The complaint against “politics as usual” is as old as politics itself, and generally is no more useful than raging against the rain or the wind or the dark of night.
In New York in 2005, however, voters have a chance to ratify a sweeping change in city politics and government. What’s more, voters across the Hudson River in New Jersey have a similar opportunity to dispense with the hoary traditions of a tired and corrupt civic culture.
Republican Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Jon Corzine are no ordinary politicians. They bring to public service decades of success and leadership in the private sector—and they bring to government new ideas, a loathing for the politics of grievance, and a businessman’s concern for accountability and efficiency.
For these reasons and more, The Observer endorses Michael Bloomberg for re-election as Mayor of New York, and Jon Corzine for election as governor of New Jersey.
Mike Bloomberg for Mayor
Four years ago, New York seemed on the verge of returning to the bad old days of pander and patronage. Rudolph Giuliani’s tumultuous tenure as Mayor was coming to an end, and the Democrats were poised to reassert their monopoly over politics, power and policy, just as they did after the reigns of Fiorello LaGuardia and John Lindsay.
In the summer of 2001, Michael Bloomberg seemed like New York’s answer to two-time failed Presidential candidate Ross Perot. He wasn’t well known, he clearly was not a slick politician, and his candidacy was regarded as little more than a full-employment act for political consultants. Sure, he had a few ideas, but he seemed destined for electoral oblivion.
Remarkably, however, Mr. Bloomberg persisted, and when the Democratic primary descended into the old politics of race and ethnicity, the underdog had his opening. New Yorkers, disgusted by the Democrats and stunned by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, broke precedent and chose this Republican to succeed another Republican, Mr. Giuliani. He was the right choice then, and he is the right choice now.
In retrospect, it is astonishing how readily New York turned over the keys to City Hall to a man who had never held elective office, and who was best known to the city’s cultural elites, not its political insiders. The audacity of the experiment was breathtaking—New York was but eight years removed from an era in which it had been dismissed as ungovernable. Not since the election of W.R. Grace in 1880 had New York elected so raw a political rookie as Mr. Bloomberg.
Mr. Bloomberg’s election and popularity demonstrate New York’s desire to move away from a discredited political culture that almost destroyed the city twice—once in the 1970’s, and again in the early 1990’s. He has demanded and received accountability from his commissioners. He has demanded and received results from the school system. He has demanded and received efficiency in the delivery of city services. He broke with the no-tax-increase orthodoxy and raised property taxes to deal with the fiscal crisis he inherited after 9/11. Since then, property values have soared.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a businessman-Mayor would achieve such laudable goals as accountability and efficiency. But Mr. Bloomberg has also proven himself adept in his new field of politics.
Early on, he got what Mayors before him asked for but couldn’t get—direct control over the city’s public schools. He challenged New York to judge him by the results he achieved, or didn’t, in reforming education. It was audacious, and it worked. Test scores are up, we are no longer promoting children who cannot meet minimum educational standards, morale among teachers is high, and the city’s 1.1 million students are better served today than they were four years ago. Under Mike Bloomberg, there’s good reason to think that our school system will continue to improve and attract the middle-class families who now move to the suburbs.
The city is safer, too, which is astonishing. Rudy Giuliani will always be remembered as a Mayor who turned New York into the nation’s safest large city. Mr. Bloomberg ought to be remembered as the Mayor who kept it that way, and then some. With his brilliant police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, Mr. Bloomberg has presided over continued drops in crime. When it comes to public safety, New York has seen a once-in-a-lifetime transition from superstar to superstar—like Joe DiMaggio giving way to Mickey Mantle as the Yankees’ center fielder.
The racial divide has also softened over the past four years. Despite Democratic opponent Fernando Ferrer’s attempts to appeal to voters based on ethnic and racial identity, the Bloomberg campaign has been notable for the broad array of support it has obtained from people of all races and religions.
With favors owed to very few of the city’s usual suspects, Mr. Bloomberg put together a team of deputy mayors, commissioners and advisors based on only one consideration: competence. The results speak for themselves. From the city’s quietly effective policies on the homeless to its dramatic gains in economic development, the Bloomberg administration exudes competence. This team knows how to get things done. For example, throughout the city, from Coney Island to lower Manhattan to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, there are plans to revitalize the city’s waterfront, a long-neglected and precious resource.
Michael Bloomberg is not a larger-than-life personality, and it is to his credit that he doesn’t try to be a showman. But we’ve seen enough of him to realize that he is impatient with mediocrity and tireless in his pursuit of excellence.
New York took a chance four years ago on a man they didn’t really know. Now, they have a chance to reward this onetime stranger with a smashing mandate.
Jon Corzine for Governor of New Jersey
Jon Corzine is the kind of politician who would make a brilliant Governor of New York. Which is why we enthusiastically endorse him for governor of New Jersey.
When he was elected to the United States Senate in 2000, Mr. Corzine was something of a curiosity, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs who spent $63 million of his own money to finance his campaign. But in his first term in the Senate, Mr. Corzine has more than earned the trust that New Jersey voters placed in him. That he wishes to leave the dignified halls of the Senate to occupy the governor’s mansion of a state beset with huge budget deficits, high property taxes and a history of tainted government only confirms his often-stated belief that his success on Wall Street—he’s worth an estimated $260 million—carries with it a stirring moral imperative to give something back.
Senator Corzine has been notable for his rejection of the safe, middle-of-the-road approach pioneered by so-called “centrist” Democrats in the mold of Bill and Hillary Clinton; he argues that if Democrats always begin to negotiate from the middle, the end result will always be on the right. And so he has emerged as a progressive Democrat, and one of George W. Bush’s most vigorous adversaries: He was one of a handful of Senators to vote against the war in Iraq, has opposed the President’s foolhardy tax cuts, and is an outspoken proponent of tough gun laws. He was integral to passing legislation for corporate reform in the wake of the Enron scandal, and overall has been a staunch protector of investors’ interests.
It’s hard to imagine an opponent who could overcome Mr. Corzine’s gifts, though the Republican candidate, a wealthy businessman and former small-town mayor named Douglas Forrester, has spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money trying. But Mr. Forrester’s campaign has become an absurd, one-note attack on Mr. Corzine’s votes to raise taxes, without substance or vision.
New Jersey’s governor has enormous powers—in fact, he is the only statewide elected official. Jon Corzine has the right stuff to reform and revitalize our neighboring state’s troubled government.