Four of Bloomberg’s super-PAC candidates won, three lost. Yet totaling up wins and losses obscures the greater significance. Bloomberg, by spending just over $9 million, demonstrated that a super-PAC can make a difference in local races by highlighting issues ignored in the national campaign. And on immigration, gay marriage, and the desire for problem-solvers, Bloomberg’s electoral investments showed he’s in sync with where the country seems to be going. The most striking outcome was on gay marriage. He split $750,000 among state groups pushing legalization and went four-for-four, with his influence probably greatest in Minnesota, where Bloomberg’s side won by just three points.
“Even if these candidates don’t win, people are going to start to say, ‘Oh, there’s another force,’ ” the mayor said, climbing the back-porch steps at Gracie Mansion. “If you want to change politicians’ views, one of the things you can do is convince them that if they side with what’s in society’s interest, that it’s in their personal interest too. I don’t know that you should be so cynical about it—except I do believe that’s the case. And I’ll be freer to do it when I’m no longer mayor.” Still, Bloomberg was making no promises about extending the super-PAC’s reach.
Sandy presented a stiff test for a politician of Michael Bloomberg’s unique makeup. There’s no surer destroyer of political legacies than the perception of a lack of sympathy during a natural catastrophe. When I asked the mayor, a week after Sandy, how he interpreted the anger directed at him by storm victims, the response was classic Bloomberg: “I’d love to tell you I had something to do with creating storms,” he said cuttingly. “There’s always somebody who screams, ‘I didn’t have coffee for 24 hours!’ What an outrage! But for most people, they understand we’re in this together ... As a society, we tend to forget pretty quickly and go on to the next thing. And I’m determined we’re not going to do that.” He was asking to be judged on substance, not style. The results so far are decidedly mixed, but unambiguously crucial: Not just to Bloomberg’s political viability, but to New York’s survival.