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Monday, September 1, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg and the Utility of Futile Proposals

I didn’t start out inclined to like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Billionaire Biz Guy basically buys mayor’s manse—and then doesn’t live there because it isn’t swank enough. What’s to like?

But I’ve come to a position of grudging admiration. He’s a bland technocrat, but he focuses on getting things done. And, unlike his fellow Republicans (elected as a RiNO—a Republican in Name Only—now identifies as an Independent) he actually matches rhetoric about balancing budgets with—gasp!—consistent work to actually balance budgets, including raising taxes (!) when that’s what’s required to provide the services that people demand, without running a deficit.

What I especially admire, however, is Bloomberg’s willingness to move forward in the face of resistance and/or failure, particularly with regard to energy and environmental proposals.

In April of 2007—for Earth Day—he rolled out 127 proposals for “greening” New York City, from Brownfield cleanups to energy efficiency programs to park expansions.

He proposed congestion pricing for automobiles in mid-Manhattan—modeled on the program that London put into place in February 2003, and expanded in February 2007.

Most recently, he has focused on expanding wind energy production in and around New York City, on bridges, skyscrapers, etc.

Congestion pricing was shot down by the politicos in Albany who exercise unconscionable authority over what the city can and cannot do.

In at least some quarters, urban wind energy is being derided as everything from impractical to dangerous.

Bloomberg is right about congestion pricing; and alternative energy sources should be pursued wherever and whenever they can be—if they don’t prove out in certain contexts, they should be abandoned.

But it’s particularly laudable that Bloomberg is willing to FIGHT for things he believes in; it’s easy enough to give people what they want or to do things that enjoy broad and uncritical support. It’s more difficult, particularly for politicians, to buck trends.

American politicians and activists have often been at their best when they took those risky but principled stands: That’s what the anti-slavery movement did for decades; that’s what women’s rights movements have done going back at least as far as the founding of this country; that’s what mainstream politicians today (like Maverick McCain and Changeling Obama) seem to have so much trouble doing.

“We are AGAINST drilling offshore drilling!” they both told us.

Oh. . . public opinion has changed?

In that case. . .

From Obama: We are willing to look at drilling.

From McCain: “Drill Here! Drill Now!” Drill, Drill, Drill!!

Perhaps Bloomberg would be the same (constructively intransigent?) if he were only a millionaire politician—like McBama. But it looks more like it takes billions for a politician to actually stand firm.