- The New York City mayoral primary is absurd, because the NYC mayoralty is absurd.
- The mayor of New York is doomed in most if not all future political endeavours.
- The position consumes the individual who holds it, rendering them useless for higher office.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Today marks the in-all-but-name end of a brutal campaign for New York mayor that has at times bordered on the ridiculous.
One candidate, a former presidential contender, has alleged that another candidate, the frontrunner, lives in New Jersey. One of the most progressive cities in the country has seen its chances for a progressive mayor collapse following one candidate’s allegations of past misconduct and another’s implosion over her own staffers attempt to unionize. Meanwhile, the leading contender for the Republican party has worn a beret since the late seventies.
It has been ridiculous at times, and that is altogether fitting, because the position of mayor of New York City is a ridiculous position that consumes its holder. Most municipal political offices are desirable because they offer an opportunity to prove oneself and, having done so, become eligible for higher office in the state or country.
The New York City mayor is not that kind of office.
The last mayor to attain higher elected office following their term was John T. Hoffman, who went on to be the governor of New York. If you’re rusty and trying to remember Gov. Hoffman’s administration, good luck, it began in 1869.
The last time a mayor of New York got a job in federal government was when Edward Livingston was made secretary of state to Andrew Jackson. Given that it’s rather hard to mess up the subway prior to the invention of the concept of subways, Livingston likely had a cake walk.
Giuliani, Bloomberg, de Blasio, Lindsay — American politics is littered with the shattered dreams of New York City mayors aspiring to the office of the presidency. Gracie Mansion is a political dead end. In terms of legacy, we’re out of airports and nobody respects renamed bridges. But maybe they’ll name a Staten Island Ferry after you?
As a result, those drawn to the job must be the combination of ambitious and reckless that they believe they are up to a task that nobody in the history of the city has ever been up to.
The United States’ system of government lacks the panache of the parliamentary systems seen in places like the United Kingdom. In the United States, presidents can ride out into the sunset after eight years in office. In the UK, the only way for a prime minister to leave their job is by being wrenched from the office by the electorate or their own party members. The only way to leave 10 Downing is in shame.
While NYC has term limits, for the past several decades, mayors tend to leave office more in the UK style: detested by the voters. They also tend to be detested while in office as well, but also upon exit.
A 2019 Sienna poll found that of Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani and Bill de Blasio, Bloomberg had the highest approval rating among New York City residents, at a paltry 53% favorable and 38% unfavorable. Current Mayor de Blasio has a 35% favorability (and 57% unfavorable) while Giuliani enjoyed a 27% favorability (and 66% unfavorable).
It is the rare office that consumes its holder. It takes a special kind of politician to see a cursed chalice, drink deep, and then order another round. It’s why it is the best election in the country — there is no subtext and no next steps. They’re all running for the first and the last line in their obituary. Of course it’s going to be weird.