Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thompson’s Campaign: Lacking a Clarion Message, Plus Issues of Confused “Respect”

Bill Thompson has his work cut out for him. (Bill Thompson is the Democratic candidate running against Bloomberg for mayor.- We have to tell you that.- Some people have only gotten as far knowing him as “the other guy”- Everybody knows who Bloomberg is.) Thompson is going to have a tough time getting his message out through the noise of all the money the incumbent mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending on the campaign.

The Nasty Din of “Bloom-bucks”

By its own estimates the Bloomberg campaign is projected to spend about $100 million of direct campaign expenditures. It may be a fanciful overestimate but the figure of $120 million has also been mentioned. We won’t know until afterward and there is no actual limit on the expenditures since Bloomberg is providing all the funds himself and is not limited. (The September 30, 2009 Forbes assessment, just out, of Bloomberg’s personal net worth puts the figure at $17.5 billion.)

Those direct expenditure $100-120 figures do not include other campaign-supporting expenditures. For starters, Bloomberg spent another $3.3 million in contributions to Republican organizations to buy, rather than campaign his way back onto the Republican ballot (Bloomberg needed to switch back again after becoming an “Independent”). Then there is all the money he spends on charitable contributions for political purposes. Maybe the number for that should be filled in at another half billion dollars. (See: Friday, October 2, 2009, No Real Debate About It: Press Remains Way Off Track in Presupposing Bloomberg’s “Charity”.) That’s figuring that perhaps only about two year’s worth of charitable contributions should be attributable to this race’s extended campaign season: The “giving” figures escalate every year: In 2008 the figure was $235 million. The next thing the direct campaign expenditures do not include is additional Bloomberg-directed funding going to non-profits out of City Hall illegally used for political purposes. That amount for those funds, which involves at least tens of millions more, is hard to determine in total.

Then what about all the city money being spent to send trucks around the city that say “these trees are planted by Michael Bloomberg’s tree planting program.” Or the money that the city education department has spent during the campaign season, not on education, but to plaster subway cars with advertisements that say the New York City schools have improved significantly under Michael Bloomberg. (Improved significantly? Or are we just “teaching to the test” and fudging numbers to boot?)

Are you adding all this up? What are we getting up to? Are we edging close to $1 billion, or have we perhaps surpassed it?

Poor Thompson!

What is “the other guy” (Thompson) spending? He’s raised $8 million. He’s spent $4 million compared to the $64 million in direct expenditures that the Bloomberg campaign acknowledged at the beginning of the month. And multi-million charitable expenditure from Thompson as a campaign tactic? Fuhgeddaboudit! The guy is barely able to keep up with his own credit card bills. At this point, Thompson can’t raise an additional amount of significant funds, the big money has written him off even though the number of his small donors and total donors have gone up. If things play out as they are headed, over $100 million in direct Bloomberg expenditures will outmatch Thompson by more than 12 to one even before you count all the other Bloom-bucks.

Speaking Ratio: Clarion Message Is Needed

That’s what we mean when we say that Thompson has his work cut out for him. So what’s it going to take if Thompson doesn’t have money for Thompson to cut his way through the din of all those Bloom-bucks? It is going to take a clarion message. Campaigns are not all about spending. After the democratic primary, Tony Avella, who ran a shoestring campaign because he took no money from developers, thanked his supporters with an e-mail pointing out that though the less significantly underfunded Thompson had outspent him “more than twenty to one” his campaign “pulled in nearly a quarter of the vote.” It’s not a one-to-one ratio of campaign spending to votes, but what it takes to gain traction is a clarion message.

How is Thompson doing with that message? Not so good.

Limiting the Lift of Term Limits

Thompson’s main campaign strategy has been to attack Bloomberg on his autocratic override of term limits. There is supposed to be a fair amount of deep-felt residual anger on the part of the public making the mayor vulnerable on this. Still, Thompson’s attack on this is weak with the somewhat inane “Eight Is Enough” slogan. (That’s “Eight Years Is Enough.”) Eight years is enough, and not too much? The slogan seems to start out with a built-in concession and then to invite the intellectuality of a mathematical parsing about exactly how many years Bloomberg should serve in office rather than to invoke a visceral intolerance/fed-upness with the mayor. It seems to cede one of the points that seems to pose one of Thompson’s major problems: With the spending of Bloomberg’s `colossally advantaging’ (billion? dollar) Bloom-bucks campaign, “Polls consistently show that a large majority (roughly 70 percent) approve of his performance, but that a significantly smaller number (50 percent) plan to vote for him in November.” (See: Bloomberg Can’t Shake Term Limits Anger: Voters Like Mayor, but Not His Path to 3rd Run, by Michael Barbaro, October 3, 2009.)

