How do you like my money now, liberals?

Mayor Bloomberg now plans to spend big bucks to defeat lawmakers trying to rein in stop-and-frisk and the NYPD

Published July 1, 2013 12:36PM (EDT)

  (AP/Seth Wenig)
(AP/Seth Wenig)

There is one important thing you have to remember about Michael Bloomberg: He is an asshole. It is easy to forget this if you don't live in New York, or if you live in New York and you are a well-off white person who is never harassed by his NYPD, but it is a fact. Thus far, the billionaire mayor has been using his fortune for nice things that everyone likes, like funding ads in support of gay marriage and gun control. But he has enough money to also spend some on capricious meddling in areas Good Liberals are less likely to approve of. According to the New York Post (and admittedly it is often wrong about all sorts of things but you can generally trust its City Hall reporting), Mayor Bloomberg is now planning to spend some money to defeat City Council opponents of stop-and-frisk. Or, if not defeat them, at least scare them into changing their minds.

Stop-and-frisk is an NYPD policy in which cops stop and question and frisk residents of, primarily, very poor neighborhoods, looking for drugs and guns. The people stopped and frisked are nearly always racial or ethnic minorities. No probable cause is required for stopping and frisking. (Cops are supposed to have a reason for the frisking but, as the invaluable stop-and-frisk Twitter account has shown us, those reasons are so elastic as to be meaningless. One reason is "other.") Cops stop hundreds of thousands of people each year and arrest only a small fraction of those questioned. The arrests are questionable too: New York led the nation in pointless marijuana arrests throughout Bloomberg's time in office.

The city is currently defending itself in a class-action lawsuit charging that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional. Each Democrat currently running to replace Bloomberg, whose third and final term ends this year, has promised to reform or eliminate the program. The City Council got tired of waiting, and passed two bills last week aimed at restraining the cops. One created an inspector general to oversee the NYPD, the other allowed citizens to file racial profiling claims against the NYPD. Both bills passed with veto-proof majorities. Without the ability to veto, the mayor is looking for other avenues to getting his way, as he usually does.

With every seat in the council up for grabs this year, Bloomberg’s PAC will “cast a wide net” and try to persuade council members to flip their votes, said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson.

“I’ve got the time to talk to all members. Basically, we’re going to recanvass as many members as we can and see what we come up with,” Wolfson said.

When loathsome flack Wolfson says "recanvass," he means threaten to unload a small fortune on small-time City Council races until one council member is scared enough to flip his or her vote, because one vote is all the mayor needs to get his veto to stick.

The mayor is deeply attached to the idea that he is the only man capable enough and qualified to manage the city, and he is also unshakable in his conviction that data and facts are always, invariably on his side, even when they quite obviously aren't. His hard-fought school reforms haven't improved the schools, though he won't admit it. He can at least point to a declining crime rate under his tenure, and he frequently does point to it, and he always credits stop-and-frisk for the improvement. He is so insistent on this point that it becomes ridiculous, as when he said last week that that the only problem with stop-and-frisk is that minorities aren't stopped often enough.

There is one inconvenient fact Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have not quite acknowledged: The department has already sharply curtailed stop-and-frisks, in response to overwhelming complaints and the lawsuit. As the police have stopped and frisked less, crime has not increased. It has, in fact, decreased. Correlation is not causation, but the department has always argued that the previous decade of decreasing crime -- part of the nationwide trend of decreasing crime -- was a result of aggressive policing. so it seems fair to point out that police restraint has not yet ushered back in the Bad Old Years that Bloomberg frequently invokes when defending his unaccountable police commissioner's actions.

Bloomberg, as he often does, is trying his very hardest to get his many liberal admirers to notice how illiberal he is. His money can be used to browbeat gun-loving red-state hicks, sure, but he is also more than happy to use it to get his way in a fight over whether or not the police are supposed to be a full-time minority-harassment squad.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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