Well, okay. If you really want a nanny-in-chief instead of a President, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s your girl. And, yes, that was “girl,” although it wasn’t meant to signify that Michael R. Bloomberg (“Mayor Mike” as he likes to be called, in an elephantine effort to be seen as a Regular Joe) is in any way deficient in, shall we say, virility.
It’s just that in his tenure as the head of this once-fun metropolis of New York, he’s been more or less acting like a strident and occasionally unnerving combination of Nurse Ratched, the Wicked Stepmother and Marie Antoinette. Or, to put it another way, is this the right leader for a true time of peril?
Smoking vs. Terrorism
Bloomberg’s response would be “What peril?” The only thing we have to fear, to his thinking, is a lighted cigarette or a decent French fry. As author of draconian bans against smoking and, later, transfat, he has repeatedly made it clear — without embarrassment or irony — that these are the terrors that should really preoccupy the world.
“Think of all the press attention to 9/11,” he said to Vanity Fair in 2003, implying a hysterical and criminal waste of ink, while peremptorily reminding us: “That number of people die every year in the city from secondhand smoke.” An effusion well characterized by columnist Tony Blankley as downright “deranged.”
How, Blankley wondered, could anyone other than a “candidate for examination by the master for lunacy” find a moral, let alone physical, equivalence between “the consciously evil slaughter of thousands of souls” and gauzy mathematical projections about secondhand smoke deaths? (Which are based “on disreputable junk science,” as Blankley notes, and are exponentially inflated by the mayor’s obsessive zeal.)
Now, maybe, some would think, Bloomberg would have gained a clue about stuff like priorities. Not Mayor Mike. Americans are “too freaked out” about the threat of another al Qaeda attack, he informed Rolling Stone in 2006, when they should be concerned with “lifestyles that can hurt you.” In the still-dewy dawn of that recently foiled terror plot at JFK, he dismissively told New Yorkers not to bother their pretty heads but to concentrate instead “on risks … such as smoking.”
Nor is he prepared to let New Yorkers do their very own concentrating. No, Nurse Bloomberg wants to concentrate for them.
And so, lest they lapse in their enforced aversion to smoke, his Health Police have barged in to many private offices and presented the flummoxed executives with health tickets and fines for the newly created crime of possession of an (unused, packed-away) ashtray.
Even your private bloodstream is suddenly city business. By a Bloombergian fiat, the results of any blood tests taken within the city must be turned in to the city. If your blood sugar is high, you’ll be subject to “intervention” — phone calls and letters from a caring city official with reminders to eat your oat bran, prick your finger and do your laps.
The alleged great advantages of Bloomberg as national leader are his “post-political” posture and his managerial wit. But let’s wander behind the curtain and look closely at what he’s actually done.
Answer: not much. Aside from not screwing up the Giuliani reforms, his own record is limp.
His much-vaunted takeover of the city’s public schools hasn’t yielded a lot more than “administrative upheaval and noncompetitive contracts,” at least in the opinions of New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin and author/historian Fred Siegel, although it did produce more of his favorite things: bans. His injunction against school children’s carrying cell phones has infuriated, and even frightened, working parents, but, hey, this is Gotham, where Bloomberg Knows Best. Except when he doesn’t, which is easily half the time.
His initiative to institute non-party elections was met with a chorus of Bronx cheers, despite the effort, not to mention the money, he put behind it. Then there was his plan to build a stadium for the Jets amid the hustle of mid-Manhattan, part of his other plan to lure the 2012 Olympics to deploy itself to New York.
So eager was he to wear the crown of Olympic laurels, he was willing to just about give away a parcel of city land, eventually valued at $1.5 billion, to the not notably pauperized owners of the Jets for a relatively trifling $200 million, while further greasing the deal with additional millions of taxpayer dollars. He was only narrowly saved from this disastrous and spectacularly unpopular proposition by a Democratic assemblyman and the grit of a rival bidder.
He has, however, been quite successful at raising taxes — property taxes up by 18.5%, cigarette taxes up more than 1,600% — and a series of “gotcha” fines for unimaginable infractions (are there too many letters on your street-front awning? Did you put your bag on a bus seat?). And finally, we catch a new gleam in the mayor’s eye — an $8 tax on every car that comes into Manhattan, not excluding from other boroughs. Or to put that another way, $40 a week out of working-class wallets.
Post-partisan? Says who? Unless you count the fact that he’s a party unto himself. Those carpers who disagree with him are characterized as “dumb” or even unpatriotic. Opponents of his stadium plan had, in typical rhetoric, “let America down,” while a Democratic rival who opposed the excesses of his zero-tolerance smoke ban was tagged by Mayor Mike as “the pro-cancer candidate.”
Of course, having billions at one’s personal disposal is, indeed, post-political. Who needs to bank on partisan allegiance when you can bank on the bank? Famously, Bloomberg bought votes for his smoke ban and property tax hikes by vowing to pour millions into councilors’ campaigns if they gave him a rubber stamp and also threatening to superfund their rivals if they bucked him and said no.
Then, too, there’s the matter of the Royal Bloomberg, of “Let ’em eat cake” and “La ville, c’est moi.” When New Yorkers complained about their constantly rising cable rates, he imperiously told them they should “go read a book.”
When the transit workers struck in the cruelly cold winter of 2005, he posed before cameras with his $600 bicycle and suggested that the rest of us also bike to work.
When 7,000 school kids were stranded the next winter because Bloomberg’s “consultants” had decided, in their wisdom, to rationalize the bus routes, he grandly dismissed their parents as a chorus of whining spoilers, unutterably devoid of the requisite expertise in the rarified logistics of managing transit.
So there you’ve got Bloomberg. Q.E.D. Ready, willing and able to protect and defend the nation from the scourge of its only terrors: 4th graders with cell phones, empty ashtrays and crispy wings.