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Commentary: Pity The NY Republicans?

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Mayor Bloomberg raised eyebrows this week when he told WNYC he does not expect to play a central role at the Republican National Convention, to be held in Manhattan this summer. WNYC's Brian Lehrer says no one should really be surprised.

Pity the poor New York Republican, never quite comfortable in his skin. He's a red man in a blue state, forever having to walk the political tightrope that keeps him in power. If you're Tom Delay from Texas or John Warner from Virginia, life's much simpler. You can rail against taxes, Ted Kennedy and homosexual sinners and most of your people will sing along.

But here in New York, you've got to dance. Take Rudy Giuliani: Mr. Tough Guy on crime, Castro and welfare recipients, but Mr. Nice Guy on abortion, gay rights and the Monica Lewinsky affair. And oh, yeah, he endorsed Cuomo for Governor.

Take George Pataki: he's been a dedicated tax-cutter for business and the wealthy, but on government spending, he's been tough then weak, then tough again, then weak again. All depends if it's an election year, which this happens to be for the legislature, so get those funding requests in now. The Governor is feeling generous.

And finally, take Michael Bloomberg. The mayor's convention comment came Wednesday in response to a question on my talk show e-mailed by a listener. Here's the brief exchange:

[Tape plays]

That may have been an innocuous-enough remark by the mayor, except for a pesky New York Times reporter who remembered something the mayor said on Staten Island last April: We are going to get George W. Bush re-elected as President of the United States. We are going to carry New York City and New York State. Everybody thinks I'm crazy but we can do it.

So why was he all charged up in one case and cautiously subdued in the other? It's easy, really - the oldest cliche in the book: all politics is local.

In this case, very local. Staten Island votes more like Houston, but our friend the e-mailer was from Brooklyn, where George Bush is less trusted than, say, the French. Simply put, our mayor may be mostly apolitical, but he's not stupid.

Which raises the question: why does Michael Bloomberg need the Republican Party anyway, in a city like New York? The answer: the mayor's relationship to the party is mostly transactional. They need his money, which he donates generously. He needs their ballot line, to avoid having to run against people like Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer in Democratic primaries. There's a lot of winking at both voters and party leaders.

So when the convention comes to town, the mayor will probably do well to lie low - to be a cheerleader for the city, and a peacemaker on the streets, just like he says. Then, maybe Democrats will choose to ignore the fact that he's rooting for the wrong team, and Republicans will conveniently forget that if he were in Congress, Bloomberg's voting record would probably look a lot like John Kerry's.

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