The 2009 general election campaign for mayor, after a rather listless Democratic primary, shows signs of being exciting, hard fought and meaningful.
It got off to a rousing start on Election Night when the winner of the Democratic primary, Comptroller Bill Thompson, led his supporters in a chant: "Eight is enough!" -- meaning Mayor Michael Bloomberg has served two terms, eight years, and that is enough.
Earlier, the mayor, in what seemed like an attempt to steal the spotlight from Thompson, held what his campaign called a ''victory party.'' Even though he was not involved in the primary, Bloomberg tried to preempt Thompson's celebration. He warned of the danger of "politics as usual." He raised the specter of corruption and do-nothing government that, in his words, ''inflicted so much pain" in the past.
Neither Bloomberg nor Thompson seems naturally suited to the art of making fiery speeches -- or rousing a crowd to fever pitch. But both tried hard to do what their advisers obviously want them to do right now: express anger at the other guys and inspire the voters.
The mayor has spent tens of millions of dollars already in an effort to motivate voters. He is reportedly ready to spend $200 million if necessary to win a third term. Thompson is trying to turn the mayor's great monetary advantage into a disadvantage. He accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the election and the voters, even as the mayor accuses him of being a machine politician who failed when he led the Board of Education and failed again when he monitored city finances as comptroller.
Now it appears that both Bloomberg and his opponent have what campaign strategists call ''fire in the belly'' -- a strong desire to win. But the question is: what are the serious issues before the voters?
Term limits clearly is in the forefront. On a recent morning when people called in to WNYC, almost all raised the term limit issue as of great concern to them. The fact is Bloomberg once denounced as disgraceful any attempt to overturn term limits and proceeded to get the City Council to do just that. This happened despite two referendums in which the people voted for term limits. Thompson may be expected to harp on that.
Bloomberg will undoubtedly denounce his opponent as a clubhouse Democrat who has no vision for the city's future, as a listless, uninspired politician unfit to lead New York in the years to come. He will probably charge that, after decades of public service, Thompson has no achievement to show for it.
Education will be a major issue -- and Thompson will be attacked for presiding over the old Board of Education at a time when the 1 million school children got an inferior education. The mayor will cite the great improvement in test scores that has taken place under his leadership. Thompson will attack the very basis of the Bloomberg's argument -- the vaunted improvement in math and reading exams.
Is the great improvement in test scores real or the result of manipulation by ambitious educators and politicians? It's a debate worth having. And Thompson's contention that parents have been left out of the educational process seems worth debating, too.
It could be a real contest----and New Yorkers can hope that the better man will win.