I’m totally fascinated by this too-quick New York Times article on the decline of the New York City power-centers.
The article shows one problem with eliminating term limits – it creates an inability to pick hard political battles like really saving the MTA when constantly in the running for a third or fourth term. Regardless of the high re-election rate for incumbents, the media attention on a candidate for re-election means they shy away from real battles.
The main point of the article is more interesting. It shows the dearth of symbolic resources for politicians in the city- Robert Caro’s point at the end that the issue is also one of ‘vision’ points out that no one really has a clear sense of what the city should or does look like. Obama harnessed the decline of machine politics on a national level by latching on to a fundamental set of American Myths that propelled him to prominence. In New York, the myths may be just as powerful, but they certainly don’t unite in the same way – glam NYC clashes withcorrupt or mafia New York, intersects with multicultural diverse New York.
The decline of hard-and-fast power centers, and the lack of real and easy symbolic center puts a particular emphasis on grassroots organizing. Groups like the Working Families Party and sites like ChangeNYC will be the key to shaping the future of the city. With no quick paths to power or easy levers to pull, the emphasis returns on creating coalitions and organizing disorganized groups with potentially converging interests against the developing rapid changes overtaking the city.