City-State Feud Is Good for Business

I saw a clip of Mayor Bloomberg at a downtown economic-revival photo op the other day, and he said something mildly amusing. In the background, Governor George Pataki doubled over like those German troops who were read the world’s funniest joke by advancing British soldiers in the Monty Python sketch. I don’t recall the Mayor’s words precisely, but they had something to do with speculation that he may or may not have hinted that he may or may not run for re-election.

A day or two earlier, Mr. Bloomberg got a little confused about just how long he hopes to be Mayor, which suggests only that he is not always thinking about the next election. This is upsetting to many people in the political-observation industry, who have been speculating about the Mayor’s re-election intentions since 12:01 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 1, 2002.

The Mayor cleaned up his math during this downtown photo op, assuring his audience that he wants to continue ignoring his lease on Gracie Mansion for another six years and not just two. This is the line that made George Pataki laugh. I guess you had to be there.

Personally, I found this display of jovial harmony between Governor and Mayor horrifying. But I took comfort in the knowledge, which comes through a cynic’s wisdom, that the jocularity was just for show, that behind the scenes the Mayor and the Governor are fighting each other and their aides are inventing new combinations of expletives to describe their opposite numbers. Press reports indicate that city-state relations have come between the two men, and for this, New Yorkers should breathe a sigh of relief. The natural order has been restored.

Until recently, Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bloomberg have been on their best manners in each other’s company. They have praised each other and said how much they enjoyed working with each other. They may have offered to hold each other’s coats.

It was a sickening thing to see. It was positively unnatural: Shall the lion lay down with the lamb? Shall the donkey and the elephant embrace? Shall Hillary Clinton make her peace with the vast right-wing conspiracy? Shall the ill-mannered Jet fan shake hands with the classy Giant fan?

Heaven forbid. There are certain, er, certainties which we must have in life, otherwise we are forced to look into the abyss and see only chaos, confusion and complexity. And so we must have a relationship between the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York City which can be described in apocalyptic-not to mention apoplectic-language.

It has always been thus, and thus it shall, and should, remain. The Governor and the Mayor have several million constituents in common, and several million more who have little in common and who regard each other warily. The Governor must look after the concerns of the threadbare cities of central and western New York, the shells that once were cities like Newburgh along the Hudson River, the suburbs of Long Island, Westchester and Rockland, and the bedraggled villages of the North Country. These regions do not necessarily see New York City as their compatriots.

On the other hand, the city’s economic dominance, not just of the state but the globe itself, demands that attention be paid, and so it is the Mayor’s responsibility to see to it that the city be treated as something more than an A.T.M. for rural and suburban lawmakers. The competing interests, political and otherwise, of city and state were never so starkly on display than during the idiotic dispute which led to the abolition of the commuter tax a couple of years ago. The suburban lawmakers hated it, and the rural lawmakers were more than happy to oblige in order to show their constituents that they stood up to the might and power of the city. (The Speaker of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver of the Lower East Side, sold out the city’s interests so that Democrats in the suburbs might be spared the taint of being city-lovers.)

If Michael Bloomberg and George Pataki were still carrying on like real friends, voters would have reason to suspect that something untoward-or something even more untoward than usual-was taking place behind the scenes in Albany.

Governors and Mayors are not meant to be friends, even-or especially-when they are members of the same party. You know the litany: Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay, Hugh Carey and Abe Beame, Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch, pre-9/11 George Pataki and pre-9/11 Rudy Giuliani. These were men with egos sizable enough to attain their respective offices, and with missions that inevitable ran afoul of each other.

Anybody who encouraged this Mayor and this Governor to break with tradition stands guilty of committing civic treason.

After all, what else is there to talk about? The Mayor’s re-election?