Something about a tragedy, no matter how private, reduces us all to children clamoring for consolation and closure. Consider the bizarre criticism raining down on Mayor Bloomberg today, for failing to drop his obligations and stay in New York in the wake of yesterday’s Bronx fire. Instead, Bloomberg flew to Florida, as previously scheduled. “I don’t know what can be more important in Miami,” said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz — and, as it turned out, nothing was: Questions about the fire hounded the mayor at every turn there. Today’s Post, in its typically loaded lede, cites “critics” wondering “whether he’s fulfilling his role as the city’s leader.”
The unspoken template here — his expected “role” — is, of course, post-9/11 Giuliani, whose admittedly heroic display of being there (in marked contrast to a certain someone who instead spent his day flying from secure location to secure location) bestowed upon him a kind of magic authority on which he’s still, surreally, coasting. Even Bloomberg’s detractors admit that the mayor’s “got no real role to play in the actual firefighting or what happens afterwards,” to quote a political scientist who then proceeded to pine for an “expression of support.” Have six years of the Bush administration hypnotized us all into equating photo ops with actual leadership? Would anyone feel better if Bloomberg found ten minutes to pose for the cameras with the smoldering Bronx ruin as the backdrop? Is there a suspicion, urgently needing to be addressed, that Bloomberg likes seeing small children burn alive?
Anyone who’s paid any attention to Bloomberg knows that the mayor is remarkably tone-deaf to perception. (Stop “griping” and move your cars, indeed.) Sure enough, there are weird, pointless parallels here: The Bronx fire was the city’s deadliest since the World Trade Center attacks; Bush was in Florida on 9/11. But here, too, is the key difference — Bloomberg wasn’t reading My Pet Goat to schoolkids. He was taking meetings about green construction and — here’s the great part — raising funds for the WTC memorial. People demanding his presence in New York are, in essence, asking him to exchange actual (brusque, businesslike) leadership for PR: to sit down and read us a picture book. —Michael Idov