You would think by now I’d be immune to the affects of stories of political hypocrisy but two stories in the news this week have really got my stomach churning. They aren’t new but both have returned to the headlines due to recent events. The first involves the mayoral race in New York City and the second is about naming an interim replacement for Ted Kennedy.
In 2001 Michael Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat, switched his party registration and ran for mayor of New York City as a Republican. Rudy Giuliani, having served the two term limit, was ineligible to run again. After 9/11 Giuliani proposed extending his term by 90 days to provide continuity in a time a crisis but was rejected. Bloomberg was among those who opposed Giuliani’s proposal and Bloomberg continued to voice his agreement with term limits during his first six years in office. In 2007, amid speculation that he would seek the presidency, Bloomberg left the Republican party and became an Independent, a designation perhaps more consistent with his fiscal conservative and social liberal views. Bloomberg chose not to run for president and turned his attention back to the mayoralty. In October 2008, amid the deepening financial crisis, Bloomberg proposed to extend the term limits for the mayor and the City Council to three terms, and, big surprise, the City Council voted to approve the measure. Bloomberg did not put the issue to the voters in a referendum despite vocal calls for public participation in changing the term limits laws Bloomberg once strongly supported.
Bloomberg is widely liked in New York. He works for a salary of $1, he is so wealthy that he cannot be bribed, and his policies largely have been pragmatic not political. He also spent on the order of $75 million of his own money in each of his previous campaigns and will likely spend the same or more on this one. His approval rating is quite high and he is expected to win his third term in November despite widespread disapproval for his tactics in bypassing public law enacted by referendum 15 years ago. He is seeking the nomination of both the Republican and Independence parties on the ballot. Did Bloomberg exhibit deft political skill in making his move to extend term limits or is he just another political opportunist and hypocrite for whom the rules do not apply? Any doubt about that question came a few months ago at a news conference when a reporter, noting the recent upturn in the economy, began to ask Bloomberg whether the rationale for extending term limits was fading. Bloomberg rudely interrupted the reporter before the question was done, berated him for raising the issue, and called him “a disgrace.” Uh, no. I think we know who the disgrace is here. But this week NYC held the Democratic mayoral primary and the candidate is generating very little enthusiasm among the electorate. What do you do if you truly think Bloomberg is the best qualified man for the job now that the law is in place allowing him to run?
In Massachusetts the state legislature is near to approving a measure allowing the Governor to name an interim Senator to fill the seat occupied by Ted Kennedy. The state House approved the measure yesterday and the Senate will likely approve it today. Prior to 2004, as in many other states, the governor had the ability to name a replacement for a Senator unable to complete his term in office. But the Democratic legislature was concerned that John Kerry would win the presidency leaving Republican governor Mitt Romney with an opportunity to name a Republican replacement. The legislature changed the law to require a special election to be held approximately five months after the seat was vacated. Now, however, with Democrats needing every vote to pass health care reform, they are looking to Massachusetts to change its law once again to allow a temporary replacement until the special election can be held in January (Mike Dukakis heads the list of interim replacements).
I certainly want to see some manner of health care reform enacted this fall; but the hypocrisy of changing a law, passed just 5 years ago to prevent a Republican from gaining a Senate seat, in order to assure a Senate majority for a single piece of legislation, is truly pathetic. As I said at the start, I don’t know why I’m surprised or upset by these tactics. They are standard operating procedure in government. But I guess that’s exactly why it bothers me.