- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

NEW YORK Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who ran as a no tax-increase Republican in the numbing post September 11 months, is behaving increasingly like a liberal Democrat, his critics say, and that will ultimately render him a one-term mayor.
A theme throughout much of the criticism is that although Mr. Bloomberg is the first Republican to succeed another in the city's history, he has abandoned the party's principles.
Even though he praises Mr. Bloomberg, former Mayor Edward I. Koch, the city's unofficial political bellwether, refers to him as a "Republicrat."
Mr. Bloomberg, a lifelong liberal Democrat who became a Republican just months before he entered the race to gain a ballot berth, has taken some traditionally liberal stances: increased the real estate tax by almost 20 percent; established a $1.52 rise in the cigarette tax; banned smoking in all bars and restaurants and most other public places; is pushing to increase tolls on East River bridges; and has proposed restoring a tax on commuters, an unpopular levy abolished by his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Then there was the $600 bicycle the billionaire mayor bought to set an example of what to do in the event of a possible transit strike.
"He's just tone-deaf," said a critic.
Being rich and remote is what caused the mayor's popularity to plummet to a dangerous 31 percent in a recent New York Times poll, say his critics.
Such perceptions are reinforced by Mr. Bloomberg's regular weekend trips to his several homes and his steadfast refusal to disclose his whereabouts. His predecessor, Mr. Giuliani, was a seven-days-a-week mayor who rarely vacationed.
"It's chic not to smoke in his social set," said Fred Siegel, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, who believes the mayor governs the city from a posh Manhattan Upper East Side perspective. "He lives in a black-car world. It's either rich or poor, those wealthy and those who need the compassion of the wealthy. It's not Republican or Democrat or left or right. It's up and down."
To be fair, the mayor faces a daunting task. The World Trade Center attack grievously wounded the city's economy, and the recession has only slowed a local recovery. Moreover, for the next fiscal year, the city faces a projected $3.4 billion shortfall.
Mr. Koch and others laud the billionaire mayor for the smoking ban, for dismantling the Board of Education a feat his predecessors could not accomplish and an ambitious plan to build low-income housing.
"He is increasing taxes and reducing services, and people don't like that," said Mr. Koch. "He has no political base, and therefore when you do something people don't like, his base doesn't come out and say, 'look at all the things he did that were so good.'"
In the recently released budget, Mr. Bloomberg proposed $550 million in cuts, but he is relying on Gov. George E. Pataki to close the gap, especially by backing a commuter tax. The Republican governor has already indicated that the city stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in education and does not favor the commuter tax. Political sources doubt that legislative approval for that proposal is within reach, especially since a poll released this week shows the governor's popularity at 49 percent, its lowest since 1996.
"Spring and a time of renewal is on its way" the mayor declared in his recent State of the City address that amounted to half pep talk and half promises of plans to revive the city. He said he understood the sacrifices the tax increase demanded, but that it was the only choice, rather than "devastating the very services that make this the world's second home."
"As to the short-term political fallout," he added, "I would rather be less popular, knowing that New Yorkers are safe, than promise a rose garden I know we can't deliver."
James Oddo of Staten Island, the minority leader and one of three Republicans in the 51-member City Council, has had, at best, a rocky relationship with Mr. Bloomberg.
"He's a registered Republican," said Mr. Otto, "but his philosophy is always to the left of what the traditional GOP holds dear. Nobody thought he would be the second coming of the Republican Party, but we anticipated Bloomberg the businessman to take over and come up with creative solutions, not the same old, same old."

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