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Mayor Bloomberg's Mini-Victory

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For a normal mortal, Michael Bloomberg's 5-point mayoral win would be a healthy victory. For him, it looks like a desperate scraping of the barrel.

That's the burden that comes with being a multi-billionaire who can afford to clog the airwaves with more TV ads than the pharmaceutical industry.

Bill Thompson, his underfunded, not-terribly-well-known, less-than-charismatic opponent certainly deserves a tip of the hat. All things considered, he came close. Well done, Bill. This is what passes for a victory for Democratic mayoral candidates in New York City these days.

Bloomberg paid $100 million to get elected -- a new national standard. If he had known that the race was this tight -- not 18 points but 5 -- would he have upped the ante? It's hard to imagine how, short of purchasing every television station that beams into New York and instituting an All-Mike-All-The-Time programming schedule.

No, I think we can assume that Bloomberg did everything he could do. The mayor even provided the voters with a few B-movie horror chills by dredging up the Freddy Krueger of New York politics, Rudy Giuliani. Never a strong student of irony, Giuliani reminded us of the way things used to be. New Yorkers remembered all too well how things used to be with Giuliani and shuddered.

And Thompson, both underfunded and underenergized, went to the end of his capacities. In order to defeat Bloomberg, the comptroller would have had to run to the mayor's right by sharply criticizing Bloomberg's sweetheart deals with municipal unions. But that strategy just wasn't in the cards for a traditional New York Democrat.

So what about the voters? Apparently, they weren't as desperate for stable leadership as everyone anticipated.

New York continually falls in love with a quasi-Republican -- a Lindsey or a Giuliani. That's probably because our extreme attachment to the national Democratic Party is coupled by a deep hatred for the New York Democrats who run the state capitol.

We secretly suspect that a real Democrat will give away the store to someone -- the unions or the special interests or political insiders. Bloomberg fulfilled all our needs, at least for a while. He was a good administrator, and a Republican in name only. He did not belong to either of the brain-dead state parties, and he appeared to be both eager and good at the critical job of stitching up the city's gorgeous mosaic.

But he did very little to keep the city's union contracts under control. He could rightfully note that the schools got better, but they also got much more expensive.

And his double cross on term limits was all the more distressing to voters when measured against his oft-repeated promise to devote his life to philanthropy after finishing his two terms in office. Voters who expected to see a smiling St. Francis of Assisi emerge from City Hall just got another four years of Mike in a good suit, holding testy press conferences.

And Bloomberg's expensive, ubiquitous ad campaign grew increasingly ineffective as the campaign wore on. No one believed that he was actually fixing the economy or taking on the MTA. At the end of the campaign, a one-minute TV spot called "one-room office" attempted to turn the tiny billionaire into Abe Lincoln.

Lacking a log cabin, the mayor's media handlers rolled out black-and-white photos of his first ("one-room") office. That was followed by shots of the people's mayor with ordinary New Yorkers. Then the mayor materialized at a kitchen table seated in front of a mug of coffee. Now, this wasn't the mayor's kitchen. He was sitting in a spacious, well-equipped suburban room that was supposed to remind you of your own house. There was no way of telling why the mayor was sitting alone in your kitchen or why your kitchen was apparently located in Katonah.

And this all seemed worse because the kitchen was (as Jon Stewart kept pointing out) much better than most New York City kitchens while it was much worse than the place the mayor's own staff of servants prepare his meals.

He looked out of place and a little lonely. Viewers probably wound up feeling a little sorry for him. But not necessarily sorry enough to vote for him.