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Teflon Mike

All right, so Bloomberg didn’t create this fiscal disaster—but c’mon, this is New York! We do outrage better than this!

Curtis Sliwa shrugs. He is a connoisseur of vengeance and venting. The Guardian Angel turned foaming radio talk-show host is so right-wing you’d expect him to blast Bloomberg as a liberal elitist. Yet Sliwa praises the billionaire mayor’s ability to lower the volume in the ’hood. “In past crises, there’s always been a bitterness,” Sliwa says. “But now the city has a racial calm I’ve never seen before.”

Even the would-be Democratic challengers who’ve been emboldened by Bloomberg’s bad poll numbers can’t get any traction, especially since they’re trotting out tired populist lines. “The candidate who can win against Bloomberg is the candidate who best relates to the whole city, who understands the values and concerns of the neighborhoods in the outer boroughs,” says political consultant David Axelrod, who has advised Freddy Ferrer in the past and says he expects to again, perhaps in the 2005 mayoral campaign. “The next campaign is going to be about who can govern a city and connect with people. Freddy can reunite the city.” Yawn.

The mayor’s mysteriously unenthusiastic unpopularity makes his people, meanwhile, practically confident. They believe Bloomberg gets something more important than affection—grudging respect—for making unpleasant choices and keeping crime down. “Look, we know people don’t like him. We understand,” says Bill Cunningham, the mayor’s director of communications. “But it’s an interesting experiment. The media and the public are forever saying, ‘Politicians should ignore the polls and do what they believe.’ So if they really wanted an independent guy, who will do what’s right no matter what the critics say—you got him. The public doesn’t like the decisions the mayor has to make, but they believe in his honesty and his intelligence. I’ll take those core characteristics going into any election.”

Not that Bloomberg is completely above old-fashioned politicking: He’s showing his face outside City Hall more often, especially beyond Manhattan—an elementary school on Staten Island, a beach-opening ceremony at Coney Island—and lately Bloomberg seems welded to Ray Kelly, the beloved police commissioner. Entirely coincidental, Cunningham says.

So why aren’t we mad as hell? Perhaps New Yorkers are so savvy that we’re husbanding our hostility until August 2004, when President Bush arrives for the Republican convention. Yet something larger is keeping opinions of Bloomberg from soaring past annoyance to universal wrath. Bloomberg spoke to the construction-industry leaders hours after terrorists bombed Israel for the fifth time in two days, and with attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia still fresh news. No matter how angry New Yorkers are about day-to-day problems, the city’s mood remains tempered by the sense that far worse may be lurking. If all we’re arguing about in 2005 is race relations and jobs, we’re going to feel lucky. And “We like Mike!” won’t be a risible reelection slogan.