As the Curtain Closes
For the last several years, the Rail’s Player-of-the-Year award has gone to the most dramatic actor on the year’s political stage. For reasons dubiously heroic, and at times heroically dubious, the honorees have included the late John Murtha and Hugo Chávez, and the very much alive Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.
By all rights this year’s winner should be Edward Snowden. At the same time that the whistleblower revealed that the N.S.A. has indeed been eagerly casting the dragnet of “Total Information Awareness” Congress once rejected early in the Bush years, Snowden almost singlehandedly seemed to be jumpstarting the Cold War. For the five summer weeks that Snowden remained holed up in the transit zone (T.Z.) of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, the fate of the free world indeed seemed to hang in the balance.
A month at the airport may have been a bit less bleak than it sounds, though. CNN’s Al Goodman reported that the Sheremetyevo T.Z. offers a “gaudy emporium of high-end shops wedged next to mom-and-pop trinket stores that sell souvenirs seemingly left over from the old Soviet Union, including a fold-up metal drinking cup.” Somewhat more chilling is the presence there of a T.G.I. Fridays. After Snowden first arrived from Hong Kong, some duped reporters hopped the Aeroflot to Havana, thinking the fugitive was aboard—but the whistleblower stayed behind to enjoy the creature comforts of the T.Z. In any case, not since the heyday of Fidel Castro had one man created such frosty conditions between the U.S. and the (former) U.S.S.R.
Despite its smashing debut, Snowden’s show has many more seasons to go, and to grant him the award now would make it as empty as an Emmy. Meanwhile, closer to home, a rather prominent actor is giving a curtain call after a 12-year run that deserves at least a Tony. He has been both public-minded and mean-spirited, full of largesse as well as miserliness. He has been imperial, authoritarian, and, far more often than not, ruthlessly efficient. His name is Mike Bloomberg, and he is the Rail’s 2013 Player of the Year.
Although Mayor Mike has been criticized repeatedly in these pages over the past 12 years, he is to be commended for remaining a genuine article all the way to the end. As his last month in office began, the mayor kept his tee time in Bermuda rather than rush back to the scene of a massive train derailment in the Bronx—then ridiculed anyone who suggested this was bad form. And as for the upwelling of support for the incoming mayor’s progressive policies, “I liken it to hemlines,” Mike explained. “You know, hemlines are fine [one way] but next year they move ’em up or down because people want a change.”
Throughout the campaign season, as Bill de Blasio invoked Dickens, Bloomberg seemed content to play Scrooge. Among the outgoing mayor’s pearls of wisdom: “Nobody is sleeping on the streets”; the NYPD “disproportionately stop[s] whites too much and minorities too little”; and “if we could get every billionaire around the world to move here, it would be a godsend.” Rest assured that the data-driven mayor backed up his positions with a barrage of statistical indicators. During his final State of the City address, in fact, Bloomberg’s team went so far as to boast of the city’s record-low number of murders with a ghoulish banner reading 419 that hung from the rafters at the Barclays Center.
Snide and true, Bloomberg’s unique touch most memorably shaped the final outcome of the primary. Published in New York during the week before Primary Day, Bloomberg’s off-the-cuff comment that de Blasio was running a “racist” campaign seemed the height of absurdity. While his clarifying follow-up comments—“I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I do not think he himself is racist. It’s comparable to me pointing out that I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote”—were unquestionably accurate, they received little attention. And Bloomberg didn’t seem to push the issue. It was almost as if the mayor believed it was his role to offend people.
Strange as it may sound, such brazenness may soon be missed. While Bloomberg is brash, de Blasio is calculating; and where the outgoing mayor fights for whatever policies he believes in, his successor bases his positions on focus groups, opinion polls, and campaign donations. “Mayor 1%” is, among many other things, decidedly coherent. And so as he exits the stage, those of us in the rest of the population will wait and see what the next act offers. Meantime, the Rail’s 2013 Player of the Year Award is all yours, Mayor Mike.
Coincidentally, for the most part, the end of Mike’s reign coincides with the end of my days at the Rail. It’s been over 15 years since we launched it as a Xeroxed sheet that we circulated every Thursday night at the Brooklyn Ale House in Williamsburg. It’s been a long run, and I am exhausted.
My comrades and I who have handled the politics of the Rail have fought many good fights over the years, but I’m proudest of all that we have remained a tireless champion of the First Amendment. We went to battle over the right to protest against the Iraq War and the 2004 R.N.C., and on behalf of Occupy. Along the way we have championed whistleblowers and many other disobedient types. Given that there is more than enough P.R. in our world, my hope is that the Rail remains an uncompromising voice of meaningful dissent.
I’d really like to thank everyone I’ve worked with over the years, but that would be a really, really long list. And as I said, I’m weary. So I’ll keep this note snappy, and sign off with the valediction my mom used in her letters.
Lots of love,