By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
When I see Caroline Kennedy, I think Mike Bloomberg. In the contest for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, Kennedy is to Bloomberg what the City Council was to the mayor in his term limits battle—a partner in the spoils, yes, but, ultimately, little more than a pawn in his power grab.
If David Paterson makes Kennedy a senator despite her stumbling performance, spare résumé, and nose-diving poll numbers, credit should go to Bloomberg, an ally the unelected governor does not want to displease before his own probable race against Rudy Giuliani next year.
A Kennedy selection, should it happen, would become the prelude to a more formal alliance, or at least a non-aggression pact, between Bloomberg and Paterson that will carry through the 2009 mayoral election and the 2010 gubernatorial and senatorial races. Since Paterson, like most governors, is the leader of his state party, such a coalition would undercut any serious challenge this year to Bloomberg, a registered Independent.
Bloomberg made his fortune as the founder of a monopoly supplier of computerized corporate data. It should come as no surprise that he believes in monopoly politics as well—with him, of course, as the CEO, a post usually reserved for governors in New York's hierarchy. Should Paterson choose Kennedy, he is said to be considering signing up with Knickerbocker SKD, the political consultants already tied to Bloomberg, Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, and Christine Quinn, all of whom are up for re-election this year or next. (Josh Isay, Knickerbocker's co-founder, tells the Voice: "I don't believe that will happen." Isay also told the Voice that his firm has had no conversations with Paterson about representing him)
It was Bloomberg's term limits triumph that set the stage for the Kennedy candidacy. The mayor announced his decision to introduce a City Council bill overturning term limits—scuttling the votes of 1.2 million New Yorkers in two plebiscites—on October 2, the morning after a largely unnoticed dinner at a Bronx restaurant attended by the mayor; his girlfriend, Diana Taylor; Paterson; and the governor's wife, Michelle. Three weeks later, first-term Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens, a close Paterson associate, cast a swing vote in favor of the extension, though she'd been frequently mentioned as a possible speaker if term limits were kept in place and 35 Council members were forced to leave. Dickens not only voted against her own immediate interests, but she appeared to counter the public admonitions of her Harlem Democratic co-leader, Congressman Charlie Rangel, who assailed the extension at first, only to disappear when the opposition grew so loud that it appeared it might be defeated (the final vote was 29 to 22). Eleven of the 14 blacks in the Council, including three first-termers who did not directly benefit from it, voted for the Bloomberg bill, despite the fact that its defeat might well have led to the election of the city's second black mayor, Comptroller Bill Thompson.
If Paterson had stood with Thompson, the bill would probably have been defeated. Bloomberg might not have even introduced it if Paterson had told him at the dinner at Enzo's, or anytime earlier, that he would oppose it. After four consecutive Republican wins in mayoral elections, Paterson certainly had reason to contend that it was time to give a Democrat like Thompson a chance. But if Paterson rejected Bloomberg's third-term ambitions, he ran the risk of facing Bloomberg himself in 2010, an implied threat that hung like a dark cloud over the governor during the term limits debate. No wonder Paterson told reporters that he would "love to have the mayor around" for four more years, though he was officially neutral on the Council bill.
Had Thompson, like Paterson, been raised as a son of the Harlem Gang, instead of a son of one of Brooklyn's most powerful black families, he might have been able to count on other benefactors along 125th Street to safeguard his interests, but all that matters now to the ancient oligarchy that rules Harlem is keeping its accidental governor in place. (No one has actually witnessed the initiation rites of the Gang, but they are said to involve nocturnal arson at the brownstone of a randomly selected Bed-Stuy elected official; such was the treatment dished out to a Brooklyn-led mayoral coalition in 1985.) With Barack Obama in the White House and Malcolm Smith now the majority leader of the New York Senate, Paterson associates tell me they see Thompson as one black political star too many at the moment, who should simply seek re-election as comptroller and wait his turn.
The success of the mayor's coup has led, predictably, to an attempt at a second one—the installation of a Bloomberg-friendly U.S. Senator. Although Bloomberg had just spent the recent election season trying—in vain—to hold on to a GOP state senate majority, he and his advisers saw no reason why he couldn't insert himself almost immediately into the selection of the state's next Democratic senator.
Bloomberg's strategy: to box Paterson in again, just as he did on term limits, by offering up an irresistible choice. Kennedy's selection would subsequently link the mayor to the ultimate Democratic family just as Bloomberg was launching his own re-election effort. While the campaign operatives who advise both Bloomberg and Kennedy have been arguing publicly that Caroline would be an asset for the city in securing aid from Obama, her greater value to Bloomberg would be to get Obama to sit on his hands in the 2009 election.