Opinion: Columnists

The mayor who would be despot

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WASHINGTON -- Apparently New York City's Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg whiles away his last hours in the mayor's palace daydreaming. He has been mayor for almost three terms and though his mayorship may not have been as heroic or even as effective as that of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, it has at least kept the city up to Mayor Giuliani's standards of cleanliness, law and order, and an approximation of sense of financial rectitude. So if Bloomberg is no Rudy Giuliani, at least he has done OK up until now.

Now his daydreams are taking on the air of delusion. He apparently longs for the perfect gesture with which to festoon his legacy. Health for all! An end to guns for everyone, except the cops! No more violence! Maybe he even plans a campaign against spitting in public. If that last daydream plays well with the public relations team he has hired to ensure his fame for the ages, he will probably call a press conference and admonish us all to avoid public spitting. Possibly the citizenry will be advised to carry little cups or doggy bags. The mayor and his team think of everything.

Bloomberg is intent on leaving a memorable legacy. He has rumbled on against the Second Amendment, against trans fats, against salt and sugar consumption, against obesity, and -- for years -- against tobacco, even pipes, even cigars, even the tobacco that one chews. He has taken extraordinary action against this substance, causing tobacco to be more expensive in New York City than anywhere else in America, banning it from public places such as restaurants, parks, even beaches, leaving cigarette smokers to languish on chill streets like the homeless only more reviled. Bloomberg tried to ban sugary drinks from being served in containers larger than sixteen ounces, but a state judge who had apparently been a recent reader of the United States Constitution said that bill went too far. Possibly the judge was a co-conspirator with the Tea Party movement. I know that might strike you as improbable, but I am told that, at least in rural New York, there are still judges conversant with the Constitution.

All this concern of the mayor for his legacy is, as I have implied, in pursuit of a delusion. Only an occasional professor of urban politics gives a rat's hind leg for Bloomberg's legacy. Do you remember Mayor John Lindsay's legacy or Mayor David Dinkins' legacy -- other than during their terms the subway system was a no-man's land, the sidewalks were dirty and dominated by muggers and the city was headed toward bankruptcy. By some accounting theories, it already was bankrupt. Mayor Edward Koch left a legacy, but it was not much. Possibly a few wry wisecracks were attributed to him, possibly an urbane witticism. That is about it.

I recall, prior to Mayor Giuliani, a common theme of conversation when I was in the city was that New York was dying. Then along came Rudy. He worked very hard applying fundamental principles of governance to a city that thought it had progressed beyond them. The city miraculously revived. It became one of the most civilized cities in the world once again. So much for the decline of New York City, or for that matter the decline of civilization. New York bounced back, and for those who say America is in hopeless decline under President Barack Obama, I say wait until 2016 or actually 2014. All is not lost.

As for Mayor Bloomberg, he ought to knock it off. This claptrap about his legacy is a fool's errand. His latest effort to ban the public display of tobacco products will be found unconstitutional as surely as his earlier efforts to ban the large containers of disgusting soft drinks.

Mayor Bloomberg, we live in a free society. There are citizens out there that believe in it even though they side with you about the value of non-violence and good health. Yet they believe in personal freedom above all else. You would not want to be remembered as the mayor who tried to become a despot ... and failed thanks to the Constitution.

Examiner Columnist R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

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