Commentary: Bloomberg's 100 Days

By JAMES B. CHAPIN, UPI National Political Analyst  |  April 12, 2002 at 1:15 PM
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NEW YORK, April 12 (UPI) -- The term, "100 Days" was first applied to Napoleon's brief second period in power which ended at Waterloo, and later to FDR's first three months, with its whirlwind of legislation.

Michael Bloomberg's first 100 days as mayor have featured neither the disaster of Napoleon nor the triumph of FDR, but that hasn't prevented the city's media from over-analyzing the new mayor's brief stint in office.

So far, like the dog in Sherlock Holmes' case of the "Silver Blaze," the most important thing about the Bloomberg administration is what hasn't happened.

No police incidents, no racial confrontations, no fights with Rudy Giuliani, as a matter of fact, not really enough raw meat to satisfy the city's bloodthirsty tabloids.

The explanations for the relative quietude of the city so far in 2002 are multiple, ranging from the grand to the petty.

The grandest, of course, is Sept. 11. Since then, dividing the city isn't the attractive option for politicians and activists that it has been before.

And, so far from the city missing Giuliani, it heaved a sigh of relief at the promise of quieter days. Indeed, one feature of the 100 days is that the omnipresent Rudy has vanished, to be replaced by a mayor who doesn't demand the spotlight at every hour of the day or night.

The most interesting sign of this is that the central control of information has been relaxed and individual commissioners are once again allowed to speak to the media. In Rudy's time, if you were a commissioner like his first police commissioner, Bill Bratton, who got media attention on your own, that was a ticket out the door.

Individual political factors are also shaping what is going on.

Democrats, facing another racially divisive primary between State Controller Carl McCall and former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, for the dubious honor of running against Gov. George Pataki, don't see any benefit to engaging a popular mayor. Minority activists are mostly behind McCall and don't want the race issue popping up this year.

All the congress members, state legislators and city council members will have to be running on new lines this year or next, and they are all scrambling to survive.

Al Sharpton is in his "statesman" mode at the moment, because he is running for president. That takes him out of the state a lot and doesn't give him time to be cooking up trouble.

Bloomberg was elected with the active support of Giuliani, and the tacit support of his greatest foes, and that has stood him in good stead. No one sees any percentage in breaking with him.

He has taken advantage of Rudy's support to reach out to Rudy's foes. Symbolic gestures are easy, given Rudy's behavior, and Bloomberg has missed no chance to pick all the low-hanging fruit that Rudy studiously ignored.

And one should never discount the power of Bloomberg's huge fortune, both when it is used and just because it is there. He can pay off people with donations, and the fact that he has so much private wealth and power has surely intimidated many actual or potential foes.

Combining this with his non-confrontational style has made it possible for "Mayor Mike" to slash the city budget hugely and have a budget confrontation with the City Council that no one is paying any attention to. Given the huge powers of the city mayoralty, it's a confrontation he can't lose.

Meanwhile, on the one issue on which he has taken a hard and consistent stance, direct mayoral control of the education system, Bloomberg is close to scoring a huge victory in a struggle in which Rudy never got to first base. The Democrats in the state Assembly, who refused to budge an inch for Rudy, have already agreed to a plan by which the mayor would appoint all the members of the Board of Education (instead of the two of seven he appoints now) as well as the schools' chancellor.

The only remaining issue is whether the mayor will accept this or demand total victory.

Of course, since the mayor has not tipped his hand at all about what his school policy actually will be, giving him control of school policy will be a bit like buying a pig in the poke.

Then again, the people of New York City elected him mayor without having any particular idea of what policies he would be likely to carry out.

Bloomberg's first 100 days have shown that he is a deft politician in getting his way without stirring confrontation. He has reached across cleavages, but he has yet to bridge them, of course. No one could do that in 100 days or even four years.

The real test for this mayor will come when he has to come down hard on one side or the other of the many issues that divide Gotham. That won't happen soon. The new mayor is deft in avoiding hand-to-hand combat. But it will happen sooner or later, because that's the nature of the "second toughest job in America."

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