Could Bloomberg Lose? Should Arts Groups Ponder the Great “What If?”

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BloombergThe short answer is no, Michael Bloomberg cannot be defeated in his quest for a third term. Among other things, New Yorkers are too focused on trying to survive the recession to think about changing horses in midstream.

But it is possible that as the summer melts into the fall, and as the primaries for not just the mayoral race but for public advocate and various positions on the City Council produce their results, New Yorkers may begin to focus on the choice at hand and start thinking about whether they really do want 12 years of Bloomberg.

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The Clyde Fitch Report will deal with the likely Democratic challenger to Bloomberg, William C. Thompson, the twice-elected City Comptroller, in another post. For now, it’s worth exploring whether the electorate might be more primed than the media currently believes for electoral change.

Indeed, while Mayor Bloomberg has unquestionably been a boon for the city in some ways, the manner in which he strong-armed the City Council into hurling aside term limits have left an especially bitter taste in the mouths of many. Speaking for myself, I never believed in term limits: We already have term limits called elections. If you don’t vote and the candidate you don’t want in office is elected, precisely who’s fault is that? How are you anything but not complicit to the problem?

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Still, given the fact that the people of the City of New York did vote in favor of term limits twice, for the Mayor and the City Council to deliberately, and in the most egregiously, inexcusably self-serving manner possible, cast the will of the people to the curb is fundamentally antidemocratic and reprehensible.

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Meanwhile, a recent story on CityLimits.org suggests maybe — a big maybe — the people might be ready to respond with their votes.

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The piece specifically looks at the substantial number of races for City Council in which the incumbent is facing major challenges.

…At least 12 incumbents find themselves in fairly competitive races. Several have lost the important backing of a party organization or union. A few have raised less money than their chief rival – a significant reversal of an incumbent’s typical financial edge.

Of the Council’s 50 current members (the 51st seat is vacant following the recent resignation of Miguel Martinez after pleading guilty to misusing public money), one is running for mayor, two are seeking the public advocate post and four want to be comptroller. Forty-three are hoping to retain their Council seats and certainly, many of them will stroll to victory. Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder will for the third straight election face no opponent at all. Manhattan’s Daniel Garodnick has an 18-to-1 fundraising advantage over his only rival.

But with a number of other incumbents in tough fights, 2009 could go down as a record year for insurgent candidates — which would stamp an ironic coda on a political season that began with Council granting itself and other municipal officers a chance to continue in power.

Read the piece and assess the situation for yourself. In the meantime, the arts faces, as it did in 2005, a conundrum. Consider this story — second graph — from the New York Times last January:

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…Mr. Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire founder of the Bloomberg financial information firm, donated $235 million in 2008, making him the leading individual living donor in the United States, according to a list released online on Monday by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Mr. Bloomberg’s top designation applies to people who have actually written checks, not just pledged money…

The mayor contributed to more than 1,200 organizations promoting arts, education and health care, like Johns Hopkins Medicine; the Robin Food Foundation, an antipoverty group; and Stand Up to Cancer, a research organization in Pasadena, Calif.

Since he became mayor, Michael Bloomberg has delivered tens of millions — if not hundreds of millions — alone to arts and culture-oriented nonprofits. So that’s great as long as you play ball. And playing ball means making sure you don’t criticize the mayor, even if he’s bound and determine to thwart democracy in the very city in which these groups take his money. So the question: Are the arts in New York trapped in a Mephistophelean bargain? What happens to all that largesse if, despite the long-shot odds, Bloomberg were to lose the election?

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On a related note, it will be interesting to see whether the mini-scandal reported on by the Times — that Bloomberg’s administration illegally funneled $1.5 million to a pair of Jewish charities known to be near and dear to the mayor’s heart — gains traction.