There is one thing you have to give Michael Bloomberg: When he sees what he wants, he will do whatever it takes, spend whatever it warrants and persuade whomever he must to get his way.
In 2008, after the voters of New York City twice decided that two 4-year terms were enough for city officials, Bloomberg decided he wanted a third term, despite his earlier declarations siding with the will of the people. He persuaded. He cajoled. He twisted arms. And, viola! The New York City Council voted to follow the will of Bloomberg, and the mayor of New York City won a third term.
Earlier this year, when Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned his seat in Congress, Bloomberg was determined that the candidate with the high marks from the National Rifle Association would not win the Illinois seat. He placed his considerable fortune behind the candidate who was the most passionate advocate for gun-control measures. In the end, Robin Kelly won, aided by about $2.3 million from Bloomberg’s PAC.
Bloomberg is a case study in determination to see his will come to fruition. And so, that makes for some pretty chilling possibilities in his effort, now fully underway, to prevent two measures from being enacted into law. One is aimed at stepping up the oversight of the New York City Police Department and another would expand the ability to sue the city in cases of racial profiling against officers.
These are common sense measures that are designed to make New York’s police force more sensitive to the nature of racial profiling. The recent federal trial on a class action suit regarding the city’s stop-and-frisk program made abundantly clear how important it is for the city to develop—and abandon—various forms of policing.
One bill would establish the new position of independent inspector general to monitor and review police regulations and policies, conduct investigations and recommend changes to the department. The other bill would expand the definition of profiling to include gender, age, sexual orientation and housing status. In the most contentious part of the bill, the legislation allows people to sue the police department in state court in cases of bias.
Bloomberg is bitterly opposed to these measures and remains committed to the idea that the stop-and-frisk program is in the best interest of the city, insisting that it protects minority New Yorkers from being victimized by crime. In fact, Bloomberg maintains that the number of African-American and Latino New Yorkers stopped by police is below the proportion of what crime statistics indicate should be a reasonable number.
"Nobody racially profiles," Bloomberg offered via Twitter, suggesting that the police stop too few minority New Yorkers.
The two measures passed through the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council. But the mayor has vowed to veto the legislation and is looking for Council members to persuade to vote against overriding those vetoes. In honesty, this is far from a difficult chore. Elected officials are known for being highly malleable with principle when it comes to the prospect of receiving some perk or some beneficial consideration.
And in this case, the city’s billionaire mayor is in a masterful position. He knows well the shortcomings of the Council members now in office and will no doubt find ways of arm twisting. This is small potatoes compared with the contentious, public debate that accompanied the Council’s vote on extending term limits.
Still, the hope is that the members of the Council will remain committed to the people they represent. These are the people who never meet Bloomberg and are never subjected to his charming powers of persuasion. These are the people in neighborhoods where stop-and-frisk is an everyday, horrific fact of life. These are the people to whom these Council members should feel their deepest and unwavering loyalty.
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