How Bloomberg Got Away With Buying New York

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent $100 million of his own money to win re-election

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has spent over $100 million on his reelection campaign against Democrat Bill Thompson. No candidate has ever spent more of his private fortune on a single political campaign. (This does not make it the most expensive campaign--President Barack Obama raised, and presumably spent, $150 million in a single month of his 2008 campaign.) Bloomberg, an independent candidate, has spent $245 million of his $16 billion fortune on this and his previous two mayoral campaigns. He has also come under fire for using political leverage to circumvent term limits that would have precluded the third term he is now all but guaranteed.

  • 'Pax Bloombergiana' Is Worth It The New Yorker's Hendrick Hertzberg argues that Bloomberg's extensive accomplishments outweigh the undemocratic nature of the election. "New Yorkers know all this. We know that we're bought and paid for. We know that there is something unseemly, even humiliating, about submitting ourselves to be ruled by the richest man in town," he writes. "The truth is that Michael Bloomberg has been a very good mayor. The record is mixed, of course, but the mixture is largely positive. Crime is down. Public education is better, owing mainly to the Mayor's takeover of the system. The racial rancor of Giuliani Time is gone. People are healthier and longer-lived, and it would be rash to suggest that the Mayor's nanny-state initiatives--his smoking bans, his banishment of trans fats, his posted calorie counts--have had nothing to do with this happy development. [...] The Pax Bloombergiana will endure a while longer."
  • If He Spent Half That on Housing Programs Gawker's Alex Pareene slams Bloomberg, who he says has "been unable to win any political battle with anyone he couldn't literally buy off." He writes, "Meanwhile: 40,000 people in shelters! Bloomberg could personally buy every single one of those people an apartment in a vacant Williamsburg luxury condo building and still have enough left over to bribe a City Council member into supporting his fifth term." Pareene laments, "His record on housing, like his record on nearly everything having to do with the outer boroughs and poverty and human beings who make less than $100,000 a year, has been a ridiculous disgrace. His entire philosophy of development solving everything turned out to be precisely, 100% wrong, and suddenly the city itself was driving the real estate boom, driving up land prices to absurd levels across the boroughs and tearing down neighborhoods only to replace them with vacant lots and half-filled cheaply built hideous high-rises once the bottom fell out of the City Hall-inflated market."
  • An Anti-Democratic Precedent The Washington Times's Dan Thomasson warns that this could become standard practice. "It is what this kind of expenditure says about the electoral system that is scary. It seems a clear perversion of the democratic process, where a person's election to public office should be based on characteristics other than how much wealth he has. But that's not the American way these days," he writes. "His aides claim it is because he is an independent who takes nothing from special interests, unlike his opponent who practices politics as usual. The implication is that his financially disadvantaged Democratic opponent, Mr. Thompson, owes what little he has to those who stand to benefit from his election."
  • He Didn't Have to Buy it Joyce Purnick insists in the New York Times that Bloomberg would have won without the expensive campaign. "No incumbent mayor of New York City has ever lost re-election unless done in by corruption, financial ruin or racial tension," she writes. "New York's mayors benefit from more than the usual advantages of incumbency. They are all-powerful, enabled by a weak city legislature and encouraged by influential figures in business and the news media who have seen the damage caused by ineffective leadership. [...] The mayor would no doubt be ahead in this race even if, instead of outspending Mr. Thompson by more than 14 to 1 (and counting), he had limited himself to his rival's spending -- a total of about $6 million as of last month."
  • 'Rules Don't Apply to Him' The Daily Show's Jon Stewart lambastes Bloomberg's hypocrisy on term limits (video below). "It's been a great eight years," Stewart admits, but shows a series of clips demonstrating that Bloomberg once vehemently supported the term limits he now opposes. Stewart calls this "disgraceful" and jokes Bloomberg is "too rich to follow" city law. "What can I say, he's a local hero, rules don't apply to him."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.