Some New Yorkers objected when Michael Bloomberg threw open the doors of his East 79th Street townhouse for a $15,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Governor George Pataki on Feb. 6, with President George Bush as the guest of honor. But Mayor Bloomberg’s willingness to help fellow Republicans raise money may turn out to be one of the wisest strategic moves of his Mayoralty. The new alliances he is building with politicians in Washington, D.C., and Albany are crucial to the city’s ability to bring its $4 billion deficit under control and rebuild the downtown area. Simply put, we need friends in Washington and Albany, and Mr. Bloomberg isn’t wasting any time pretending otherwise.
As The Observer reported last week, the Mayor is using his own fortune as well as his fund-raising connections to help bring New York City to the attention of national Republican leaders. The same week of his townhouse gathering, he spoke at a fund-raiser at the Metropolitan Club attended by 11 U.S. Senators, including Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter and Kay Bailey Hutchison. After the speech, sources told The Observer ‘s Greg Sargent, Mr. Bloomberg worked the room, pressing the case for federal assistance to New York. Surely not lost on the Senators was the Mayor’s very long list of fund-raising contacts, culled from his many years as an active philanthropist.
Despite Sept. 11, the Republicans in Washington still tend to regard New York as a Democratic bunker, and are not inclined to dig deep into the national coffers to help out. By turning the city into a refueling stop for Republicans, Mr. Bloomberg is trying to change that perception.
This city’s Republican Mayors have typically had difficult relations with Governors of the same party: remember John Lindsay sparring with Nelson Rockefeller, and Rudolph Giuliani tangling with Mr. Pataki. Again, Mr. Bloomberg is out to break that pattern.
New Yorkers concerned about the Mayor’s “Orrin Hatch moment” can relax. After all, his administration is loaded with Democrats–there simply weren’t enough Republicans to go around–and Mr. Bloomberg is unlikely to abandon the centrist perch that got him elected. By courting the country’s Republican power brokers, the Mayor is making a smart investment in New York City’s future.
A few years ago, in a display of bad government spectacular even by New York standards, the State Legislature and Governor Pataki repealed New York City’s commuter tax. Back then, when the treasury was flush and the good times seemed endless, the loss of some $400 million a year in tax revenue was shrugged off as the price of living in a poorly governed state. Now, however, Mayor Bloomberg is confronted with some of the worst budget deficits since the fiscal crisis, and that $400 million a year could come in handy.
The time has come to put idiotic partisan posturing aside and do what’s right for the city: restore the commuter tax, a levy so small–0.45 percent of an individual’s annual income–that many out-of-towners didn’t even realize they were paying it.
It’s worth remembering why we lost all that revenue in the first place. Republicans and Democrats were battling each other in a special State Senate election in Rockland County. The Republican candidate–and eventual winner–decided to engage in a little city-bashing: He denounced the commuter tax and called for its repeal.
What to do? Well, a statesman might have suggested that commuters who use city services, who benefit from police and fire protection, really should pay some small amount to the city’s general fund. A statesman would also point out that the commuter tax is extremely low. Statesmen, however, are hard to come by in New York politics. Instead, the dithering Democrats decided to call for repeal of the tax, too, and in short order this terrible piece of legislation won approval in the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate. Mr. Pataki signed it, and a dopey campaign slogan became law.
It’s time to correct this bit of bungling. For the sake of the city, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Mr. Pataki ought to do the right thing by restoring these revenues. At the same time, they should warn suburban lawmakers and candidates not to demagogue the issue in this election year. A wrong was perpetrated on the city, and now is the time to right it.
Mitt Romney Wins Olympic Gold
One of the more dynamic personalities at the Winter Olympics in Utah hasn’t won a medal, and he won’t even be competing for one. Mitt Romney, president of the Games’ organizing committee, has shown himself to be the most clever and articulate political player on the national stage at the moment. Brought in three years ago when the Salt Lake committee erupted in a bribery scandal, and overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars in post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorist precautions, Mr. Romney has reassured the athletes and the American people that these Olympics will go forward with dignity, sportsmanship and a bracing competitive spirit. The ability to see through obstacles is the mark of a leader; on Feb. 10, when his car became stuck in a traffic jam with others on the way to the men’s downhill competition, Mr. Romney hopped out and directed traffic on Interstate 84 until the police could arrive and take over. Now that’s a leader.
Who is Mitt Romney? He’s had ample experience in business as founder of Bain Capital Inc., a private holding company, and chief executive of Bain & Company, a management consulting firm. His father was the late George Romney, governor of Michigan. In 1994, politics almost became his profession, too, when he ran as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. A Mormon, he attended Brigham Young University and picked up an M.B.A. and law degree from Harvard University. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife of 30 years and their five children; they also have a home in Park City, Utah.
America and the world are tuning in to these Games; the TV audience for the opening night was the largest ever. There has been schlock–what was Steven Spielberg doing carrying the Olympic flag alongside Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa? And there has been controversy–the Russians taking the gold medal in figure-skating away from the more deserving Canadians. And there has been graceful athleticism, with more to come.
Meanwhile, Mr. Romney is said to be mulling a return to politics. We know of one state that wouldn’t object to a carpetbagger from Massachusetts.