Well, Mike Bloomberg was a popular mayor. For much of his tenure, Rudy Giuliani was too. As were Ed Koch and John Lindsay. They all ran for office after leaving City Hall. Despite having outstanding qualities that allowed them to win the mayoralty, it did not translate into their next race. If anything, voters held the former mayors’ experience against them. Why?
Some of it is the nature of the job itself. State legislators can hide. They almost never have to make critical decisions, and when they do, the policy matters are decided at 50,000 feet. Mayors run things. Especially New York’s. And when you have actual operating responsibility for streets and schools, roads and parks, prisons and waste-transfer stations, two things invariably happen.
First, you can’t get everything right. You oversee more than 300,000 employees. Someone is doing something wrong, intentionally or unintentionally, every minute of the day. Even when the workers’ intentions are good, it doesn’t mean our schools are effective or our parks are clean or our transportation system is well run. The mayor owns all of that.
Second, even when you do make the right decisions, someone is always on the other side of the issue. Take policing. Aggressive policing under Giuliani and Bloomberg cut crime dramatically. But many New Yorkers said their privacy and other rights were being sacrificed. Lax policing under de Blasio—combined with some unwelcome help from Albany and Covid-19—led to a city now gripped by fear and violence. Whichever path the mayor chooses, a lot of people will be unhappy.