You have to be well over 40 today to have much personal memory of the Reagan presidency. But if you do, we will recall the constant denigration of the man from the media and press as lazy and dumb. He came from rural Illinois, went to a college (Eureka College) that no one important had ever heard of, tended to lay off work around 5 in the afternoon, and knew nothing of sophisticated economics or public policy! Yuck! Yet the economy boomed. (As lazy and dumb as he was, Reagan somehow managed to focus on less regulation and lower taxes. Maybe that had something to do with it. Or maybe it was mostly that he just didn't do too much damage.) Meanwhile, the scintillatingly brilliant Barack Obama (Columbia College! Harvard Law School! Constitutional law professor! Obvious genius!) conducted for eight years what I have called the "War Against The Economy." Somehow the economy was stuck in the doldrums for the whole time.
Which brings me to the results of the elections yesterday. In our local area, we got Bill de Blasio re-elected as Mayor. We also got two other city-wide officials re-elected: Scott Stringer as Comptroller and Letitia James as something called Public Advocate. At least those drew opposition from the Republican Party, but the Republicans didn't come close. The Republican candidate for Mayor, Nicole Malliotakis, got about 28% of the vote. In Manhattan, a guy named Cyrus Vance (if you're old enough you will recognize the name from that of his dad, Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State) got re-elected as DA with no opposition of any kind. My local (Greenwich Village) City Councilperson, Corey Johnson, also got no Republican opposition, although there was a candidate from something called the "Eco Justice" party.
For those last two races, if you didn't want to vote for these guys, one alternative was to leave that line on the ballot blank; but there was also a space at the right to fill in the name of a write-in candidate. In both cases, I wrote in James Menton. That's my dog.
De Blasio is about as crazed a progressive as you could find anywhere. He famously took his honeymoon in Cuba during Castro's heyday, and during the late 80s worked for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua building the socialist utopia. So four more years of this guy will be a disaster for New York City, right? The New York Post put it this way last night:
Mayor de Blasio cruised to re-election Tuesday — and now New Yorkers are stuck with him for another four years.
The situation is not good, but it could be a lot worse. The saving grace of de Blasio is that he takes lazy and dumb to extremes rarely before seen in such exalted political office. He's famous for getting up late, detouring to his gym in deep Brooklyn before heading back toward work, and arriving at his office some time around noon. And then taking a nap in the afternoon. If he were smart and energetic, he could do a lot of damage. As it is, City government cruises along mostly on autopilot.
De Blasio's campaign steered mostly free of issues. As far as I could see, the two big things he emphasized were (1) protecting the high income New York taxpayers against federal tax increases, and then (2) socking those same people with a big increase in New York City taxes. The first theme hit its peak in a big speech given by de Blasio just the day before the election, as reported by the New York Times:
For more than 10 minutes, Mr. de Blasio urged the audience to resist the Republican tax plan, which could do away with federal deductions for state and local taxes and in that way deliver a massive blow to the city and its taxpayers. “President Trump’s tax plan takes dead aim at New York City,” he said. “It would undermine the success that we have achieved, and despite the hype, it would undermine the middle class in this city and, I would say, all over the country.”
And then there was the second theme, imposing a big tax increase of his own on the exact same people. As the Post put it at the link above:
The mayor said he would push for a millionaire’s tax to help fix the city’s beleaguered subway system.
So, when the feds propose higher income taxes on New York's high earners, that's "delivering a massive blow to the city and its taxpayers" and "taking dead aim at New York City." When he does it, it's social justice! Like I said, this guy is not all that bright.
And what of the big promises from de Blasio's first campaign? Those would be the promises to address income inequality and solve homelessness. If you've been paying attention, you will already know that income inequality in New York did not improve at all in the last four years. The two congressional districts covering the West and East sides of Manhattan -- one containing de Blasio's home and the other containing his office -- remain numbers one and three among the most-income-unequal districts in the country. Meanwhile homelessness went up substantially even as spending on the issue about doubled. Hey, it's only about another $1 billion or so per year -- barely a rounding error in the $80+ billion New York City budget. Needless to say, these issues were not emphasized during the current campaign.
Across the river in New Jersey, it looks like they are not nearly so lucky. They have elected a new governor from the Democratic Party, by the name of Phil Murphy. The guy has not previously held elected office, so it remains to be seen, but he gives at least preliminary indications of being both smart and energetic. Harvard College! Wharton Business School! A career at the high levels of Goldman Sachs! And, he is a committed progressive! New Jersey, you are in trouble.
I'll give just a couple of examples. New Jersey's biggest problem is clearly its way-underfunded public employee pensions. Although some might award the title to Illinois or California, New Jersey is in contention for the worst-funded public pension program, both as a percentage of liabilities and as a per capita burden on the state's taxpayers. Current governor Christie has tried to negotiate to reduce the obligations, but, failing at that over union intransigence, has refused to fully fund the obligation. Murphy says that he will fully fund the obligation. Really, Phil? According to this chart at Pension360, that will mean increasing contributions to the pension funds by something around $3 billion per year -- this in a state with an annual budget running about $32 billion per year. In other words, increasing state spending by about 10% per year with no increase in services of any kind to the citizens. He says he can do it by reducing fees paid to the money managers. That will be at most a couple of hundred million per year. Well, simple arithmetic never was the strong suit of these "smart" progressives. Reality is going to come up and smack this guy in the face around about the first day he takes office.
Oh, his next big issue is making a public pension program available as an option to private employers. In other words, doubling down on the single most glaring and disastrous failure of the government.
Smart! Energetic! Go for it, Phil!
UPDATE, November 9: Yesterday, to celebrate his victory, Mayor de Blasio held a rare big press conference at City Hall. The New York Times reports on the event in an article headlined, "Mayor Pledges to Create Fairest Big City in America." As the headline indicates, he previewed that his big theme for the new term will be to create "fairness" in the City. What exactly does that mean? One thing is obvious: he is moving away from the prior themes of income inequality, poverty and homelessness -- things measured by metrics that keep getting worse on his watch -- and onto a new theme totally lacking any such potentially embarrassing metric. It means whatever he wants it to mean!
So how did the press conference go? From the Times:
The news conference played out in much the way that similar events had during his first term. It started late: Mr. de Blasio arrived at City Hall after noon, after a visit to his gym, in Brooklyn.
That's our Mayor! I wouldn't say we're exactly safe for the next four years, but if de Blasio holds to form, the damage won't be too terrible.