In nearly all the media coverage devoted to mogul and
would-be Mayor Michael Bloomberg, two themes predominate over politics: money,
as in the millions he will lavish on television advertising, pollsters and
sundry consultants; and sex, as in the mating preferences of a swinging,
socially desirable billionaire (which brings the subject back to money again).
News coverage and titillating gossip converged years ago, but it is still
startling when the New York Times
Op-Ed columns about Mr. Bloomberg resemble private Internet chat more than
So perhaps the only way to open any discussion of what the
Bloomberg candidacy means politically is to describe its significance with
financial and sexual metaphors. After so much macho boasting about the
rightward trend represented by the Mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican
Party in New York appears both bankrupt and impotent.
Bankrupt because the party’s local leaders so eagerly sold
their nomination to a candidate whose most attractive quality is his asset
portfolio. Impotent because that candidate is, by every measure, a liberal
Democrat who openly scorns their professed conservative ideology.
For Republicans, this is a sorry case of squandered
opportunity. Back when Mr. Giuliani was running for reelection, at the height
of his influence, the city’s new G.O.P. establishment proclaimed proudly that
they had won the debate over the city’s future. Conservative academics at the
Manhattan Institute had a hotline to City Hall, where policymakers contemplated
private-school vouchers and an end to rent regulation. The Mayor was no
doctrinaire right-winger, particularly on social issues, but he was promoted by
Republicans both locally and nationally as the harbinger of their party’s urban
That was then, and Mike Bloomberg is now. While the brash
billionaire refuses to say how he cast his votes in last year’s Senate and
Presidential races, public records show that he has donated hundreds of
thousands of dollars to Democrats in recent years, while giving little to
Republicans. His campaign Web site promises that, if elected, he will fight to
maintain rent control and will reject any experiment with school vouchers. The
Web site also neglects to use the word “Republican,” except to announce an
endorsement by the gay Log Cabin Republican organization. But then, he didn’t
mention the R-word in his announcement speech, either.
Mr. Bloomberg’s Democratic and liberal leanings are
apparently acceptable to four of the city’s five Republican county leaders;
only one, Guy Velella of the Bronx, has held out against Mr. Bloomberg in favor
of his quixotic primary challenger, Herman Badillo. But their favored candidate
has an odd way of showing his gratitude.
So far, Mr. Bloomberg has treated the Republican leaders who
eagerly solicited him to run on their line with much less delicacy and tact
than a tedious date. To him, their opinions are so inconsequential that he
seizes every opportunity to express admiration for the woman they hate most. It
must burn the Republicans whenever they hear their candidate sending unrequited
valentines to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who humiliated them so thoroughly last
fall, but Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t care. When he isn’t serenading the junior
Senator, he’s sending out press releases praising Senator Chuck Schumer, who
also happens to be a Democrat. He has yet to issue any comparable encomium to
George W. Bush or even to George Pataki, who is helping to engineer the
nomination for him.
Nor has much of Mr. Bloomberg’s lavish spending ended up in
Republican pockets, though presumably that was one reason for the G.O.P.
leaders’ enthusiasm about him. The most notable Republican on the
Mike-for-Mayor payroll is pollster Frank Luntz, a lonesome figure among the
many Democratic stalwarts in the Bloomberg consultant legion. The Republican
county organizations have garnered a few bucks in pocket change for circulating
Mr. Bloomberg’s nominating petitions, but that only emphasizes how cheaply they
Most Republican and conservative commentators have averted
their gaze from this sordid transaction-although the editor of the National Review , headquartered in New
York, couldn’t help but note in passing that “Bloomberg’s embrace by the G.O.P.
is another sign of the rotten state of New York’s Republican establishment.”
True enough, but the
Bloomberg takeover is no mere aberration. Aspects of the same phenomenon can be
observed in Albany, where Mr. Pataki has governed and is campaigning for
reelection as if he were his old opponent, Mario Cuomo; in Los Angeles, where
the Republican mayor will be replaced by a liberal Democrat; and in Washington,
D.C., where Senators Jim Jeffords, John McCain and Lincoln Chafee have upended
the agenda of the Bush White House and the DeLay Congress just when
conservatives thought they had triumphed.
An illusion of right-wing hegemony remains, largely because
Democrats and liberals are neglecting to articulate the alternative. But the
Republican adoption of Democratic candidates and themes suggests how quickly
that hegemony is evaporating.