Megadevelopment Mega-confusion

Thompson ought to be criticizing Bloomberg’s performance directly and there is a lot to criticize. Thompson’s own campaign has picked on Bloomberg’s favorable focus on developers as one of the main things to criticize. But Thompson’s rhetoric on the central development issues of megadevelopment and Atlantic Yards is strange, confused and self-contradictory. As we have already pointed out, Thompson (like Tony Avella, whom he was running against in the primary) spoke harshly in both mayoral debates criticizing Bloomberg’s failed megadevelopments. In the second debate he was asked to list the three top failures of the Bloomberg administration and cited its failed megadevelopments. (See: Monday, September 14, 2009, Our thoughts on Navigating the Voter Minefields When All the Candidates Know the Words to Mouth on Development.)

In the first debate Thompson grouped Atlantic Yards with the West Side stadium in similar criticism:
Whether it’s the stadium on the West Side, whether its Hudson Yards, whether it is places like Willets Point and Atlantic Yards. . . Those projects haven’t moved forward.
Thompson has consistently criticized the Yankee Stadium deal. The Net arena deal (the only part of Atlantic Yards actually being pushed forward) with its projected $220 million net loss for the city, is essentially a rerun of all the problems Yankee Stadium presented.

Thompson isn’t opposing Atlantic Yards? Hardly a clarion call.

Consistency and Principle- Please!

The problem with megadevelopment, the reason why Thompson should be clear in opposing it, is that Bloombergian-style megadevelopment doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it is not community-oriented development that evolves from the ground up. Instead, and this is a reason to oppose Atlantic Yards on principle as well, Atlantic Yards is a developer-initiated, developer-driven project. It is the developer’s impulses towards satiating its own greedy impulses that cause Atlantic Yards to be such a negative for the Borough and the communities of New York.

If Mr. Thompson is against megadevelopment for any principled reasons, don’t those principles dictate that he must OPPOSE Atlantic Yards as a classic example of what we are talking about?

Threading the Needle

WNYC reporter Matthew Schuerman on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show suggested that Thompson has been “trying to thread the needle” to support of the Community Benefits Agreement or affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards because Bruce Ratner had “woven such a web of support” for the project that four years ago it hurt mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer to come out against it, when Al Sharpton, thereafter denounced him for it. (See: Wednesday, September 30, 2009, On Brian Lehrer, Mayor (in clip) disses IBO; Schuerman explains why it’s tough for Thompson; Council candidate Griffith gets a say.) Schuerman spoke of the “web of support” in present tense terms, but that was then and this is now. Project supporters have been melting away. Not only are the flaws in the Atlantic Yards much better known and the mega-project much more (very knowledgeably) reviled, but the mega-project, with all sorts of revisions and additional developer concessions has degenerated substantially. This is not the Ferrer campaign’s megadevelopment but something far worse and more unpopular.

We should note that we phoned in and can be heard on the air in the above Brian Lehrer segment, speaking about the confusion of Thompson’s rhetoric. We also posted comporting comments on the show’s page.

“Threading the needle?” Indeed, the next day on Brian Lehrer, Thompson gave an example of precisely how he is “trying to thread the needle” on Atlantic Yards. (The segment was part of a week-long series focusing on development issues as part of the New York election campaigns.) Mr. Lehrer, addressing the confusion of Thompson’s rhetoric, asked Thompson whether he differed “with the mayor at all on this point on what should happen next at Atlantic Yards?” Thompson responded:
I supported, maybe not the mayor's original plan at Atlantic Yards, but I had supported Atlantic Yards based on two reasons. The large number of affordable units that were supposed to happen there, and the Community Benefits Agreement that also was happening at Atlantic Yards. Over a period of time, I'm not going to say that I haven't been concerned at the constant changes in Atlantic Yards. I still have a number of questions and continue to pay attention and monitor that. Because that project continues to change and morph. And I have to tell you, it continues to raise concern with me.
(See: Thursday, October 01, 2009, Thompson claims his AY support is "a very different position" than Bloomberg's AY support.)

After Threading the Needle, Sewing Himself On As Button For Bloomberg’s Coat?

Atlantic Yards Report handles what comes next in a devastating way. Brian Lehrer, apparently referring to our own Noticing New York comments on the show’s show segment page, asked the following question evoking an exchange upon which AYR comments:
BL: So, we have a number of people asking on our comments page, do you believe the housing promises in the Community Benefits Agreement?

Thompson tried to sound firm.

BT: If those promises aren't met, then the city of New York should walk away from this. If the promises that were made about affordable units aren't done, then New York City needs to say goodbye to Atlantic Yards.

He's the Comptroller. Surely he knows that the issue isn't whether the promises are met, but whether there are sufficient subsidies, and whether 1) it's appropriate to continue to divert subsidies to this project and 2) the subsidy per unit compares favorably with other projects.
BL: Is that a different position from the mayor?

BT: I think it's a very different position than the mayor.

