The Magazine

Bloomberg's Bedfellows

As the mayoral election shows, racial politics are alive and well in New York.

Nov 19, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 10 • By FRED SIEGEL
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New York's racialized political culture has been shaped by two distinctive features. First there is the sheer size of the political prize. The vast public sector, paid for with a $40 billion budget, employs directly or indirectly about a third of the work force. In the Bronx that portion rises to nearly half. Second, in other cities--like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where elections are nonpartisan--candidates have to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate. In New York, which is five-to-one Democratic, you can usually win the prize simply by winning the Democratic primary. That means that an operator like Sharpton who can deliver about 25,000 votes becomes a force to be feared.

Rudy called the race hustlers' bluff and delivered eight years of success. Bloomberg, who like Rockefeller is politically promiscuous, has begun his reign by embracing the people Giuliani shunned. But can he govern with the coalition that helped him win? The Giuliani voters who backed Bloomberg are only now waking up to the fact that Rudy's heir is already reversing Rudy's policies. The two halves of the Bloomberg coalition are a bit like drunk swingers who barely remember the night before and wake up asking, "What have I gotten myself into?" Bloomberg is betting that, like Rockefeller, he can use his personal fortune to smooth over the differences. He may be right, but then again he may find that it's a lot easier to cut a deal than to get his new partners to keep it.

Fred Siegel is a professor at the Cooper Union for Science and Art in New York and the author of "The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A. and the Fate of America's Big Cities" (Encounter Press).

November 19, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 10