17 May 2009

New York: You Have No Choice

An editorial from the May 16 New York Times:

Mayor Bloomberg’s Rich Campaign

Months ahead of schedule, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City seems to be running frantically for re-election, much the way he did as an unknown eight years ago. Despite polls showing his increasing popularity among New Yorkers, the mayor has already spent $18.7 million on his re-election campaign — more than three times the limit for primary candidates who use public campaign money.

At the same time, his political operatives are busily sending out negative information, especially about Representative Anthony Weiner, even though Mr. Weiner is still not firmly in the race.

This is starting to look like overkill. The mayor is expected to saunter easily into a third term, but the negative track of his campaign belies his claims about taking the high road and running the positive race of an easy front-runner. Meanwhile, the money he is spending and expected to spend undermines the foundations of the city’s model campaign-financing system.

The constant hammering at Mr. Weiner, who has said he will decide whether to run in a couple of weeks, has forced the House member to spend his time explaining why he missed a few votes in Congress and had to return campaign funds from foreign citizens. It’s not clear whether these tactics reflect a real fear of Mr. Weiner’s political might or the Bloomberg people simply want to goad him into a primary contest with Comptroller William Thompson, the leading Democrat right now. In any case, these maneuvers lend a thuggish cast to Mr. Bloomberg’s Park Avenue-style campaign.

As for his bulging campaign budget, Mr. Bloomberg would have made a better choice by honoring the spending limits imposed on candidates who participate in the city’s financing system. The system limits spending in primary campaigns to $6.2 million — and about the same amount in the general election. Democratic candidates must observe the limit in the primary, but, because Mr. Bloomberg has opted out, they can raise and spend as much as they want in the general election.

Mr. Bloomberg argues that by spending his own money, he is beholden to just one person — himself. But, if spending his own money sends the message that only the rich can win elections, politics in New York City will be far poorer as a result.

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