Mike Bloomberg’s Unwitting Gift
Having never met the man I cannot say for sure but I can only imagine that a businessman as cunning and ruthless and efficient as Mike Bloomberg seldom if ever makes a move without believing he can extract infinitely more of what ever it is he’s dealing with than what he’s put into it. One does not, after all, become the richest man in New York without, among other things, the gift of calculation to an extraordinary degree. One does not insidiously and with almost military precision and speed eviscerate the votes of millions of New Yorkers in two referendums without Machiavellian manipulation and calculation of a lazer-like intensity and brutal ruthlessness.
So what exactly did Bloomberg calculate and what conclusion did he reach? Let’s be blunt: Mike Bloomberg calculated (with the assistance of his ever active polling army) that he could, in effect, strip every eligible voter in New York of their constitutional rights, undermine the democratic process itself, insult the intelligence and tempt the integrity of the entire city and somehow you, I and everyone else would simply go along with it. Or we would somehow forget it by the time the election came along. Or we would be hypnotized by Bloomberg’s ceaseless and omnipotent ads. Or maybe we would just place it in parenthesis while pondering Mike Bloomberg’s monumental mayoral achievements without which the city would have sunk into eternal perdition.
What have we here?
What we have here is contempt for the people of New York and the democratic process on a level and to a degree that is nothing short of breathtaking. “He did what?, ” I recall people exclaiming in utter disbelief the day of his coup. “How is that possible?” This was the question heard in households all over the city, save, perhaps in the 50 or 60 households of the people who orchestrated the coup. Nobody knew. We only knew it had happened.
The act was unprecedented — not unlike and not unrelated to the problem poised by Bloomberg himself; that of a man with seemingly limitless political ambitions, little if any political integrity — who solely because of his absurd wealth — posesses the ability and the inclination to strike fear into and demand compliance even from those usually lording it over others. Consider the behavior of the editors of the N Y Times, the Daily News and the Post in the term limits affair. Here were three men who dismissed Rudy Guliani’s similar attempt to retain his power, albeit for weeks, not an entire term, in the tone of correcting a wayward child. And this, mind you, during the midst of Rudy-Mania, when “America’s Mayor ” seemed to many to be the greatest man in the history of the sperm cell.
No such tone for Mike. No. New York needs Mike. His steady hand. His wisdom. His independence. His finanical acumen to see us through these tough times.
And other breathless, obsequious almost Hallmark level nonsense.
Reading the absurd and contemptuous words of his devotees had led me to believe that Mike Bloomberg’s immense wealth, far from keeping him above “special interests” , has allowed him to become the most corrupting force in City Hall since the days of Jimmy Walker and before that ,Tammany Hall. Yes, it is a most casual and accepted corruption, far more subtle than that of Boss Tweed — but it is corruption none the less. Bloomberg is not on the take. Bloomberg corrupts. Bloomberg tries to put you on the take. He simply purchases who and what he wants — political parties, City Councils, ministers, elections, what have you. In this kind of corruption it matters not at all that Bloomberg himself never dirties his hands. He needn’t do so. Others dirty their hands for him. Consider Calvin O. Butts, minister of the historic Abyssinain Baptist Church in Harlem and perhaps the most influencial African-American minister in the city. Butts is supporting Mike Bloomberg. According to the New York Times, Bloomberg’s rival, Mr. Thompson was reportededly furious at what he considered Butt’s betrayal. ” But what he did not know,” said the Times “was that Mr. Bloomberg gave a $1 million donation to the church’s development corporation — roughly 10 percent of its annual budget — with the implicit promise of more to come. “What could I say to a man who was mayor, and was supportive of a lot of programs that are important to me?” Mr. Butts said in an interview before he endorsed Mr. Bloomberg.” ‘
You could say, Pastor Butts, that I’m not for sale, no ? Can you not ? Sadly, the scenario with Butts has repeated itself in city wide.
This is corruption. Who other than Bloomberg has a million dollars to hand out willy nilly? What, other than the basest form of self interest — Bloomberg’s as well as whoever it is he is purchasing — is being appealed to and manipulated here?
