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Not Mike

For at least six mayoral candidates, the race is on to invent the post-Bloomberg city.

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Photo-illustration by Darrow  

September 2, 2013: Labor Day in New York. The Democratic mayoral primary is eight days away, and down in Washington, President Mitt Romney and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor commemorate the holiday by announcing legislation banning labor unions. This hands the city’s candidates a golden opportunity for outrage. Just before he steps onto Fifth Avenue at the head of the Labor Day Parade, Bill de Blasio pledges that if he’s elected mayor, he will require every city business, even hot-dog carts, to hire one union member for each nonunion employee.

Christine Quinn is holding a press conference at ground zero praising LGBT ironworkers—and promising that as mayor she will appoint Ray Kelly police commissioner for life. When reporters ask Quinn if this is another blatant pander to the business community, she says something about the wisdom of her 86-year-old dad and dashes to the parade.

Scott Stringer is doing some pre-­parade leafleting on the Upper West Side, his home turf. Yesterday, a campaign volunteer tried to draw attention to Scarlett Johansson’s endorsement of Stringer by leaking new naked cell phone photos of the actress—but pushed the wrong button and leaked naked photos of another Stringer backer, Congressman Jerry Nadler.

John Liu is marching in eighteen parades. During one in Flushing, a supporter hands Liu campaign-­donation-disclosure forms. “I sped things up by signing all 888,” the man says. “Hope that’s okay!”

No one is sure of Bill Thompson’s plans. Four years ago, Thompson ran a low-profile campaign and nearly won, so he’s using the same playbook this time around. Today reporters suddenly receive a text: “Bill xing 72 street.” Sure enough, the genial candidate is smiling and waving—just as the parade disperses.

And longshot Tom Allon declares residency in Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street is now in its 24th month.

Down in Bermuda, Mike Bloomberg is on the twelfth tee of the Bloomberg Pines Country Club course when his cell phone rings. It’s Kevin Sheekey, the mayor’s mischievous political strategist. This morning’s latest ­Quinnipiac-Marist-­Siena-­NY1-­Zagat poll showed the race coming down to the wire … sort of: It’s Thompson 17, Quinn 16, De Blasio 15, Liu 14, Stringer 12, Allon 2—and undecided 23 percent. “What if,” Sheekey says, “you tell Quinn you will bankroll all the ballot security she needs to win—and in exchange she declares an economic emergency and names you financial czar? Then when Romney runs for reelection in 2016, the country will be clamoring for a real independent, and—”

Bloomberg hangs up. Tees up. Crazy Sheekey. Then again …

Okay, probably not. But less than two years from New York’s next mayoral race, the uncertainties outnumber the sure things: The field is unsettled, the issues are sketchy—even the month of the crucial Democratic primary isn’t determined. Six prospective candidates aren’t waiting for the schedule to be finalized. They’re feverishly chasing donors and showing up at every community-group meeting of more than five citizens. The first TV ad for a 2013 candidate will hit the airwaves next week. Scandal has already claimed the early favorite (Anthony Weiner) and damaged a second contender (John Liu). Business leaders are trolling for an outsider to back.

The one certainty about the 2013 race is that it will be a referendum on Michael Bloomberg’s New York. For twelve years, the mayor’s vision of the city as a “luxury product” has dominated New York life. The city might be growing ever more expensive, Bloomberg argued, but we’d be worth it, with our highly educated workforce attracting new businesses and our stadiums, museums, and bike lanes luring tourists. Some aspects of Bloombergism have been resounding successes: Crime has stayed at historic lows, public-school funding soared, and the city’s budget has been relatively stable in a time of wild swings in the larger economy. Yet below the surface enormous problems await the next mayor. The Police Department’s anti-­terrorism responsibilities and shrinking head count have stretched it thin; anger at the use of stop-and-frisk tactics has reached the boiling point. The quality of public education is wildly uneven; the mania for standardized testing has produced distrust of the resulting data instead of measurably smarter kids. The city’s unemployment numbers are slightly better than the national averages, though the greatest gains in jobs have come in low-income sectors. Yes, tourists have flocked to Broadway, but the city remains overly dependent on Wall Street for tax revenue. New York has always been a city of extremes, but the percentage of households with annual incomes of $200,000 or higher has nearly doubled since 2000, while the percentage of renters paying more than 35 percent of their incomes toward housing has ballooned to 44 percent and the share of New Yorkers living below the poverty line—about 20 percent—hasn’t budged.


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