Bloomberg's mistake

Posted: Nov 05, 2003 12:00 AM

Being a politician isn't easy at the best of times. The public is eternally ungrateful for your past service and suspicious of your current motives. Your opponents make up the most outrageous, though plausible, lies about you. And ferret-nosed reporters are constantly trying to sniff out your minor indiscretions. Fail to express your outrage at an ethnic joke told in your presence, accept the smallest gratuity from a friendly citizen, gain sexual union with an unauthorized orifice -- and the news ferrets will have your guts for garters by 6 p.m. No, a politician's life is not a happy one. But it is even tougher when the politician is achingly stupid. Consider Republican New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. According to the New York Post, Mayor Bloomberg has told the magazine Vanity Fair that the policies of New York's former mayor were racist, and, he implied, his predecessor's inaction resulted in mass murder. Even for hardened politicians, those are pretty mean accusations.

Apparently, Bloomberg was applying the age-old technique of trying to make himself look bigger by making his predecessor look smaller. But that is a tall order for the diminutive Bloomberg, as his predecessor is the current Paul Bunyan of American political mythology -- Rudy Giuliani. While mayor, Rudy had turned the streets of New York from a war zone of criminality, garbage and publicly displayed sexual depravity into something pretty close to Disneyland's Main Street. By the time Rudy left office, delicate virgins could walk down Broadway at midnight and return home untouched and unoffended. But all that was accomplished, according to the inexplicable Bloomberg, because for Giuliani, "every single decision, everybody, every story, everything was always couched in terms of race."

Bloomberg -- who would appear to be a candidate for examination by the master for lunacy -- went on to brag that his management style was the opposite of the fabulously successful Giuliani's: "He made all the decisions ... particularly when it came to police and fire. Rudy wanted to be the police commissioner. Rudy wanted to be the fire commissioner. He rushed to fires. My attitude is, my job is to pick people and let them do it." Common sense would suggest that if you recognize that you are not up to taking over the management of the best-run big city in the world, you wouldn't brag about your lack of energy, focus, interest, knowledge, commitment and general capacity.

But the insatiable Bloomberg had yet more appetite for self-destructive accusations. Firmly in the saddle of his favorite hobbyhorse -- anti-smoking -- he compared the alleged number of deaths from secondhand smoke that he implied Giuliani condoned by inaction (which His Brilliance Mayor Bloomberg has saved by banning smoking in his city establishments) to the number of New Yorkers killed on September 11. This is deranged in so many different ways. First, comparing himself in any way to Giuliani's magnificent, heroic, humane and wise performance in the aftermath of September 11 is violently unuseful to Bloomberg. Equating the consciously evil slaughter of thousands of souls to the perhaps transitory consequences of industrial modern life is morally disproportionate. (In fact, his claims of deaths from secondhand smoke are based on disreputable junk science.) Implying equivalence between Giuliani's alleged inaction and the terrorists' mass murder is one of the most savage (and unjustifiable) acts of political rhetoric in living memory.

But just listen to his uncontainable resentment for his predecessor: "Think about all the press attention to 9/11 ... that number of people die every year in the city from second hand smoke." Apparently, he thinks the attack on the WTC should have been reported on page B12 of the Metro section. He sounds envious of all that attention Giuliani and the murdered 3,000 received. If one didn't know he was the multi-billionaire mayor of the greatest city in the world, one would think he was one of those crazed derelicts with spittle slipping down the chin ranting to the wind about some pet insanity.

Mayor Bloomberg's press secretary is either much smarter or much dumber than his boss (depending on whether he believes what he is saying): "No one should infer any criticisms of Mayor Giuliani in either of those statements," he said. In other words, Bloomberg is just observing -- not criticizing -- the fact that he thinks his predecessor is a micro-managing, racist mass murderer. Mayor Bloomberg did have one moment of clarity when he said: "If the public decides they don't want me, OK, I'm going to have another career." Good guess, Mr. Mayor.