Barrett: Just How Strange and Pathetic was Bloomberg’s Victory?


The key question coming out of this election is whether Mike Bloomberg got the message. Can he listen to voters he’ll never face again? If Bloomberg L.P took a hit like he did Tuesday, wouldn’t the company take stock and make real changes?

Bloomberg spent $80 million in 2005 and won by 19 percent of the vote. He spent more than a hundred million this year (the final number isn’t in yet), and won by 4.6 percent of the vote. Diminishing returns on an investment like that might trigger a change at the top in the corporate world. Since that’s not possible at City Hall, isn’t it time for change in the inner circle? Is there, for example, a single significant initiative in the eight Bloomberg years that was actually sparked or executed by a black or Latino? Isn’t it time to broaden the Patti Harris, Kevin Sheekey, Ed Skyler inner circle to include someone that wasn’t part of the Bloomberg L.P. product line? When Bloomberg held his “senior staff meeting” at 9:15 this morning wasn’t it mostly a gaggle of white men high-fiving each other with blackberries in their hands?

In 2005, Fernando Ferrer got 503,219 votes; last night Bill Thompson got 506,717 (Ferrer’s final tally includes absentee and affidavit ballots, while Thompson’s is not yet final). Bloomberg’s total dropped from 753,089 in 2005 to 557,059 now. The big difference between the elections is that Bloomberg will get between 180,000 and 200,000 fewer votes than four years ago when all the paper ballots are recorded. Bloomberg will also get the lowest total vote of any mayoral winner in a two-candidate race since 1917, when John Hylan got 314,000 votes.

Ed Koch got 868,000 votes when he ran for a third term in 1985, hundreds of thousands more than Bloomberg. If Mike reads his measly vote as a mandate for more of the same, he is delusional. Yet that’s how he spun it election night and today — as a towering triumph over anti-incumbent sentiment.

In the list of “what ifs” that are dominating the commentary today, let’s start with the United Federation of Teachers. Had the union with the best phone banks in the city endorsed Thompson, joined by the hospital workers from 1199, which has the best field organization, Thompson might well be mayor. We will soon know what taxpayers will pay for the UFT’s neutrality when a new contract with unaffordable salary hikes is announced; the old one expired in October. The only way the mayor will pay for those increases is by laying off teachers and other city workers, contrary to the silly claims he will make that he set aside funding for a labor settlement. The public pricetag for 1199’s neutrality will be tougher to decipher.

The Working Families Party, some of whose biggest funders like 119 and the UFT were neutral, endorsed Thompson but disappeared on election day. If the big primary and runoff story was WFP’s clout in the victories of John Liu and Bill DeBlasio in the comptroller and public advocate races, the big story yesterday was how little the WFP did for Thompson, who got almost 20,000 fewer WFP votes than the party’s favorite DeBlasio.

There is something so odd about Bloomberg. He saluted the women in his life in his victory speech last night but had none of them on the stage with him. No one from his coalition of supporters or his administration was up there either. He was a one-man show with multi-racial paid extras behind him. The Sheraton ballroom was flooded with glowing young professionals and students, well dressed and glass in hand, clapping indifferently for the Man with the Checkbook as if they were on the election-day tab. It’s hard to imagine that so much money so recklessly spent could have its disadvantages. But one of them is that almost everyone around you expects to be paid, and few dare to tell you what they really think. Money trumps authenticity.

Research Assistance: L.C.E. Jordan, Steve P. Ercolani, Kate Rose, Grace Smith