Bill de Blasio, whose strong support in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor may have averted any runoff, had a secret weapon — and I speak not of his delightful Afro’d son, Dante, but of the very man he wants to succeed, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Yes, if anyone handed de Blasio a win — besides de Blasio, his campaign and his feckless opponents — it was Bloomberg. He has never fully understood the art of politics, governing stubbornly with his head, never his heart. He has been substantive and steady, he has had many successes. But his inability or unwillingness to empathize with the public, especially on such gut matters as the policing policy of stop-and-frisk, gave de Blasio an opening. The public advocate campaigned as the anti-Bloomberg — and it worked.
The mayor can be persuasive, one on one. But it is a Bloomberg the public barely glimpsed. I recall thinking this a few months ago, when I was visiting a friend at Bloomberg News, and the mayor walked in. Within seconds he was lecturing me about the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk, urgently defending the policing policy, making his familiar arguments about deterrence, the importance of reducing gun possession through the police stops, which a federal judge has since said violates the constitutional rights of minorities.
The police stops and the mayor’s assertions remain in dispute. But most notable to me about that Bloomberg encounter is not what the mayor said, but how he said it. His tone was devoid of the scorn, anger and disdain he displays like a shiny badge whenever his judgment is questioned.
I recall thinking it was a shame the public rarely heard him the way I did that afternoon. He might not have changed many minds, but could at least have generated a less tendentious debate than we have been hearing in this mayoral election season about a difficult and sensitive subject. It might even have changed the outcome of the primary.