There’s a great hissing noise in midtown these days, and it has nothing to do with the kind of conversation one associates with Fashion Week. No, this is the sound of steam leaking into the atmosphere, and it has been traced to the offices of a certain former Mayor who left the city just so and had every expectation that it would remain just so. But along came this billionaire media mogul, who would have been yesterday’s news were it not for a certain well-timed endorsement, and all of a sudden people are thinking for themselves again, and they’re asking questions. To wit: Why, exactly, do we need two new baseball stadiums? Why shouldn’t we demand that public information be made public? Why should we move the Museum of the City of New York from Harlem to the Tweed Courthouse?
From the moment Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded a realistic note about stadium-building in his inaugural address (he said it would be great to have swanky new ballparks when the city could afford them), it was clear that Rudy Giuliani’s pet projects and methods of operation were not to be considered sacrosanct–never mind that the man himself has been deified as America’s favorite former Mayor. This has gotten Mr. Bloomberg no small amount of favorable press notice, a development that Mr. Giuliani must be watching with some–well, “exasperation” would be a nice way to describe it.
During the Giuliani era, New Yorkers were reminded that the old ways were gone, and that certain people and certain ways of thinking were to be banished for the civic good. It now appears, however, that the banishment lasted only as long as the era did. And so we witnessed the spectacle of Mr. Bloomberg making a pilgrimage to Harlem to commemorate Martin Luther King Day with that pariah of pariahs, the Reverend Al Sharpton–the first time a Mayor shared a stage with Mr. Sharpton in nearly a decade. We heard an unmistakable message from City Hall that New York’s lords of baseball, George Steinbrenner and Frank Cashen, would have to wait before getting tax dollars to build their playpens. (Mr. Cashen’s co-owner of the Mets, Nelson Doubleday, has never been a fan of tax dollars for field-of-dreams schemes.)
There was talk, as Mr. Bloomberg tries to close a terrifying budget gap, that he might possibly consider, yes, support for a tax increase–not for city residents, but for out-of-towners no longer burdened, thanks to the antics of the State Legislature, with a barely noticed 0.45 percent commuter tax. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that Rudy Giuliani announced that any tax increase would be stupid, moronic and idiotic?
As if to make it clear that there is, in fact, a pattern, a method to this madness, Mr. Bloomberg let it be known on Feb. 8 that he doesn’t necessarily think that Mr. Giuliani’s plan to move the Museum of the City of New York to the downtown civic center is the greatest idea since the West Side baseball-stadium proposal.
Mr. Giuliani has been silent so far, but one of his former aides, John Dyson, immediately characterized Mr. Bloomberg’s reconsiderations as “crazy” and “ridiculous.” Such vivid language was not unknown in former years in and around City Hall, and it is not too much of a stretch to speculate that they may convey Mr. Giuliani’s sentiments on the Bloomberg administration thus far.
After all, it’s not as though Mr. Giuliani had been forced to entrust his legacy to the likes of Mark Green, who would have been expected to begin an immediate rewrite of the History of the Giuliani Era, as written by the Mayor himself. Had Mr. Green been elected, and had he made some of the decisions Mr. Bloomberg has made, we would have heard from Mr. Giuliani by now (just as we have heard from Mr. Green on matters Bloombergian already).
The conventions of politics, however, demand that Mr. Giuliani steam in silence as his chosen successor basks in proclamations that, by golly, he’s no Giuliani–why, he’s inclusive; he reaches out to the alienated, and he even makes life better for reporters. While the rest of the country fawns over Mr. Giuliani as an American hero, New Yorkers are infatuated with his successor because he is not, after all, Rudy Giuliani lite.
This can’t be endured much longer. Just as Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t keep his poor opinion of his successor, William Howard Taft, to himself after a while, Mr. Giuliani can be expected to expound on Mr. Bloomberg’s flaws and mistakes before this year is out.
At which point, political insiders–looking, as ever, to the next election–will report the sighting of a bull moose outside Mr. Giuliani’s office.