Not so.
No Reason to Thread the Needle At All: Support Just Misguided

As we indicated with our comments on the show’s segment page, for Mr. Thompson to suggest that the he could support Atlantic Yards because of “The large number of affordable units that were supposed to happen there, and the Community Benefits Agreement that also was happening at Atlantic Yards” is misguided for a number of reasons: 1.) Right now AY is just a net loss arena with no assurance about any housing, 2.) As the Fifth Avenue Committee testimony has made very clear, it Atlantic Yards is astoundingly inefficient in terms of using housing subsidies as opposed to the programs of alternative providers. The per-dwelling unit cost for Atlantic Yards is more than twice the cost of what FAC and PACC builds, and 3.) It is not really providing much affordable housing- Consider the “Community Benefit Agreement.” Not only is the megadevelopment developer-initiated, developer-driven; the “Community Benefits Agreement” is similarly developer-dictated and therefore a sham. (Among other things not enforceable when the project is transferred.) On this last point, just take the housing component as the most important and prime example. All you need to do to see that there is no real commitment to provide affordable housing is to look at the tell-tale gap in the middle of the agreement specifying low-income people who will not be benefitted.

(Above chart shows the minor portion of units in Atlantic Yards referred to as "affordable." Click to enlarge.)

More Muddying: A Thompson Miss on Missing Cost-benefit Analyses

The latest example of exactly how unclear Thompson’s message gets when he tries to thread the needle has just presented itself. On October 7th Thompson gave a speech saying that major development projects should be subject to cost-benefit analyses but he ignored the fact the agencies promoting Atlantic Yards have not done one and that, to boot, the Independent Budget Office's analysis that just the Atlantic Yards arena (all that may in fact be built) would be a $220 million net loss for the city. Here is Thompson:
Enormous staff resources and time were wasted planning a West Side Jets Stadium that was never built. Huge subsidies went to the New York Yankees for a stadium project with little local economic impact.

As Mayor, I will require that decisions to invest taxpayer dollars in major development projects undergo rigorous cost, jobs, and community-benefit analyses.
(See: Thursday, October 08, 2009, Thompson claims major development projects require cost-benefit analyses, but ignores Atlantic Yards.)

Poetically and Potently Un-Clarion Justice

With potently poetic justice, Thompson’s lack of a clarion message earned him a very un-“clarion” endorsement as the Democratic candidate from President Obama. In two New York Times pieces that are almost too cruelly accurate to suffer all the way through, David W. Chen and Michael Barbaro thoroughly dissect exactly how “tepidly” Obama has managed to endorse Thompson. (See: An Obama Endorsement, Sort of, for Thompson by David W. Chen and Michael Barbaro, October 9, 2009 and October 9, 2009, Indirectly and Tepidly, Obama Endorses Thompson, by David W. Chen.) It was an endorsement, not by name, in the conditional tense, without advance fanfare, and coming just from a spokesperson. The endorsement was also accompanied by kind words from the spokesperson, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, about how President Obama `respects’ Mr. Bloomberg: “The president,” Mr. Gibbs said, “obviously has had a chance to, throughout campaigning and in his time both as a candidate and as a president, to meet, know and work with Mayor Bloomberg, and obviously has a tremendous amount of respect for what he’s done as well.”

Obama Respect for a (Running?) Bloomberg Runs One Way

President Obama has “a tremendous amount of respect” for Bloomberg? That’s ironic as we have just recently been reading about how Bloomberg has been dissing Obama, very possibly as an orchestrated prelude to a Bloomberg attempt to unseat Obama in the 2012 presidential election. (See: Saturday, October 3, 2009, What Purnick Has Purged: The Bloomberg Bio Mysteriously Missing Atlantic Yards.) Bloomberg expressed his interest in becoming mayor and did. At the same time he said he wanted to be mayor he also expressed an interest in being governor and president.

When Obama last ran for president, Bloomberg put out that he had $1 billion he could write out from his own checkbook to run against him. In other words, Bloomberg could radically outspend Obama just the way he is now outspending Thompson. And $1 billion in direct campaign spending, substantially more than Obama raised in the last election, translates into far more when you add in Bloomberg’s other spending like his political-purpose charitable “giving.”

(Bloomberg supported McCain and in the prior presidential election supported George W. Bush.)

What Could be Clearer

We don’t think that Obama should be so quick to publicly “respect” a man who publicly disrespects him in return. But perhaps Obama would not be so quick to “respect” Michael Bloomberg if Mr. Thompson, as his political opponent were willing to be much clearer about all the reasons that exist not to respect Michael Bloomberg. That means he needs to stop threading needles: Atlantic Yards is clearly a paramount example. Mr. Thompson might very well find that he, himself, gains respect in the process. Yes, on one hand we have Bloomberg who is definitely too focused on benefitting developers, but wouldn’t it be nice if, on the other hand, Mr. Thompson was someone who was able to bring that kowtowing into focus.

2 comments:

brokeland2003 said...

didn't think someone could run a worse campaign than Ferrer. But Thompson has pulled it off!

Vernon Malcolm said...

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