Let’s start with two propositions: first, the two major political parties have been corrupted beyond redemption. And second, that all politics is (ultimately) local. Both of these argue the need for a viable third party to contest the 2014 and 2016 elections. But a third party without a true driving force is doomed. Fortunately, the man for the moment is at hand: Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. He’s singularly—uniquely—equipped to midwife and lead the third party I have in mind. He’s wealthy, energetic, generally commonsensical, youthful, clearly cares, and has big political ambitions. But not as a candidate. Bloomberg, whom I consider both a friend and a very smart guy, has tested those waters and found them not to his liking. He takes positions with which I disagree, and wades into quarrels I’d be loath to pick. Yet in a city where grossly unequal circumstances, opportunity, and connections have resulted in a mashup of underclass poverty, and where the greed of financiers and public unions and promoters and the fatuity of the media and academe make social improvement virtually impossible, Bloomberg has been as good a mayor as could be hoped. But most important of all, he’s a mayor.
The polarization that has paralyzed Washington, and which can be observed in a good many of the nation’s state houses, doesn’t seem to exist in our city halls, so the party can go about its work as if Washington isn’t there. This is essential because the third party I envisage—let’s call it the “Mayors’ Party”—will be organized around and by a conclave of 151 mayors, with Michael Bloomberg in the chair. Start with the mayors of the capital city of every state (that’s 50) plus the mayors of the largest or next-largest non-capital cities in each state—that brings us to 100. Now add the next 50 largest cities in the country irrespective of state, plus the mayor of Washington, D.C. The task of these 151 mayoral delegates will be twofold: to pick a slate and devise a platform. The policies this new party will rally around will be boots-on-the-ground stuff, as opposed to the envelope-under-the-table, backdoor dealing that dominates Washington.
Public schools, transportation, infrastructure, housing policy; the desperate pathologies of the underclass and the no less revolting social mores of our newly emergent, equally sociopathic “overclass”; methods of public finance that aren’t Wall Street swindles; taxation that isn’t a trough: these are issues that are best addressed by men and women whose offices look out over mean streets filled with people anxious for a better deal. The moment has arrived when a legitimate third party grounded in reality, adequately financed, and intelligently led has a real shot. The difference maker is Mayor Bloomberg. He’s not a mere troublemaker like Ralph Nader or an eccentric like Ross Perot. He can truly change the third-party “equation.” Mayors of the nation, unite! You have nothing to lose but our chains.
Michael M. Thomas is a former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and author of eight books. His work has appeared in The New York Observer, The New York Review of Books, and on Forbes.com.