Topic: Government & Politics

The Bloomberg Betrayal

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s power grab—strong-arming the New York City Council into letting him run for a forbidden third term as mayor— was a singular betrayal of trust, integrity and democracy, even though it has been substantially embraced by the very people whose trust he has shattered. But such is the nature of leadership, and the abuse of power. Followers tend to follow. Leaders who use their power to corrupt are often very good at it. That doesn’t make it right. It does make it dangerous.

The citizens of New York City voted twice to install term limits on the office of mayor, and Bloomberg had vowed to uphold and enforce that law like any other. But in an attack of ego and hubris, Bloomberg declared that the dire economic straits of New York required his special talents and his alone, and that it was in the best interests of New York City for the strictures against mayors serving for more to just go away.

Now, it is never surprising when political leaders believe that they are the only people with the wisdom and skill to lead in times of crisis. Julius Caesar believed this; so did Adolf Hitler. Democracies pose special problems for self-anointed saviors, because the voting public has to actually believe in the leader’s unique indispensability, and national experience teaches that there are no indispensable men (or women). It further teaches that whenever we have concluded that someone was indispensable, we have been proven wrong.

Alan Greenspan was “indispensable.” Remember those days?

It is timely to recall that another mayor, now former mayor, of a big city attempted to ague that even his confessed criminal conduct shouldn’t end his term, so essential was he to the city’s welfare. Fortunately, Detroit showed good sense and good ethics, and Kwame Kilpatrick is now a prison inmate. But good sense does not always prevail. In Alaska, Senator Ted Stevens, recently convicted of accepting illegal gifts, was considered so indispensable by voters that he was elected to a new term. Another octogenarian Senator, New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg, was also just re-elected although, at 84, he is almost old enough to be John McCain’s father. Apparently the risk of having a 90 year old senator or a dead one could not overcome the voters’ sense that he was “indispensable.” And Lautenberg, like Stevens, was happy to encourage that conclusion.

Those in office, particularly those in office who have charisma, records of success and powers of persuasion, too often can convince voters that it is safer to stay with them than risk giving someone new a chance to do the job. This is how Franklin Delano Roosevelt obliterated a long tradition limiting the President of the United States to two terms. He felt he was so indispensable during World War II that he ran for a third and a fourth term, the last while knowing well that he was unlikely to live another four years. Had he been a younger man, FDR might well have tried to be “President for Life.”

But, you know, when he died, it turned out that the country didn’t collapse. Harry Truman, a little guy without a big voice or a Harvard degree or even much of a record of accomplishments, stepped in and did a pretty good job.

Mayor Bloomberg, who is no Franklin Roosevelt (or even a Fiorello La Guardia), managed to persuade a compliant City Council to overturn the democratically-determined term-limits without giving the voters a chance to weigh-in on whether they wanted to reconsider their previous rejection of the concept of three-term mayors. What’s unethical about this? It is an abuse of power, and violation of trust. It is disrespect for the democratic process and the will of the voters. But most of all, Bloomberg is displaying that oldest of human character flaws, hubris. You’re just not that special, Michael, that the rules should be changed for you.

Let’s hope that the voters have the sense of justice and self-preservation to make their original decision stick, and do it the old-fashioned way: by voting to make Bloomberg a two-term mayor even without term limits. Anyone who is so convinced that only he is qualified to hold executive power is unworthy of it.

Comment on this article


Business & Commercial
Sports & Entertainment
Government & Politics
Science & Technology
Professions & Institutions

The Ethics Scoreboard, ProEthics, Ltd., 2707 Westminster Place, Alexandria, VA 22305
Telephone: 703-548-5229    E-mail: ProEthics President

© 2007 Jack Marshall & ProEthics, Ltd     Disclaimers, Permissions & Legal Stuff    Content & Corrections Policy