and eviction controls, let equity funds take over buildings, and looked on while predatory lending invaded our neighborhoods.
Libberg: You have to understand how powerful real estate is in New York.
Angotti: Wait a minute. He was supposed to be independent of special interests like the real estate lobby because he didn’t depend on their money to get elected.
Libberg: Well, he has been independent.
Angotti: Then why did he support the redevelopment of Hell’s Kitchen by landowners that included members of his government and personal friends? They made it into Midtown West, a giant luxury neighborhood to be subsidized with tax-exempt bonds. The developers didn’t buy government support, Bloomberg gave it away. He’s too rich and doesn’t have to sell the office. He does all the buying himself.
Libberg: There will always be some corruption in government. And now we need investment in the city to get jobs back.
Angotti: Yeah, the ones he pushed out when he converted industrial areas to upscale bedroom communities? Seems like we could use some of those industrial jobs now. Instead we have empty apartments.
Libberg: At least he’s made it easier to put forth a progressive agenda.
Angotti: How is it easier if he’s got the three major New York dailies eating from his palm? He knows he doesn’t need our support.
Libberg: He’s strong on the environment. His long-term sustainability plan will help reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
Angotti: I agree that was a good step forward and it’s about time government saved on energy. But the plan itself isn’t sustainable because he refused to submit it for approval to community boards, the City Planning Commission and City Council. It was outsourced to a global management firm that nobody except the mayor’s office talked to. His plan is all about promoting real estate development by branding it as green and spending tax dollars to build the infrastructure for it. And the plan is silent on the future of poor people and immigrants, race and basic human rights.
Libberg: But he’s been a strong supporter of mass transit, which serves the working class.
Angotti: It actually serves most New Yorkers. But we didn’t need to have the #7 extension, the most expensive one-mile subway project in history, to boost his West Midtown boondoggle. And his failed congestion pricing scheme was made by and for the downtown business interests when it could have helped all our neighborhoods.
Libberg: He’s building more bike lanes and reclaiming streets from traffic.
Angotti: Now those are really good things. But why did it take him five years before he finally appointed a transportation commissioner who knows something about transportation?
Libberg: Because he supported his appointees once he put them in office. He wasn’t Giuliani.
Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College.