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24th March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 24, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Poll results that show Mayor Bloomberg with a 48% favorable job rating have to give both pause and encouragement to the mayor’s political team. It could be worse. But it certainly should be better.
The fact is that there is no air of crisis in the city, as there was over crime when David Dinkins was mayor or racial tension as there was during Ed Koch’s last term, or a fiscal crisis, as there was during Abe Beame’s troubled tenure.

These were the last three incumbent mayors to be defeated. In each instance, some major citywide concern managed to become so overwhelming that the voters felt that a change in City Hall was necessary. So why is the current mayor getting such middling grades and losing trial heats to both Fernando Ferrer and C. Virginia Fields?
At a time when the hottest issue is whether or not to build a football stadium on the West Side, an issue that may evoke some passion, but is hardly a life or death concern, a mayor with Mr. Bloomberg’s record should be in
vincible. But the polls still show he is in trouble.
Perhaps it is a sense among voters that the mayor is “not one of them,” a refrain that comes back to haunt him again and again.
There is something about the way Mr. Bloomberg conducts city government that seems to resonate poorly with voters. Perhaps it is the air of absolute certainty that whatever path he has chosen on a particular issue is the one and only path to success. John Lindsay, who was in a similar situation in 1969, shared at least one thing with Mr. Bloomberg, the political media consultant David Garth. Perhaps Mr. Garth will remind the mayor how Lindsay snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Lindsay, a Republican like the mayor, was much more liberal than most members of his party, and even more liberal than many Democrats. He was widely viewed as a visionary and hailed for his efforts to bridge racial gaps. But
he couldn’t clear the streets after a major snowstorm, and appeared insensitive to the concerns of the outer-borough middle class. He reclaimed his mayoralty in part by admitting to error, particularly in regard to the snow, and also by having the good fortune to have the clownish Mario Procaccino as his Democratic foe.
There may or may not be clowns among the Democratic hopefuls, and it certainly won’t be up to Mr. Bloomberg which one he will face in the final contest. This is not “Iron Chef.”
But it is within the mayor’s ability to concede that he might be wrong on a particular issue, and take the appropriate corrective action, as Lindsay did so effectively in 1969 under Mr. Garth’s tutelage.
According to the Newsday/NY1 poll released earlier this week, the number one issue of concern to voters is economic development and jobs. This should be a slam-dunk for the mayor. But close behind is a stickier issue — education. Here, in every recent poll, the voters overwhelmingly reject his stewardship of the public schools.
The mayor should carefully study Democratic hopeful Anthony Weiner’s Tuesday night hijacking of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s community forum in Maspeth, Queens. Responding to tough criticism from Mr. Klein on NY1’s “Road to City Hall” program several weeks earlier, the congressman challenged Mr. Klein face to face, the kind of confrontation the chancellor eschews.
As the cameras from NY1 rolled, at one point making the chancellor appear like a deer caught in the headlights, Mr. Weiner suggested that a course correction was in order.
“We do not have the luxury of saying ‘Let’s work out the kinks for another four, five or six years,’” the congressman said. “We don’t have that luxury. When we know things aren’t going well, one of the things we can do in government is to say we get it, we understand, we’re going to change our course before it’s too late. For that second or third grader, I don’t want a situation where that child is in eighth or ninth grade before we finally realize, oops this wasn’t such a good idea.”
Responding specifically to Mr. Weiner’s suggestion that the private funds raised for projects such as the Leadership Academy for principals be spent on the classroom. Mr. Klein noted that these funds have strings attached by the donors. Mr. Weiner has repeatedly demanded that private funds raised for the schools become subject to the same oversight as tax levy funds.
Until Mr. Bloomberg learns from the experience of Mr. Garth’s success in reelecting Lindsay, this mayor, who asked to be judged on his education reforms, will surely be facing more incidents like this as the campaign heats up.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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