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Last Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005, 12:22 GMT
The Bloomberg juggernaut
By Matt Wells
In New York

On Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg glided along a packed Brooklyn street, ahead of the annual New York marathon in a vintage open-top limo, just as the sun broke through the late-morning mist. Everybody was cheering.

It is a fitting metaphor for what has been happening in the far less competitive race for the most famous city job in the world.

Michael Bloomberg travelling on the New York subway
Mr Bloomberg's response to the terror threat is seen as measured
A generation ago, a Republican mayor would not have coasted through a Democratic stronghold in the outer-boroughs, 36 hours before election day, without at least a few cat-calls.

Mayor Bloomberg's singular achievement, many argue here, has been to make the running of New York City all about competence, and not class or colour.

He has ushered in a new era of results-based technocratic government, replacing stale party rhetoric.

The opinion polls in these final days, could not make bleaker reading for either the Democratic candidate, Fernando Ferrer, or the party at large. Mr Bloomberg leads by just over 30 points.

The mayor will have pumped more than $70m of his own money into the race by Tuesday, which amounts to a blizzard of advertising across every conceivable medium
To put that into perspective, his much-praised predecessor Rudy Giuliani's biggest margin of victory over a weak Democrat candidate in 1997 was 18 points. The latest poll included the fanciful statistic that even if Rudy was running on Tuesday, "Mayor Mike" would finish 20 points up.

So how has the rather dour billionaire media mogul, who was a Democrat himself until 2001, managed to turn the election into a non-race?

Bad times forgotten

In the middle of his first term, things looked very different.

Then, his approval rating was 24% after he raised property taxes and declared war on cigarette smokers. Faced with a $6bn deficit, "Gloomberg" - as one tabloid splash referred to him - steered the city into surplus within a year, without punitive tax increases.

The city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one stopped whining about his killjoy and sometimes highbrow instincts, and realised that this Jewish former Wall Street operator was managing New York as well as he had managed his media empire.

Fernando Ferrer
Mr Ferrer, of Puerto Rican descent, is leading in only one ethnic group
There were glitches along the road, such as the over-ambitious Olympics bid centred around the divisive West Side Stadium plan. And he angered Democrats with his sunny welcome for the Republican National Convention last year.

But it seems that with more than 50% of Democrats poised to vote for him on Tuesday, the bad times have been forgotten.

The respected Gothamist, which covers all-things New York, ran a comment thread a few days ago which included one telling contribution about the mayoral race:

"Freddie [Ferrer] is a nice guy. You don't want nice guys running this city," the reader wrote.

That rather brutally sums up part of the reason why the Bloomberg cavalcade is so far ahead, but the other major difference lies in sheer spending power.

'New rules'

The mayor will have pumped more than $70m (40m) of his own money into the race by Tuesday, which amounts to a blizzard of advertising across every conceivable medium.

By contrast, Mr Ferrer's campaign is unlikely to reach $10m.

Still taken from Fernando Ferrer's campaign
Ferrer's camp tries to paint Bloomberg as a mega-rich Bush supporter
In the old days, when there were no term-limits on city politicians and campaign donations were not capped so heavily, the Democratic Party could use its formidable city-wide machine to get out the vote on election day.

A sign of just how much party power based along ethnic lines has diminished can been seen in the latest polling data.

Mr Ferrer, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is leading in only one ethnic group. Even then, a third of Hispanics say they will be giving their support to Mr Bloomberg.

The Ferrer campaign has tried to paint Mr Bloomberg as a mega-rich Bush supporter, who just doesn't care about social justice in perhaps the most competitive city on the planet.

Under the mantra of "Two New Yorks" and the strapline "He's not like Mike - he's more like you", Mr Ferrer has failed to make his rather old-fashioned attack lines stick.

It is as if Mayor Bloomberg has changed the rules of the game, and the Democrats cannot even find the new rule book.

Measured response

"I am not taking anything for granted," said Mr Bloomberg on Saturday. He is still out on the stump from dawn to dusk, leaving nothing to chance.

By contrast, Mr Ferrer's utterances have a whiff of desperation through gritted teeth. "I am doing the best I can to make my case to as many New Yorkers as I can," he told supporters in Staten Island.

In marked contrast to his adopted party's ample use of the 9/11 attacks at the convention last year, Mr Bloomberg has resisted the promise that only he can keep the city safe from attack

The New York Times did not mince its words on what a second Bloomberg term could bring when it endorsed him, saying: "He may be remembered as one of the greatest mayors in New York history."

It chastised him for his "obscene" unlimited campaign spending, but it seems that most New Yorkers themselves do not share the outrage. The pragmatic view is that he's spending his own money, not theirs.

School test scores are rising, employment levels are high, crime is at a record low, housing is not perceived to be as big a problem as it was four years ago.

The Bloomberg years began at a uniquely low point in the city's history. New York had just lost nearly 3,000 of its inhabitants. Fear and uncertainty were driving events and a different mayor might have struggled to cope.

In marked contrast to his adopted party's ample use of the 9/11 attacks at the convention last year, Mr Bloomberg has resisted the promise that only he can keep the city safe from attack.

His response to the ever-present terror threat has been measured, and without hysterics. He travels to work on the subway from his own Uptown home, and calls for New Yorkers to go about their business as usual.

It seems as certain as anything ever can be in politics that the people of New York have come to trust "business as usual" under Mayor Mike, and will be returning him to office for a second and final term.




SEE ALSO
Profile: Michael Bloomberg
27 Aug 04 |  Americas
Bloomberg braces for mayoral joust
20 Jun 05 |  Americas

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