Pols: Know Thy Constituents

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg-2001/11/26
Weekly commentary by Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

New Yorkers found out something about their mayor, Michael Bloomberg, last week.

He doesn't know them very well. He came up with a great idea, at least he thought it was a great idea: eliminate party primaries in all city elections. And he ponyed up $2 million of his own money to promote it. Now that's petty cash to a billionaire like Bloomberg, but still, it's a fair sum.

New Yorkers responded by handing him his head on a platter. Seventy percent of the people who voted on the idea last week rejected it, which raises the question: How could any politician be so out of touch that he'd propose something that nearly three-quarters of his constituents didn't want?

Actually, it's an easy one to answer.

In another day, politicians got elected by bringing people together who shared common problems and working with them to find solutions. They usually started by running for minor offices where the problems were smaller. Not much glamour there, but it's a way to get to know your community.

Bloomberg is part of a new fad, a rich man who just bought his way into politics, spent $75 million of his own money advertising himself and enough people believed the TV commercials to elect him.

The downside is when you win that way, you don't really get to know much about the people you're trying to lead. And in time, the people figure that out, which is why Bloomberg is in so much trouble that the New York papers say he is gearing up now to spend $100 million on his re-election, which raises the question: Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to just get to know the people in New York a little better?

By Bob Schieffer