The U.S.S. Trouble

The real moral of last week’s dustup over Tom DeLay’s aborted cruise-ship plan is this: Mayor Bloomberg’s success in luring the 2004 Republican Convention to New York is shaping up as a serious liability for him.

Bloomberg’s advisers know this. Publicly, they say the convention is a wonderful thing for the city, but privately they acknowledge that it’s a huge political albatross that will complicate his 2005 reelection campaign.

The DeLay fracas rammed this point home. By proposing to ensconce thousands of GOP visitors on a cruise ship off Manhattan, thus sparing them interaction with the natives (and offering a quick escape route), DeLay blithely embarrassed the mayor—even as City Hall is going all out for the convention.

It’s true that the mayor won the standoff; DeLay scrapped the scheme after a fierce outcry. But the episode served as a reminder of something that will become an issue in ’05: Bloomberg’s generosity to the national Republican leadership has not only failed to win GOP goodwill toward the city but at times been rewarded with outright hostility.

“I thought DeLay’s proposal was an incredible slap in the face—not only to the city but to the mayor in particular,” says former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, who is considering a mayoral run. “It’s an insult, given the help Bloomberg has given to the party.” Bloomberg has donated huge amounts of his own cash to the national GOP, but party leaders haven’t reciprocated, stiffing the city of homeland-security funds, for instance.

Now Democrats are salivating at the possibility of using the convention to tie Bloomberg to DeLay and his ilk. “The mayor is already in trouble, and now he’s going to be seen with Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft,” says City Council member Eric Gioia of Queens, an ally of likely ’05 candidate Gifford Miller. “Those three are the only people who have lower approval ratings in New York than he does.”

The convention will also give challengers an opening to argue that Bloomberg’s fraternizing with the GOP hasn’t brought the city dividends. “If the assumption was that a Republican mayor would better communicate with the national party on behalf of the city,” says Ferrer, “that’s proven to be a fallacy.”

The U.S.S. Trouble