Among political operatives there’s a lot of talk about the idea that in the wake of Michael Bloomberg’s surprisingly narrow re-election the White House blew an opportunity to intervene in the race on behalf of Democratic City Comptroller Bill Thompson and pick up a win. Ben Smith writes that the outcome is “a profound embarrassment for a Democratic establishment — from the White House on down — that abandoned his rival, City Comptroller Bill Thompson, as a hopeless loser.”
I think it’s at least worth considering the possibility that this tactics-tinged lens is the wrong way to look at things. What if Obama just preferred Bloomberg on the merits, but felt that political considerations compelled him to offer nominal support for the official Democratic nominee? After all, what are the issues on which Obama’s positions are more closely aligned with Thompson than with Bloomberg?
I can name a few on which Obama and Bloomberg are in sync. For starters, education. Obama and Arne Duncan are clearly in the “education reform” camp of the intra-Democratic split, pushing accountability and charter schools. Today Obama will be touting education reform in Madison, Wisconsin talking up the $4.35-billion Race to the Top (RTTT) fund that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is an agenda totally in line with what Bloomberg and Joel Klein have been doing in New York, and the general fear among reformers has been that absent Bloomberg NYC education policy will be made by the United Federation of Teachers. Similarly, on transportation Obama and Secretary Ray LaHood have been infuriating George Will by pushing transit, walking, and bicycles. You never find an “anti-transit” politician as such in New York, but the Bloomberg administration’s push for congestion pricing and spree of bike lane construction have turned Transportation Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan into a hero of transportation reform. Thompson, by contrast, ending his campaign rallying against Bus Rapid Transit.
Are there some clear examples of urban policy issues on which Obama is pushing an agenda that’s at odds with Bloomberg?
Also note that Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary comes direct from the Bloomberg administration. Housing is probably the issue (aside from term limits) on which I’ve heard the most criticism of Bloomberg from liberals, but Obama clearly isn’t among the critics.