NYC FOCUS: Did the elections matter?
The mayor will be the same pro-business, anti-labor dictator he has always been. In fact I expect him to be worse. He has just pulled off one of the biggest coups of recent history by flat out telling the voters they don't matter. It doesn't matter if the voters want term limits, Bloomberg will push those limits aside like Moses parting the Red Sea and simply spend any amount of money to win. NYC voters, $200 per vote. His ego will of course be boosted by this and he is bound to feel like there are no checks or balances on his power. And by and large he is right. NYC is run more dictatorially than any city I have lived in. That struck me during Giuliani's reign and it strikes me even more since the Bloomberg putsch. NYC doesn't need voters. Just sit back and trust Papa Bloomberg. I predict a bad third term.
Turning to Public Advocate, instead of the passive assent of Betsy Gotbaum, Bloomberg will have the far more active collaboration of Bill de Blasio who will aid Bloomberg in his attempts to turn the whole city over to wealthy developers and outside contractors. But we should get a handful of stands by Bill de Blasio which will give the illusion of standing up to Bloomberg, which may in the long run be an improvement. Bill de Blasio is ambitious and he lets NOTHING stand in the way of his ambition. To be mayor, de Blasio will have to either be Bloomberg's tame pet (probably not a good way to impress voters) or find some very dramatic ways to stand up to Bloomberg. This latter is de Blasio's style. He will back developers, the local machine and Bloomberg 90% of the time. But he will choose a 10% of the time that doesn't matter so much to his donors, but makes an impression on voters. My wife points out de Blasio has a decent record standing up on education issues. I hope that means one of the main areas where Bloomberg will find active dissent from de Blasio is in education. We need some serious brakes to be put on Bloomberg's privatization of education and, much as I dislike where de Blasio stands on many things, I do think this could be his saving grace. In that sense, de Blasio will be an improvement over Gotbaum.
For Comptroller we trade the low key Thompson for the camera hungry and dynamic Liu. It is unclear that this will change how the Comptroller's office actually functions. My gut feeling is that it is an improvement and is potentially the only real (if small) check on Bloomberg's dictatorial powers if for no other reason than it will give Liu an opportunity to show off. Overall I think Liu has the potential of being an excellent Comptroller and his style will show the public what the Comptroller's office is all about. What I am less sure about is will Liu actually do a better job than Thompson. I think yes, but we will have to see.
As an aside, I also strongly believe that Liu and de Blasio are positioning themselves for mayoral runs. Will we see a Liu vs. de Blasio vs. Weiner vs. (fill in a few more names) primary in 4 years? Or will these guys coordinate their efforts and avoid some primary conflict? If they are now rivals for mayor, the next 4 years could be interesting. Liu is likely to stand up to Bloomberg to make an impression (could be grandstanding, real effort or both). Bill de Blasio could either take Bloomberg's side against Liu or could go the other way and try to out do Liu in standing up to Bloomberg, depending on which way de Blasio sees the wind blowing. I think it would be great if we saw 4 years of Liu and de Blasio trying to out do themselves in standing up to Bloomberg. But I suspect they each with find small areas to take stands while overall leaving the city in Bloomberg's control with no real checks and balances.
The City Council will not change much. Reform almost certainly will be off the table with the new city council. It is true that several incumbents lost, which in itself is pretty good. However no candidate who really looked to shake things up won. Daniel Dromm and Debi Rose seem like excellent people (assuming the WFP scandal doesn't bite them back), but not really strong enough personalities to seriously challenge the status quo. Margaret Chin has been called "too radical," which gives some promise of shaking things up, but I don't know enough about her to know if the reality will fit that accusation. I honestly hope it does! I don't really know Rev. Fernando Cabrera, but he doesn't strike me as someone who will shake the status quo much. Jumaane Williams I also don't know well enough to judge, but don't have high hopes for any real change when it comes to having a stronger, more honest city council.
Brooklyn Party Boss Vito Lopez did get a beating in the 34th district where the Lopez/WFP alliance backed Maritza Davila against Diana Reyna and lost twice. But this isn't really a victory for reform so much as a loss for Lopez since Reyna was formerly Lopez's ally who simply didn't show enough loyalty. Will she actually side with reform? I am skeptical. However, some of the main reformers in Brooklyn started out as machine allies who simply weren't willing to toe the line enough for Lopez. So perhaps now that Reyna has nothing to lose by siding with the reformers, she will show a new independence. That is the best case scenario. But more likely, there is no real change here.
Looking at some of the open seats I see even less room for optimism. Steve Levin is a machine hack who has no interest in reform or in standing up to Bloomberg at all. Actually, I suspect he will be practically no change over David Yassky except Levin doesn't try to pretend he is a reformer the way Yassky did. Which is best: a corrupt politician who makes no pretense or a weasel who talks good but is still a corrupt politician?
Brad Lander will be no real change over Bill de Blasio except he will be a less friendly and more brooding version of Bill. Now I have one political friend who says I am misjudging Brad. I hope he is right. But every interaction I have had with Brad makes me feel he is nothing but a less likable version of de Blasio and that we will see no change whatsoever here.
There are cases where I hate to be right. Kevin Kim, who seemed a decent candidate, lost to Republican Daniel Halloran. Now after the primary I was glad Vallone lost because he is a DINO, but now we have an actual Republican instead. I took some crap because I criticized Kim for his choice of Michael Tobman for his campaign. Tobman has a history of nasty, losing campaigns. In that piece I expressed my support for Kim, but warned that hiring Tobman is a bad omen. Sadly, I was right. Tobman was associated with another loss. I am starting to feel all I need to know is that Tobman is hired by someone to write that person off as losing. I would have loved to have been proven wrong in this one. But the net result is worse than before because now a Republican will replace a Democrat and I doubt that will lead to any reform.
The other open seat races I know less about but don't see any real fire breathing reformers in the lot.
So machine politics continued to dominate with no strong reforming force making it. Early on I had hoped WFP would prove the reforming force, but instead they sided with the machines wherever possible and violated campaign finance rules to boot, thus proving they are not helpful in reforming NYC politics.
So, NYC, looks like we will limp along with inadequate fire house coverage, schools that increasingly are outsourced to outside contractors for more and more testing but no real change (unless de Blasio takes a stand on education), more slush fund scandals (unless Liu proves an effective Comptroller), though perhaps a bit more carefully hidden than in the past, more developer give aways and, should Bloomberg decide he wants a fourth term, I am sure the ever more spineless city council will once again roll over and give it to him. And voters will again complain about it...and re-elect incumbents overwhelmingly. Business as usual in NYC with no real change from yet another low turnout election.