- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

Can a billion dollars kill the jinx of the New York mayoralty?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has half-heartedly denied he is running for a presidential nomination. “Absolutely not,” he is quoted as saying and then added, according to the New Republic, “And anybody who’s running will say exactly that.”

But if Mr. Bloomberg does go for a White House lease, he faces a formidable obstacle: The history of New York mayors is that when they exit City Hall that’s the end of their upward political careers. And that includes Rudy Giuliani — so far. New York City’s term limits law barred him for running for a third term.

Fiorello H. La Guardia, John V. Lindsay, David Dinkins, Vincent Impelliteri, Joseph McKee, John P. O’Brien, Edward Koch, Jimmy Walker, William O’Dwyer, Robert F. Wagner Jr., John F. Hylan, Abe Beame — these were New York mayors whose political careers ended the day they left City Hall.

La Guardia’s political career demonstrates City Hall is the poison pill of American politics. A maverick Republican member of Congress, La Guardia supported President Franklin Roosevelt and destroyed Tammany Hall. La Guardia was a dyed-in-the-wool New Dealer. He won three mayoral elections, was a wit, charismatic, scandal-free. He led a clean personal life. He was also a brilliant showman. When New York’s newspapers went on strike, he went on the air and read the syndicated Sunday comics to the bereft kiddies. Had he remained in Congress who knows what higher office might have been his?

So what about Mr. Giuliani who, politically, followed the La Guardia tradition? In 1994 the Republican Mr. Giuliani supported the incumbent liberal Democrat, Gov. Mario Cuomo, over his fellow Republican George Pataki — unfortunately for Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Pataki beat Mr. Cuomo.

Until this day, New York’s City Hall has been the tomb of the politically ambitious. That isn’t true of mayors of other big cities. Buffalo Mayor Grover Cleveland became President Cleveland in 1885. Hubert Humphrey went from mayor of Minneapolis to senator from Minnesota, vice president under Lyndon Johnson and an unsuccessful presidential candidate against Richard M. Nixon in 1968. Sen. Richard Lugar was mayor of Indianapolis, a small city with no real urban problems. Today he is a major national policymaker. Pete Wilson went from San Diego mayor to U.S. senator and then governor of California.

Theodore Roosevelt, age 28, was a lucky man. In November 1886, he lost the race for mayor of New York. If history is any judge, had he won the race for mayor he would have remained the unknown most New York mayors have been.

David Garth, Mr. Giuliani’s onetime campaign manager, was recently quoted as hoping Mr. Giuliani “might be the one to break the cliche that mayors from New York never make it to higher office.”

Right now, it doesn’t look like Mr. Giuliani will make it to higher office. Will Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman turned politician, break the cliche?

Arnold Beichman, a columnist for The Washington Times and a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a longtime follower of the New York political scene.

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