From The Editor: WHY NOT?
New York has a checkered history of billionaires running for public office (most have flamed out) but Mike Bloomberg spectacularly succeeded (at least for two terms) and gave eternal hope to billionaires looking for any new challenge.
You say these moneyed men (and women nationwide) only buy the election and their commitment to running is tenuous—but their background is not. (Even Bloomberg had to earn his billions.) Billionaire John Catsimatidis, the longstanding New York mayoral wannabe, has been a fixture in the New York political scene and the Greek community for years, and is a classic Gotham success story.
He came from Greece as a boy, he got into NYU, and then he dropped out of NYU to run a supermarket. His parents thought he was nuts, but Catsimatidis became a millionaire in supermarkets, then a billionaire playing the oil market and airline industry, then a fixture in New York society and politics and the charity scene (with his wife Margo he runs the perennial Hellenic Times Scholarship Foundation and they contribute to everything from the Police Athletic League to Juvenile Diabetes and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research).
Like most self-made men in business, he thinks business has the blueprint for running a well-oiled city: make sure people can still make money here—for the common good, that is. “Business has to do well,” he says, “but the community has to do well, too. I believe in working hand to hand. You can’t beat up businesses and force them to move out of the city, because then everybody’s going to cry, there’s no jobs. There’s got to be a balance. If a new company goes into a city to invest $500 million, they’re not going to go into a city where they’re going to get beat up every day by the politicians. They’ll go to Connecticut or somewhere else. Capital is fluid. I want to be competitive with the rest of our surrounding neighbors and I think we can do it.”
The eternal optimism of the self-made man used to being his own boss? You lead and the others will follow? Maybe. But politics is a very slippery eel. As outgoing president Harry Truman famously once said of incoming president Dwight Eisenhower: “Poor Ike. It won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and nothing will happen.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody was a born a professional politician and a successful man did become a successful because of a single-minded drive and will to succeed against all odds. A man or woman in politics soon learns the halfway measures of compromise to ensure his or her political survival.
So maybe term limits are a good thing to sweep away those who have become content with halfway measures for their political survival and eventually see things with blinkered eyes like a tortoise, and make way for the newcomers and billionaire political tyros full of their own brio who see a world of endless possibilities like Robert Kennedy: “Some men see things are they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?”
Dimitri C. Michalakis