In the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” the chain gang prisoners are discussing a prison guard who’s very mysterious. “Don’t he ever talk?” one asks. Shortly afterward, the guard takes his rifle and shoots a passing bird out of the sky. Another prisoner says, “I think he just said something.”
In Chicago this week, the anti-gun candidate beat the pro-gun candidate in the special election for Congress. Terrific!
Mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed to the campaign fund of the anti-gun winner, Robin Kelly. Good for you, Mr. Mayor!
He contributed more than seven times the funds raised by the two major candidates combined. What? How’s that? More than seven times as much?
That’s right. The mayor contributed $2,200,000 to Robin Kelly’s campaign. She raised $200,000 herself, and her main opponent raised $100,000. So the mayor’s $2.2 million is seven times their combined contributions.
Would anti-gun Robin Kelly have won anyway, given the anti-gun fever that is now in the ascendancy in Chicago and elsewhere? I guess we’ll never know.
Maybe Mayor Bloomberg, using private polls, realized that Kelly was going to win the election over an opponent who had gotten only 29 percent of the vote in the election last November, and decided that he would jump in with a headline-grabbing amount of money to play the Orpheus bit.
Orpheus, as I am sure you remember from your Greek mythology, played his lute and sang to make the sun come up, which was going to come up anyway. Bloomberg’s lute is his money, which he gave to help a candidate win who was going to win anyway. Maybe.
In the end, Independence USA, Bloomberg’s PAC, spent over $70 per Kelly voter in the race, almost three times what the Obama campaign spent per Obama voter in the hotly contested state of Ohio last November, according to The Chicago Tribune.
The New York Times described the Bloomberg effort as “flooding the Chicago airwaves.” The Washington Post told of “a victory for gun control advocates led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”
And so, candidates for Congress nationwide, you should pay special attention to Mayor Michael Bloomberg henceforth on gun control and on other issues. Certainly Rep. Robin Kelly will take the mayor’s phone calls in her congressional office and listen carefully to what he has to say.
Of course, Michael Bloomberg has as much right as anyone else to get involved in city politics. But “anyone else” doesn’t have the ability to throw two million bucks into one minor contest to determine the result—or to appear to determine the result, which in politics is just as good.
The expenditure by one person, Michael Bloomberg, of over two million dollars in one congressional race in Chicago must command the attention of every politician in New York. But the questions present themselves here in New York, especially to political reformers and progressives:
Is this application of gigantic sums of personal wealth acceptable in progressive politics, as long as it seems to advance a progressive goal?
Is process still as important as substantive goals?
Do the ends justify the means?
Was the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who got congressional representatives to pledge to him that they would vote “no” on all tax increases, wrong because his “pledge” corrupted the system, or was he wrong simply because he was a conservative?
And what does this huge expenditure of money on one issue, in one congressional race, 900 miles away from New York, made by a man with a very mixed political agenda, portend for the democratic process here in New York City?
Mayor Bloomberg, like the prison guard in the movie, said something.
What exactly did he say?
Ed Sullivan represented the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the Assembly from 1977 to 2002.