Challenging an incumbent

October 7, 2009 1:32:41 PM PDT
Ah the power of incumbency. The argument many people make in favor of term limits is that incumbents can use their office to help their campaigns. Franking privilege - where elected officials have mailings paid for by the public - is one example.

So is making official pronouncements.

It's not unsmart politics. And we've seen a lot of it recently with New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He enjoys a big lead in the polls, has a gigantic advantage in money (he's already spend $65 million of his own funds; the challenger, Democrat Bill Thompson, has raised less than $8 million), and, yes, he has the advantage of being on the job and behind the desk.

There's been much coverage of late of how bitter some New Yorkers are over Mr. Bloomberg's ramming through a change in the City's term limits law. Twice voters have made their voices heard, and mandated that City officials be limited to two terms. To many, term limits are a reaction to bad government and bad governing. There is, of course, always the other way to get rid of politicians: vote them out of office.

But the voters spoke and even those who don't like term limits had to acknowledge that democracy was in full bloom on the issue.

The Mayor in years past has agreed with the notion that the voters have made their wishes known. Then he didn't run for President. And then no one asked him to be their Vice Presidential running mate. And then, who knows? - maybe the thought of returning to the private sector just didn't appeal to him.

That's when he made a deal with the City Council and circumvented the two prior votes, and overturned the two-term limit, just this once.

We'll see how this affects the Mayor come election time next month.

But back to the advantage of incumbency. It's not lost on us that the Mayor's been on a bit of a public pronouncement campaign. Last week it was the new 3-1-1 City help line application on IPhone. And the new plan to feed parking meters from your cell phone.

And last night it was the Mayor's Awards for Arts and Culture - a program Mayor Bloomberg revitalized a few years ago. Conveniently, the Mayor's office sent out a video feed of the ceremony. Which is great - it's wonderful to honor arts and culture, especially in these economically challenged times.

But it's clearly another advantage of incumbency, used since politics began. And used today in New York City.

It's not always easy to separate what's political and what's civic. Today, the latest campaign by Mr. Bloomberg comes in the form of an undercover investigation by the City into illegal gun sales.

Gun control has long been a Bloomberg issue - he's somewhat the front man on it in terms of big-city mayors. But if everything is political, then it's hard to ignore the political implications of the Mayor releasing this, less than four weeks before the election. Releasing it in a City where most residents are pro-control and Democrats, but the Mayor's not a Democrat.

I'm not being cynical, I'm just observing.

And the problem for Bill Thompson is that he's also pro gun control, and would have, I'm sure, loved to have issued the undercover video himself. The video shows how easy it is for criminals to purchase weapons at gun shows - 35 of the 47 gun sellers chronicled at seven gun shows in three states, sold to people who, quoting from the news release, "said either they probably could not pass a background check or to apparent 'straw purchasers,' both of which are prohibited by federal law."

We'll have the video, and the latest on the Mayor's race, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, we had the story earlier this week about the fugitive amnesty program in New Jersey for folks to surrender and get some leniency.

Tonight, a New Jersey fugitive story for those who aren't being offered amnesty.

Our Toni Yates is on a ride-along with a team from the New Jersey State Parole Board's fugitive unit - tracking them down and busting them. It's a dramatic story, at 11.

And Tappy Phillips tonight has the story of New Yorkers, paying money to get trained and hired as security guards - but getting ripped off instead. They paid, but there were no jobs, so they called 7 On Your Side for help.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, including the damage today from the strong winds in our area, and Scott Clark with the night's sports, including game one in the American League divisional playoffs between the Yankees and the Twins.

I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.