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When Mr. Bloomberg leaves office next year, it’s safe to say that we’ll be analyzing his legacy a thousand times over to unravel just exactly what the City will look like in the coming years. But, if there is one thing we can point to as a souvenir of the past decade under Bloomberg, it’s the extent to which we are desensitized toward his financial presence in elections. And this was something he set out to do from the beginning.
When the businessman announced his run in 2001, he made two points very clear: He would take a dollar a year and self-finance his entire campaign. By doing so, he immediately distanced himself from the traditional mayorship role. He would do so again in his next two re-elections, leading many critics to argue that he bought his seat with money no other candidate could come close to garnering.
However, according to an exclusive story today in the New York Post, Mr. Bloomberg is leaning toward taking a spectator role in the upcoming election to name his successor. In other words: There’s a significant chance that not one cent from Bloomberg’s wallet will touch the fight for City Hall. If so, it will be the first time since 2002 that the most important election in New York City is totally (financially) disconnected from Hizzoner. In terms of a legacy, that’s a turning point in itself.
This comes as a surprise for several reasons.
Mr. Bloomberg is known for flaunting his cash to advance an agenda he deems fit; we maintained his super PAC beat for an extended period of time over the past few months. He donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Congressional candidates, same-sex marriage initiatives, gun control proposals, education programs and the sort. But it looks like his successor will not be on that list.
And he’s been known to hand pick his favorites. We picked up on this a few weeks ago with the story of how he asked Hillary Clinton to run for his seat in 2013 (for clarity, she said no). And this gesture has been extended to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a figure who has been labeled Mr. Bloomberg’s political darling. But that nepotism can backfire, especially in a post-Occupy time where income inequality has gone mainstream and the 1 Percent is a term that can dismantle political campaigns å la Mitt Romney.
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson focused on this class dynamic in 2009, when he painted Mr. Bloomberg as a too-rich-to-care technocrat who has ignored the demands of the people. The result: Thompson loses to Bloomberg by 4.5 points.
So a significant amount of cash flow support from Mr. Bloomberg could threaten, if not incapacitate, Ms. Quinn’s campaign, making it all too easy for opponents to pull the puppet card on her. As of now, he could funnel money from super PAC into her campaign next year but, if the City was to find out the two were politically connected, that money would be limited under New York City law. Maybe that’s why Mr. Bloomberg wants to bow out: his self-proclaimed campaign rule of “go big or go home” cannot work here.
However, before we make any significant conclusions about this, we have to keep in mind that an important characteristic of how Hizzoner rules is the sheer amount of uncertainty apparent in his decision-making procedures. We’ve learned this too many times over the years and Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson confirmed this notion for us today: “There isn’t a single person you would be talking to who would have a clue what he is thinking of regarding this,” Wolfson told the Post.
Nobody knows Mr. Bloomberg like Mr. Bloomberg.