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Cracks in Billionaire Bloomberg -- Bill de Blasio's Campaign Is a Full-Frontal Assault on the Mayor's Legacy

For years Bloomberg's political power and cash helped prevent a sustained attack on his style. This time he's powerless.

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In response, the party decided to put out a mild, pro forma statement knocking the mayor. Within a few hours, a top aide to Bloomberg called the office screaming — and vowed to give 500,000 Bloomberg bucks to the state Republican Party, because of the press release.

Sometimes the exercise of financial leverage was done more proactively. When he wanted to ensure good relations with influential African-American clergy, the mayor’s considerable financial leverage was not lost on Rev. Calvin O. Butts III. As the Times reported, during Butts’  endorsement of Bloomberg in 2009:

[Bloomberg’s African American opponent Bill Thompson] was furious at the betrayal. But what he did not know was that Mr. Bloomberg gave a $1 million donation to the church’s development corporation — roughly 10 percent of its annual budget — with the implicit promise of more to come.

“What could I say to a man who was mayor, and was supportive of a lot of programs that are important to me?” Mr. Butts said in an interview before he endorsed Mr. Bloomberg.

When the mayor faced massive criticism by seeking to override two public referenda and allow himself to run for a third term, he not only got Quinn and the aforementioned newspaper-owning friends to back him – but an array of city nonprofit and charitable organizations testified on his behalf. Again, there were millions of reasons why, the Times explained:

Michael R. Bloomberg, who says he strictly separates his philanthropy from his job as mayor of New York, is pressing many of the community, arts and neighborhood groups that rely on his private donations to make the case for his third term, according to interviews with those involved in the effort.

As opposition mounts to his plan to ease term limits, those people said, the mayor and his top aides have asked leaders of organizations that receive his largess to express their support for his third-term bid by testifying during public hearings and by personally appealing to undecided members of the City Council.

“It’s pretty hard to say no,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the mayor. “They can take away a lot of resources.”

Of course, the most likely situation in which a mayor’s record would receive a blistering attack would be during a reelection campaign. But Bloomberg not only spent nearly $100 million in each of his reelections to effectively drown out the opposition, he also successfully persuaded many of his wealthy friends  not to give to those opponents  – thus ensuring there would be no sustained, vocal attack on his mayoralty.

You might expect a good government group to attack the mayor for some of the above practices. But after his company had  donated to it for years, one such group, Citizens Union, actually endorsed his reelection, in a press release filled  with caveats and explanations. (The move itself would lead to  great internal criticism.)

One last example: Bloomberg deserves credit for his strong advocacy on certain liberal causes like gun safety measures. But why did he rarely get flak from the right in New York? One reason may be that doing so would require the local Republican and Independence parties to betray someone who was  extremely kind to them financially.

So, yeah, Bloomberg has been pretty successful in using his arsenal of financial and political leverage to discourage dissent.

Here’s where de Blasio comes in.

Unlike with so many other players who have come before him, Bloomberg can exercise no political or financial leverage over the Democratic front-runner.

 
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