The Bloom is Off

On Friday I returned to the Golden EIB Microphone for three hours of substitute-host-level Excellence in Broadcasting on America’s Number One radio show. You can find a few moments from my guest-hosting stint here. With respect to those live Steyn shows in Montreal I mentioned, you can find more details here.

Much of the show was taken up with Michael Bloomberg’s decision to shake up the presidential race by …zzzzzzzzz… oh, sorry, for some reason I dozed off during Bloomy’s thrilling campaign launch. Anyway, here’s what I had to say about the President-in-waiting after his last spectacular come-from-behind victory exactly eighteen years ago, in The Sunday Telegraph in London:

Even by week’s end, New Yorkers were still having difficulty grappling with the third weird disorientation of the city’s landscape: the Twin Towers are gone, the Yankees lost the World Series to some team from Arizona, and Michael Bloomberg is Mayor. Really. That rich-guy vanity candidate who was a lost cause and 12 points behind two weeks ago – his crazy dream came true! He’s now Hizzoner, Mayor Mike, Bloomy, and any other amiable diminutive the tabloids can find to humanise the candidate who spent the entire campaign failing to humanise himself. The New York Observer even resurrected the theme song Irving Berlin wrote for Ike and added a consonant: “They Like Mike!”

Whoa, steady on. It’s not so much that they like Mike, as that they really loathe the other fellow. What happened this week was that more New Yorkers voted against Mark Green than voted against Michael Bloomberg. But even that’s an impressive victory of sorts. On the eve of the election, the conventional wisdom was summed up by David Letterman on CBS: “I think I speak for everyone,” he began, “when I say what a shame it is only one of these guys can lose.”

Even the party machines loathed their respective candidates. Republican Michael Bloomberg was resented by Republicans, on the reasonable grounds that he’s not a Republican: the billionaire businessman was a lifelong Democrat until he decided he wanted to be Mayor, figured there were too many candidates chasing the Democratic nomination and jumped parties; he’s a big-time Democratic donor, worse, he campaigned as a self-declared “liberal”, which no Democratic candidate would dare to do because 10 minutes later the Republicans would be running attack ads saying, “So liberal he’s not afraid to say so”.

But, even in a dizzying neither-of-the-above race, Green had the edge. In a city with five registered Democrats for every Republican, he was the Democrat, Bloomberg the Republican. He’d spent virtually his entire career in city government, Bloomberg was a political amateur who’d never run for anything. Green grew up in Brooklyn, Bloomberg gave the impression he was visiting it for the first time in his life. Bloomberg was raised in Boston and didn’t care who knew it. Asked the standard NY pol’s question – who does he support, the Mets or the Yankees (two local rounders teams) – Bloomberg’s answer was the Boston Red Sox. He speaks in a Boston accent, and not that of the working-class precincts he spent his childhood in, but the worst kind of faux-patrician Boston vowels.

He’s also overdressed. And stiff. He’s hopeless at pressing the flesh with voters, and prone to say stupid things. He’s short, with no lips and two left feet. He has a striking knack for attracting sexual harassment suits from female employees – three in the last five years, one of them withdrawn, another dismissed on appeal, the third settled out of court. (Bloomberg was previously married to a Yorkshire lass, with whom he has two daughters. These days, he seems to be looking for a celeb wife. As he put it to Sharon Stone, “How many heterosexual billionaires are there out there?”) If you were to construct a surefire loser candidate under controlled laboratory conditions, it would probably look exactly like Mike Bloomberg, give or take a harassment suit.

But, amazingly, the loser won, squeaking through the the tightest race in New York history to become its 108th mayor. For the first time ever, the city has elected two Republican Mayors back to back. The only difference between Number 107, Rudy Giuliani, and Number 108 is that the former was elected to get tough on crime and clean up the town, and no one seems very clear what precisely they elected Mike Bloomberg for. His business experience sends conflicting messages. At Bloomberg, his eponymousfinancial and media empire, which has made him worth just over $4 billion, none of his 8,000 employees has a hierarchical title and any of them is theoretically entitled to use his office when he’s not around. This would be a novel approach to city government. On the other hand, disgruntled members of his mostly female sales team allege that on open display in the Bloomberg offices were blow-up sex dolls and giant rubber breasts with squirting nipples. These would be more problematic innovations for City Hall, though the latter might make an attractive addition to the Statue of Liberty.

Bloomberg is best known for its “Bloombergs”, which many powerful corporate executives keep on their desks. “Bloombergs” are not, as you might think, a novelty set of fake hooters with squirting nipples, but rather a box containing a computer terminal that provides live updated market prices. It’s in every banker’s office, as well as in upscale night spots like the 21 Club. Aside from the Bloombergs, Bloomberg also runs Bloomberg Magazine, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg News Radio and Bloomberg.com. Despite naming everything after himself, Bloomberg suffered from poor name recognition until relatively late in the mayoral race, when two-thirds of New Yorkers had still never heard of him. But that’s not really surprising, given that his entire business is aimed at a select few movers and shakers. In his rise from the attendant’s booth at a Boston car-lot through Saloman Brothers, to his own company, Bloomberg has always preferred servicing a small elite to the mass market. . Even his private parties can feel like corporate hospitality. In Britain, where he keeps a London home in Cadogan Square, he ferries friends by helicopter to Ascot and afterwards sends them a customised photograph album with snaps of them sipping champagne with him in his box. Whatever common touch Mike Bloomberg once had has long since disappeared. When the 59-year-old mogul decided he fancied being Mayor, connecting with the 99.4 per cent of New Yorkers who don’t listen to Bloomberg Radio looked set to be his biggest problem.

But Bloomberg turned out to be the luckiest candidate in big-time politics. On September 11, Rudy Giuliani was transformed from an abrasive lame-duck mayor last seen talking about how Viagra had done nothing for his erectile dysfunction into an heroic figure, a colossus. No candidate was looking for Giuliani’s endorsement before September 11: chances are it would lose you more votes than you gained. But, afterwards, it mattered. Giuliani gave it to Bloomberg in a wistful, elegiac campaign ad that more or less declared that the best way to express your gratitude to Rudy was to vote for Mike.

Mark Green, meanwhile, ordered up an ad restaging the moment when a Bloomberg saleswoman, Sekiko Garrison, gave her boss the inconvenient news that she was pregnant and he allegedly replied, “Kill it! Kill it!” The announcer then says: “Bloomberg bought her silence. Are you going to let Mike Bloomberg buy your vote?” This sort of thing would have worked most years but was somehow out of tune with the spirit of the times.

And, as it turns out, New Yorkers are happy to have their votes bought, at least for $50 million of the guy’s own money. But the fact remains that Bloomberg, a man surrounded by advisers to the discredited pre-Giuliani Mayor David Dinkins, has now been elected to office on Giuliani’s coattails. With Lower Manhattan devastated and many businesses fled permanently to New Jersey, New York faces tough times, and Mike and Rudy agree on very few of the solutions. By Christmas, it’s doubtful they’ll even be speaking. And by 2005 Rudy will be eligible to run again. Mayor Mike, good ol’ Bloomy, should enjoy it while he can.

~from The Sunday Telegraph, November 11th 2001.

For more details of those live Steyn shows in Montreal later this month, please see here.

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