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Commentary: The 'Can-Do-No-Wrong' Mayor?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mayor Bloomberg’s approval rating is sky high in the Quinnipiac University Poll released this week – 72 percent. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer says the mayor is getting kudos for thinking small, and for thinking big.

LEHRER: The big news from the mayor’s budget proposal this week was the money he wasn't spending from the $3 billion surplus. Budget watchdogs cooed with delight over the mayor's plan to stash much of it away for retiree health and pension costs, while the collective media got collective amnesia. Wasn’t it less than a week earlier that they were cooing over the ambitious second term agenda the mayor laid out in the State of The City Address?

So what happened to covering every public school child with health insurance? What happened to the new war on poverty for Melrose, Bushwick and Bed-Stuy? What happened to the new vocational and night school programs for high school students at risk of dropping out? The crackdown on gun felons? The five borough development blitz? Remember how excited we were about all that way back last Thursday? Well, it turns out most of these things are in the budget, but at pretty low levels of spending. Because remember some of the mayor's other words from the State of the City:

BLOOMBERG: Our nation has learned by experience that we cannot eliminate poverty by throwing money at the problem. But our city has shown that problems once thought to be beyond hope: dangerous streets, failing schools, chronic homelessness - can be turned around if we target our resources where they are needed most, if we set measurable goals and if we hold ourselves accountable.

LEHRER: So, for the moment, Michael Bloomberg is in a very rare political sweet spot – hailed for being a fiscal restraint mayor, and a can–do mayor at the same time. Politically speaking, he’s a can-do-no-wrong Mayor, at least right now.

But therein lies what could become a central theme and perhaps a central tension of his second term. He can pull off this political double-play in speeches and in budget documents, but can he deliver on both in real life?

The mayor clearly believes he can. He’s not trying to trick anyone, either in the fiscal restraint camp or the activist government camp, I'm sure. But if he can really leave his mark on both, it would be a singular feat in the history of government efficiency. If he can give us universal child health insurance, historic poverty reductions, get a lot more guns off the street and all that other stuff while still saving money for a “deficity day”, then he should bottle whatever his secret is and sell it to urban governments everywhere. Of course, he doesn’t need the money. I wish him luck.

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