A lame-horse race

The 'city that never sleeps' was lulled into slumber by Tuesday’s mayoral elections.

Alan Miller

Topics Politics

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On 8 November, New York overwhelmingly re-elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who won 58 per cent, to challenger Fernando Ferrer’s 38 per cent.

Seldom has so much money been spent to say so little – indeed, in US politics today there seems to be an inverse relationship between expenditure and content. This perhaps would provide some hope to anyone who wanted to put forward a strong platform with compelling ideas. However, despite complaining about the spending power of Mayor Bloomberg (whose expenditure ran at around $75 million), Ferrer didn’t take up this opportunity.

Both sides seemed to be frenetically dashing all over the five boroughs in an attempt to rally up some enthusiasm. Much of the debate, however, concentrated on the banal.

The history of Tammany Hall (the Democratic Party machine that once dominated city politics) often left much to be desired, to say the least. Yet today we are presented with the uninspiring spectacle of a billionaire managerial technocrat versus someone whose most invigorating statements are about where he came from, rather than where he wants to take New York. While photo-ops abound, the bigger questions about how we should live get pushed to one side.

Some have complained that ‘the city that never sleeps’ has been sanitised – first under Mayor Giuliani and then under Bloomberg. Sure, there is less likelihood of being mugged in the street, but at the cost of creating a sanitised suburban-style citysville, a stop-off for tourists. The cabaret licensing laws certainly have taken their toll on a once internationally acclaimed nightlife, and now the anti-smoking policies mean that supposedly tough, outspoken New Yorkas are relegated to the sidewalks of bars and restaurants, to huddle together and grumble about the draconian legislation.

Bloomberg, who has amassed a fortune in media and takes only $1 a year as a wage, projects the idea that New York is a place one can do business. Little mention is made of his changing political parties to ensure getting into power, from Democrat to Republican. In fact, these terms have very little meaning today, even though people may emotionally identify with one or the other.

Perhaps we should be grateful that the campaign has not degenerated quite so low as the New Jersey election for governor – which went to the polls on the same day. Here both candidates (Jon S Corzine, the incumbent governor; and Doug Forrester, the unsuccessful challenger) are wealthy and spent vast sums. The election collapsed into farce, though, with rumours and accusations about extra-marital affairs dominating the debate.

Then there is California, where ‘Terminator’ Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a vote on four ballot measures – and lost all four. Here it is most evident how the death of politics has played out. First celebrities are seen as having more credibility than politicians – but this doesn’t last, as soon the celebrity becomes the politician and is tagged with the same label. The fact that Hollywood’s Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner are being pitched as the opposition simply continues this dynamic.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that these elections will further citizens’ disengagement from politics. To turn the tide, we need to get serious about what is missing in today’s discussions – and begin to put forward an inspiring view of the world that will draw people in to shaping it for themselves.

Alan Miller is director of the NY Salon.

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Topics Politics


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