The Magazine

France on the Hudson

It's 1973 all over again, as New York enters the ninth year of the reign of Michael Bloomberg.

Nov 16, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 09 • By FRED SIEGEL and HARRY SIEGEL
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In part because so-called "fusion" voting allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines, New York State has long been the trendsetter for strange political alliances. (The Conservative party candidate who forced the Republican out of the race before falling just short in New York's 23rd Congressional District is only the most recent example of how the state's third-party politics anticipates national trends.) The contemporary conservative movement was created not just by the Goldwater campaign of 1964, but also by William F. Buckley's 1965 run for mayor of New York. In the course of campaigning, the famously aristocratic Buckley discovered that the people who most identified with his politics were Gotham's working class Catholics. These "street-corner conservatives" were precursors of the Reagan Democrats. Similarly much of what came to be known as neoconservatism had its origins in the response of middle-class Jews to the depredations of New York City street crime and the dysfunctions of the city's welfare system which couldn't keep the streets clean despite taking citizens to the cleaners with taxes.

Bloomberg's narrow win foreshadows the Democratic party's national future. The mayor has close ties with the Obama administration--one prominent supporter reportedly called Valerie Jarrett to kindly suggest that "we stayed out of your race, now you stay out of ours"--and his low turnout triumph represents a new version of the two-party system.

In New York City, the traditional parties have atrophied. The Republicans exist largely as a ballot line ready to be sold--currently to the billionaire Bloomberg--while the leaderless Democrats will have gone, despite their dominance of the electoral rolls, nearly 20 years without electing a mayor. Locally neither party commands either enthusiasm or respect. In their stead comes a billionaire's party and a public sector union party. It's an exaggerated version of the national alliance between George Soros and the public sector unions that helps drive the Democrats' national agenda.

Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican turned independent, ran not only on the wink-wink Republican line but also on the Independence line created by fellow billionaire Tom Golisano, who made his fortune in upstate New York before the most recent round of state tax hikes sent him fleeing to Florida. Of course most of the party's nominal members think they've signed on as actual independents and have no idea they belong to a political party at all, let alone a shell ballot line controlled in New York City by the remnants of the New Alliance party, an anti-Semitic therapeutic cult. It was the Independence line that gave Bloomberg his margin of victory.

The Independence party exists because of a quirk in New York State's byzantine election laws, intended to protect incumbents (nearly half of all the ballot access suits filed nationally are filed in New York State), which allows for candidates to run on more than one ballot line. With nearly all elections in the city decided in the Democratic primaries, a second line can be an invaluable edge.

Bill Thompson, who received only sotto voce support from fellow Dems like President Obama, New York governor David Paterson, and New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, tried to attach himself to the new political vehicle in town, the Working Families party. The party has less than 20,000 members, but thanks in large part to its very effective union field operations it has largely taken control of a Democratic party with well over 3 million members.

The city has lost more than 100,000 private sector jobs since the downturn, but the public sector has suffered neither layoffs nor a reduction in its pay hikes which are well in excess of inflation. Secure in the saddle, the unions hedged their bet. When asked to define the middle class in a debate, Bloomberg farcically offered up only one specific group--"municipal workers, 300,000 of them." The average city worker receives $107,000 a year in salary and benefits, while the median annual salary for New York families is $50,000. Some of the union leaders backed Bloomberg, while the Working Families party itself backed Thompson. No matter who won the election, the public sector unions would be winners in the next administration.