How much credit does Michael Bloomberg deserve for the relative calm that’s followed the Sean Bell verdict? It’s a question that’s more than just academic, given the potential for racially fraught episodes just like this one to have a defining impact on a mayoral legacy – and on a mayor’s political fortunes moving forward.
According to veteran New York political reporter Andrew Kirtzman, who I emailed for his take on the question, Bloomberg has been more lucky than skillful in presiding over what has been, so far, a restrained fallout.
Here’s Kirtzman’s take, from early this weekend:
My point is that restraint from City Hall only gets you so far in these situations. The truth is that Bloomberg has been pretty lucky when it comes to race relations: Economic times have been good; minority neighborhoods are flowering and safer than ever (a trend that began under Giuliani); an African-American running for president is sparking hope in poor neighborhoods and Harlem has sent one of its own to the governor’s mansion. Then there’s the fact that Al Sharpton has grown decidedly less militant over the years. Today he’s more of a political power-broker than a street activist, and no one has come close to assuming his former role.
Bloomberg has benefited from a lot of these trends. As a result, he’s been mostly spared the hornet’s nest of racial conflict. If, God forbid, a racial conflagration were to result from the Sean Bell verdict, it would be represent the mayor’s first real test. Whether he’d emerge looking like a fair-minded healer or an out of touch billionaire is something we don’t really know. Let’s hope we never have to find out.