But most of all what we have here is a man with essentially limitless capital and utter contempt for the democratic process and hence the rights of all others. If ever a man embodied Justice Louis D. Brandeis’s dictum about democracy and wealth – “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both, — ” it is Mike Bloomberg.
Bloomberg’s shameless act was possible for one reason and one reason only: his tremendous, even insane wealth allows him to corrupt everyone who is corruptible until he gets what he wants. Indeed, this election is nothing short of Bloomger’s attempt to corrupt an entire city. Sure Mike, it’s OK to over turn millions of votes. Anything is OK as long as Mike gets what Mike wants. And what Mike wants is power, laws and the will of the people be damned.
Let us be clear. You can rationalize and explain and excuse what Bloomberg did for rest of time — and you can rest assured, Bloomberg has already hired people, ivy league educated people to be sure, to, as much as humanly possibly, do exactly that. And you can rest assured he pays them very well.
But, if you truly believe in democracy what you cannot possibly do under any circumstances is justify Bloomberg’s act. There is simply no getting around it: Bloomberg undermined the democratic process and people who believe in democracy neither do such nor accept such. Perhaps the presidency of George W. Bush, which began with its own undermining of democracy when the Supreme Court stepped in to declare Bush the victor allowing the man to spend the next eight years dismantling the constituion and Bill of Rights has subtly eroded our sense of belief to a place where repulsive acts like Bloomberg’s are somehow acceptable. I hope and pray not. But consider the rage, the rightful rage that swelled in this nation as the revelations of the Watergate scandal came to light. And what was Watergate but the attempt to undermine of the democratic process ? Yes, the stakes were infinitely higher and, yes, the procedure was different but the difference is in style and not in substance. Both were intended to undermine the democratic process. The difference is that Nixon failed where Bloomberg succeeded. As yet anyway. And while it is true that Bloomberg did not actually hire a gang of CIA sleazebags to get his way, it’s also true that he did not have to. Why should he when he can simply buy 29 sleazy members of our City Council led by disgraceful speaker Christine Quinn herself to steal your vote before you even knew what happened ?
Nixon’s tawdry maneuver cost him the presidency. Bloomberg is hoping that his slimy move will position him for the White House.
It may well do that, but, for the moment it provides an opportunity for New Yorkers to rise to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature. ” In a sense, in a very real sense this election is not about Mike Bloomberg and Bill Thompson at all. From his eight years at City Hall anyone with eyes to see knows Mike Bloomberg. Every one in education, for one, knows that his much vaunted reforms are a sham and that Bloomberg is the Bernie Madoff of test scores. What sane man would place a half psychotic former federal prosecutor like Joel Klein in charge of the largest school system in the nation ? But it does not matter if Mile Bloomberg was the greatest mayor in the history of the city instead of the mediocrity that he is. The man does not believe in democracy. The man believes he is a law unto himself. The man holds us all in contempt.
Anyone who’s kept on eye on things in New York knows Bill Thompson as well. Bill Thompson is a decent and honorable man who is a true public servant. I have no doubt that he would make a fine mayor and I will have no trouble pulling the lever for him come Tuesday. Indeed, I will do so happily.
But this election is bigger than these two men.
It is about plutocracy as opposed to democracy. It’s about the will of the people as opposed to the will of an arrogant narcissistic billionaire mediocrity. It is about deciding, as the old union anthem went, “Which Side Are You On?” There is no middle ground. Not here. Not now.
It provides New Yorkers with an opportunity to tell the Michael Bloomberg’s of the world and the rest of the nation that we shall not be bought and our rights are not for sale, Christine Quinn and Co. be dammed. Above all it provides New Yorkers with a moment to affirm their belief in the sacredness of the democratic process and the will of the people.
These opportunities are Mike Bloomberg’s unwitting gift and seen clearly they are as monumental a gift as the arrogance that birthed it. He has calculated that we are too foolish, dumb, broken or in awe of his magisterial powers to use it.
Let us hope we have the courage and the faith, in ourselves and in the democratic system, to use it — for if we do not we are accepting and deserving of contempt.
And we will receive it.