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By Jon Campbell
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Rudy Giuliani volunteered to pull the switch on Osama bin Laden himself. But Mike Bloomberg has barely mentioned him, referring to him once in four years, and even then, in a joking aside. Asked a week before the first anniversary of 9-11 in 2002 where a missing iconic flag raised over the Trade Center wreckage might be, Bloomberg said he didn't have any idea. "I don't know where Osama bin Laden is either," he quipped. That was it. The same for Al Qaeda itself.
It has become a veritable axiom that the Bush administration's Iraq fixation has diverted it from apprehending bin Laden, but the mayor of the city Osama savaged has yet to utter an encouraging word about the half-hearted pursuit, much less critique it. In fact, he recently tweaked Fernando Ferrer as a death penalty flip-flopper when Ferrer, very much unlike Mike Bloomberg, raised the specter himself, saying he'd make bin Laden an exception to his "moratorium" on executions. Bill Cunningham, senior adviser to Bloomberg's campaign, says he "can't think of the circumstances where the subject of bin Laden would come up," an echo of the startling Bush declaration that he doesn't "spend much time on bin Laden, to be honest with ya."
Democrats like John Kerry in 2004 had no trouble figuring out Osama's continuing relevance. Ferrer told the Voice: "Bush has largely changed the subject. I said during the 2004 campaign that we had more cops at Madison Square Garden for the convention than we had troops in Afghanistan looking for this guy. Bloomberg has pulled his punches on Bush and everybody who's hurt this city."
What New Yorker in 2001 would've imagined that the mayor we then elected would neither act to restore what we lost at ground zero, nor press the president to make good on his "wanted dead or alive" threat or bullhorn promise that "the people who knocked down these towers" would "hear from all of us soon"? Don't we expect the mayor to be our badgering lobbyist in Washington for more than homeland security dollars? Don't we want him asking just what the "smoke 'em out" president meant by "soon"? Don't we all, in fact, think bin Laden still represents a threat, particularly to New York? And isn't Mike Bloomberg's silence a measure of his partisan softness on Bush, one of a plethora of indications that our politically deferential mayor prefers to push the mute button when our memories and our fears demand he turn up the volume?
Bloomberg also recently rebuffed press questions about his position on Iraq, insisting that "it's not a local issue and I don't have anything to say."
Thirty-three dead New Yorkers, a potential trillion dollars in resources diverted from homeland defense, a breeding ground for the subway attack he warned us about a few days agonone of that makes Mute Mike speak out. Maybe he feels the same way about the linked question of the elusive Osama as he does about the war. Maybe, to Bloomberg, Bush's bin Laden blunder is merely another "foreign policy" matter unrelated to garbage pickup, making it one more pass he's giving a president who traded beards on us, cynically substituting Saddam for the man who killed thousands of our brothers and sisters.
Actually, as quiet as the mayor and his media allies would now like to keep it, Bloomberg has been quite willing to address these issues on and off over his mayoral years, invariably rallying to George Bush's side.
When Laura Bush came to New York in May 2004 to dedicate a public park to those who died on 9-11, Bloomberg followed her defense of the Iraq war with his own. "Let me add something to that," he said. "Don't forget that the war started not very many blocks from here." The Times reported that the mayor was "promoting one of the notions that is central" to the war's rationale, namely that it's "justified by what happened on Sept. 11."
In September 2004, he said to applause from a small Staten Island organization: "I'm voting for George W. Bush and it's mainly because I think we have to strike back at terrorists. To argue that Saddam Hussein wasn't a terrorist is ridiculous. He used mustard gas or some kind of gas against his own people."
When Bloomberg appeared before the annual Lincoln Day dinner of the Staten Island GOP in April 2003, he declared: "We are going to get George W. Bush re-elected as president of the United States. We are going to carry New York city and state. Everybody thinks I'm crazy, but I think we can do it." Newsday reported that he "was as boosterish of the Iraqi war effort as he had been so far," quoting him as saying: "It's not only to protect Americans. It's America's responsibility to protect people around the world who want to be free." In this midwar salute, Bloomberg concluded that Bush was "standing up, doing the tough things, and that's what we need for the city."
Similarly, on March 24, 2003, Bloomberg told a Brooklyn church: "If you take out a tyrant who clearly gassed tens of thousands of his own people, if you stabilize a part of the world where, tragically, terrorism goes on every day, then it will have been the right de cision." Even though the City Council passed a resolution opposing the war, Bloomberg called an old friend, Paul Wolfowitz, to express his desire to host a ticker tape parade "to say thank you," apparently as unaware as the "Mission Accomplished" president that the troops would not be coming home for years. Bloomberg actually contributed $5 million to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Affairs in the late '90s, when war architect Wolfowitz was dean.