Why Bloomberg Should Get Testy in Tonight's Debate

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A campaign operative for Mayor Bloomberg' "exhorts volunteers to shift into overdrive" in the final week before the vote. Why? The Times and its experts express caution over turnout: "Elections have been lost -- most notably David N. Dinkins's 1993 re-election race -- because people who insisted to pollsters that they supported a candidate ultimately did not bother to vote."

Having been forced at our polling place that year to provide a provisional ballot due to a Republican challenge, we think turnout was the least of Dinkins' problems. And we can't imagine Bloomberg's 18-point poll lead will evaporate in any case.

Still, what small capacity for embarrassment the Mayor retains might be irritated by a victory tainted by small turnout -- which, given how poorly the primaries were attended, is a real possibility. And why should a man as accustomed to getting his way as Bloomberg have to put up with that?...

So far Bloomberg has been content to put himself and his Administration in as pleasant and positive a light as could be managed. He took great pains to remain in view of cameras when the Yankees clinched the AL championship on Sunday. Outside of this pre-arranged theater, he seems disinclined to engage in drama. He is reportedly playing nice with the teachers' union, which may indicate a desire to avoid the appearance of conflict in Bloomberg's New York. He even told businessmen at a Crain's breakfast that the city budget gap wasn't as bad as advertised and could be handled with budget cuts. He seems to want to keep his presence low-key, except when, as with the Yankees' celebration, the spectacle shows New York coming out indisputably ahead.

That's apparently a winning strategy, but hardly something to move the masses. To engineer a larger turnout for himself, Bloomberg has unlimited resources and will probably have plenty of people to drive, walk, or carry his voters to the polls -- but that's assuming they choose to vote at all in what's been reported as a foregone race. If he wants to assure something other than a depressingly low general turnout, he needs to get voters out the door.

At tonight's final mayoral debate, he'll probably go gentle, seeking to keep it an uncontroversial non-event. But maybe his cause, as we imagine it, would be better served by some aggressiveness, maybe even some of his famous pique. Maybe if he gets some people pissed off, they'll be more engaged in the process and more motivated to vote. Sure, many will vote against him, but as he's got it locked up, what difference does that make? And he'll have many defenders who, seeing his authority suddenly if vaguely threatened, might bestir themselves to counter this trend at the ballot box. Turnout might rise to 20, even-- dare we hope? -- 30 percent of registered voters.

It would be a glorious show of democracy that still goes the mayor's way. What's not to like?


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