On Mayoral Elocution

No one registered surprise at the recent (and since denied) rumors of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg entertaining a mayoral run for London. Why should they? Like New York, London is a city of nearly eight and a half million, sporting a wide rich-poor gap and run (formerly, in New York’s case) by a plutocrat in regular bloke’s clothing. When current mayor Boris Johnson vacates the post in 2016, Bloomberg could easily take up Johnson’s platform, whose “policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.”

For his own platform slogan, Bloomberg could use a less famous but even more apt comment from a 2014 New York Times article wherein he said, “I don’t have anything in common with people who stand on escalators.” Where Johnson’s “cake” comment was short and sweet, betraying his diverting wit while getting right to the point, Bloomberg’s richly crafted “escalator” declaration correspondingly captures his smoke and mirrors municipal management approach while simultaneously displaying more finesse, something Brits might appreciate.

Bloomberg’s declaration is nothing short of a verbal backbend, subtly passive and manipulative, keeping his audience’s attention by withholding the point ever so slightly. It politely backs into the gist, suspending the significant material for the end, like a German sentence. He could have started with, “I have nothing in common…” which would have been more aggressively direct yet somehow more posh, but that would have undercut his message and his jib. Bloomberg begins with a negative frame, undoubtedly an effort to avoid the impression that he’s trying to snow his audience with upbeat charm in the manner of a run-of-the-mill candidate. That was never his style. It is tempting to imagine some British red top reporter lopping off his statement after the word “people” so that the reader would be left with a startling indictment, warranting the headline, “Former Big Apple Mayor Says, ‘I Don’t Have Anything in Common With People’,” though that wouldn’t jar Londoners, who are accustomed to aloof political leaders.

But with the rest of it — “who stand on escalators” — we truly see Bloomberg, the man, reflected in the text. Londoners are savvy, even if unaccustomed to his diction, so they would understand that he is referring to the common behavior of people who stop dead rather than continuing to walk as soon as their feet alight on a moving staircase. They would not be confused and wonder, “What does he mean? People aren’t going to sit! Or hover!” The positive construction of the second part of the statement sits in graceful contrast to the first. Where Bloomberg had used a negative contraction right up front just a moment ago, here he’s affirming — people who stand as opposed to people who don’t walk or don’t continue moving.

Brits might also appreciate, ur-American though it is, the clarity with which Bloomberg takes responsibility for his beliefs while letting others act freely. He could have said, “I hate people who won’t walk on escalators” and he wouldn’t need to add that he hates them because they are lazy or obstructionist. He chose instead to steer clear of explicit value judgments and human interaction altogether.

The way he composed this pearl begs for the accompanying visual. It’s impossible not to see him walking up the left-hand side of a moving escalator, posture erect, arms swinging comfortably at his sides, sights set straight ahead — gliding it seems — as he passes a panoply of bums and homunculi on the right-hand side, cellulite, artery plaque and lost wages building with each inch the mechanized staircase’s cranks and pulleys have to carry them and their oversized soft drinks (legal under Johnsonian rule).

The ex-mayor strides up, neither disdainfully nor self-righteously, but obliviously — it is as if the people on the other side are of a different species. They share no DNA, no biological characteristics, no favorite TV programs nor podcasts, no friends, no preferred Boxing Day side dish, no nothing. They do not have anything in common. Had he taken the snootier “have nothing in common” route, a stickler might defensively point out that both he and the slobs on the opposite side are, for one, heading in the same direction.

Had Bloomberg decided to seriously consider a run, his prospects would have been auspicious. He brings both conservative stability and welcome change. He maintains the comforting tradition of political class out-of-touchery while his escalator-riding behavior — not out of character for this renegade fat cat who rode the NYC subway and eschewed Gracie Mansion accommodations — might seem to some Londoners exotic and refreshing. Alas, Londoners will never experience what could have been an Elizabethan reign by a benevolent urban dictator given the absence of term limits for London mayoral service.