Bloomberg & the Indiscreet Wealth of the Overclass

Should the billionaire mayor be worried that his campaign spending is too much?

So, exactly how popular are rich people who who flaunt their wealth nowadays?  You know the type: the Jimmy Choos shoes wearing, great fur wrapping, two or three cars (or planes) owning upper crust. How do the rest of us, who are mired in a tough recession and subject daily to astronical job losses react to these richies?

Merrill Lynch/Bank of America exec, John Thain, was forced to resign shortly after it was revealed that he redecorated his office to the tune of $1.2 million -- while Merrill was racking up a $15 billion loss in the last quarter. That was public relations. That Thain gave bonuses of $4 billion to his executives at the same time is now the subject of a New York attorney general probe. That's legal. Pride indeed goeth before fall.

But what of the plebians? Conspicuous consumption never plays well,  but especially not in tough times. Thain was not subject to public retribution, but the billionaire known as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may soon be. 

Bloomberg is gearing up for another mammoth campaign run, and he plans to crush his competition under truckloads of cash. It's not enough that he spent about $150 million combined in his first two runs; it's not enough that he got a compliant city council to overturn term limits that twice had been approved by the public. No, the mayor has to practically guarantee a third term by purchasing the services of consultants previously in the employ of his potential opponents, City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The ex-Democrat/quasi-Republican/independent mayor is still popular among the public -- though the term-limits overturning has caused his personal attributes to take a slight hit. On balance, he's done a reasonable job running the city. But at some point, there may be a case of the straw breaking the camel's back. At some point, the power of one man to buy anything -- and anyone -- his heart desires creates righteous envy. That Bloomberg quickly even dismisses the idea that he should limit his money machine invites even more disconnectedness between the mayor and his populace.  

Whether these underlying sentiments are something that Bloomberg's possible opponents can tap into is be something to track as this year goes by. Mayor Bloomberg might take note that it is not unprecedented for someone to have a high job approval rating – and still lose re-election, in a heavily one-party voting area. 

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