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Mayor in the Middle?

The Mayor hates politics. Oxymoronic as that statement sounds, it in many ways should have been clear from the get-go. After all, Michael Bloomberg’s background is in business, not the law. And within a company, dissent of any kind is generally frowned upon by the people at the top—unless, of course, there’s money in it.

The Mayor’s position on the RNC protests illustrates the point. His rabid defense of Central Park from the spectacle of a massive demonstration for peace stems from his desire to project the image of the city as an orderly place, friendly to business and corporate sponsorship, where people neither smoke nor rudely interrupt a Sunday in the park with their gauche objections to the wise decisions made by the people at the top. That he is dutifully carrying out the will of the most reactionary, most corrupt administration in American history seems not to bother the Mayor one iota.

Still, like any good businessman, the Mayor has spotted an untapped market, and so has recently modified his position toward the protesters. He now wants the peaceful sort "to be welcome and to enjoy New York City. You can check into a good hotel and get a great night’s sleep." Such a generous offer for well-heeled activists to spend money in the city’s hotels and upscale restaurants is obviously an admission of failure on the Mayor’s part—all the nonsense about the millions of dollars the RNC would bring to the city has proven to be, well, nonsense. But like nearly everything the media mogul Mayor does, his newfound outreach got good play in the press.

If there were more money circulating in the protest economy, Mayor Bloomberg presumably would be even more welcoming, though. As his press secretary, Edward Skyler, told the Times, if the protesters "want to find corporate sponsors for their protests, let them go ahead." Which sponsors stand to make money on peace is not altogether clear. During the Gulf War, I did meet a guy who made a pretty penny on "No Blood for Oil" t-shirts, but I’m still not convinced that the peace business would inspire much corporate investment.

Skyler further suggested that the protesters should look for corporate backers, rather than public support, because "New Yorkers shouldn't have to see their tax dollars spent on subsidizing protests." Regardless, it seems to me that given the plenty of city tax dollars that have gone into RNC preparations, a successful protest economy during the RNC theoretically could lead to future subsidies for protests in the city. Far-fetched as this idea may seem, consider the potential: a monthly antiwar demonstration in Central Park, in which 250,000 people vow to spend a minimum of four dollars each, would pump at least $12 million a year into the city’s economy. Get the city behind it, and the sky’s the limit!

Sadly, the day when the Bill of Rights means as much to the Mayor as corporate charters and balance sheets seems a long, long way off. So in the meantime, let’s all enjoy the many, many events designed to oppose, rather than celebrate, the debacle in Iraq and the looting of the national treasury. Debate and protest—i.e., politics—will be everywhere, and with little or no corporate sponsorship—meaning that for one week at least, the city will be home to a joyous celebration of everything this mayor hates.


Theodore Hamm


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2004

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