November 2, 2005
Has the Republican Label Become Toxic?

By Froma Harrop

Anyone who knows New York City politics had to laugh at a recent item in the New York Post. The headline read, "Stealth politics: The secret life of 'GOP Mike.'"

The intrepid reporter had invoked the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the daily schedules of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is running for another term. Objective: Prove that His Honor, a Grand Old Party registrant in this city of Democrats, does indeed consort with fellow Republicans.

Much was revealed.

Fact: Bloomberg saw Bush political adviser Sara Taylor at 8:30 a.m. on May 6. Fact: Bloomberg attended a Bronx Republican Committee breakfast on Feb. 26. Fact: Bloomberg went to a Jan. 27 fund-raiser run by former Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Bloomberg issues a daily schedule for the public, but these meetings did not appear on it.

With the approval ratings for the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress crashing, has the Republican label become toxic? True, New York City is liberal for all seasons, but Bloomberg is 30 percentage points ahead of his Democratic rival. Why would he fret over his party affiliation, unless he thought the Washington plague was spreading? Perhaps it is, for Republicans in places far more conservative than Gotham are also distancing themselves from the national party.

In Minnesota, for example, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently lamented that his party is "on the ropes," and he would be "lucky to get re-elected." And Minnesota is a state that Republicans like to think is trending their way. In his interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Pawlenty quipped, "I hope voters are smart enough to know that I'm not involved in the Valerie Plame affair."

Not long ago, politicians in New York City could be more outwardly Republican. It was no secret in the last three mayoral elections that Bloomberg and Giuliani, before him, were Republicans. Only 14 months ago, Bloomberg played proud host to the Republican National Convention.

New Yorkers often elect Republican mayors to control the excesses of their liberal city council. Similar things happen on the state level: Progressive-minded voters choose moderate Republican governors to rein in their legislatures, which tend to give the store away to public-employee unions. That's why the true-blue states of California and New York have Republican governors, as do the four most liberal New England states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island.

But have the crazy deficit-spending, cheap-labor policies and corruption in Washington reached a point that the discontent is rubbing off on even popular Republicans in moderate-to-liberal parts of the country? It does seem strange that Bloomberg, who has always worn his Republican ties loosely, should try to expunge them from the record altogether.

Bloomberg should have nothing to worry about. He's won loud plaudits for leading New York through the post-9/11 trauma. When the local economy tanked, he did not cut services. He raised taxes. The conservative Manhattan Institute hollered at him for that, which only endeared him more to the locals.

The mayor knew what he was doing. The whole place was mired in deep depression. It would have been unseemly to dismiss hundreds of city workers, especially after so many had given their lives at the World Trade Center.

Bloomberg became a billionaire (five times over, some people think) by being an astute businessman. As such, he understands that New York City is a product. You don't get customers back by offering dirty streets and rundown city parks. The economy recovered, and then some. With the fiscal house in order, Bloomberg reduced some taxes.

Under Bloomberg, falling crime rates fell further. The schools got better. While Republicans in Washington dispensed pork and moral lectures, Bloomberg governed. He worked with unions to end some of the city's wasteful labor practices, and he found new places to send the garbage.

The New York Times gave Bloomberg a rousing endorsement, even though the Democrat, former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, is not half bad. Given the sunny prospects for next week's election, why does Bloomberg go to such lengths to hide the Republican tag?

Something has clearly happened in recent months, and it didn't happen in New York City. It happened in Washington. And you have to wonder how many other Republicans across America are, like Bloomberg, running television ads that don't mention the "R" word.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Froma Harrop

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