On a chilly night, shortly before the NYC Mayoral elections, 20,000 New Yorkers and I gathered as one. In a city of anomaly and diversity, this is rare. The unifying event was the last ever Cream concert.
I found my seat in the packed house of overcoated, overexcited and overweight, largely middle-aged men. Together we were transported by the energy and genius of the music to a happy place, while wafts of marijuana and weakened testosterone filled Madison Square Garden
Bloomberg wins his second term. AFP
By the tenth chorus of ‘I’m so Glad’, my own rapture was so profound that I didn’t even hear the words ‘Eric Clapton, you are God!’ escape loudly from a place deep within me. Others did, and I was showered with screeching endorsements of ‘Go girlfriend!’ from the sprinkling of women around me; a proposal of ‘short term co-hab in an Upper West Side rent control’ from an old bloke in the row behind; and an intrusive flashlight from Heavy Security warning me to extinguish my smoke.
But that night in that giant arena, something more was happening.
Strangers hugged misty-eyed, recalling more certain times. ‘It’s time for the neo-rads to take the lead’ suggested a balding Wall Street type. These boys were yearning for attachment, for a new uber-nanny, for anyone.
For a moment, this audience was ripe for the picking. But as the music died, the crowds spilled out of the Garden into their regular transport and on to their private lives. Timing is everything.
Unsettled, I decided to walk the 20 blocks home. Incumbent Mayor Republican Mike Bloomberg’s campaign paraphernalia littered the streets, reminding me of the arbitrary arrest of 2000 anti-war protesters just over a year ago during the Republican National Convention. Pier 57 on the West Side Highway, dubbed ‘Guantanamo on the Hudson’, became a mass detention centre with conditions described by the National Lawyers Guild as a violation of basic democratic rights.
Half a million New Yorkers protested that week with placards carrying seditious slogans condemning the American invasion of Iraq. One year on, 64 per cent of Americans now believe those slogans to be true.
Two days later police and emergency services received hundreds of reports from Greenwich Village to Harlem about an inexplicable maple syrup aroma in the streets of Manhattan. All local news services reported the incident but left the answer lingering in the air. Some speculated that it was Homeland Security measuring the depth of penetration in the event of a poison gas attack. Another suggested it might be a Bloomberg mayoral campaign activity spreading a feeling of goodwill with the status quo.
The latter could well be true: Bloomberg reportedly spent over $US75 million about $100 a vote and ultimately secured a 20 per cent winning margin. He didn’t actually need the numbers, but polls are the Dow Jones index of political muscle here, and buying the extra points for a landslide victory is a blue chip investment. In his favour was the NYC notion of accountability: self-finance your own campaign and there are no political debts to settle, no pressure groups to repay and no unions to placate.
Bloomberg, a mere citizen Brazilianaire four years ago, scraped in on the back of 9/11. When buyers’ remorse set in during the early period of his term, he had just about the lowest mayoral approval rating on record. It was widely rumoured that 61 per cent of New Yorkers would not have invited him to their Thanksgiving dinner.
However, driven not by ideology but by vision, pragmatism and mega-management solutions to NYC’s litany of problems, Bloomberg has become the new gold standard for the non-partisan political leader. His overwhelming victory in a lopsidedly Democratic city crossed all social, economic, racial and religious divides.
The ‘Democrats for Bloomberg’ alliance, which placed a full page ad in the New York Times, includes the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of law, music, film and politics. He was endorsed by every major daily newspaper, by conservation and social conscience groups. Droves of Blacks and Hispanics ignored tradition to contribute to the landslide.
And not for nothing. His achievements have been profound, including more than halving homelessness and overhauling the education system. A costly campaign may wash out party loyalty, but it cannot replace sound, successful policy. And all is forgiven.
Former New York City Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, famously admitted that there is no Republican or Democratic way of picking up garbage. Mike ‘I’m not a politician’ Bloomberg has also confirmed that party power structures are not the only acceptable gene pool.
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