Common Wisdom

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

Mayor Bloomberg’s much-criticized response to Con Edison’s deceit-laden incompetence in Queens should hurt his standing with New Yorkers — at least that’s the conventional wisdom. No doubt Fernando Ferrer is wishing the blackout had been a year ago.

Mr. Bloomberg still has a chance to reverse his mistaken nonchalance of the past ten days if he can pressure Con Ed to forego all profits this year and put that cash into improving the electrical infrastructure of feeder cables, transformers, and secondary electrical lines. He should also call on Con Ed to provide a full year’s worth of free electricity to everyone affected by a blackout that lasted too long and could have been avoided if Con Ed had focused on providing power rather than gambling with New Yorkers’ livelihoods.

Con Ed needs to learn that the financial cost of making the electrical network function is less than the cost of a blackout. Con Ed’s habit of neglecting the supply network will only change if the consequences of a blackout are as catastrophic for the company’s bottomline as they are for those who experienced an unwanted taste of the 19th century. Colonial Williamsburg is a far better place to experience the early days of our country than here at home.

The last five years suggest Mr. Bloomberg will turn this around, given his history of defying conventional wisdom with actual wisdom. His top aides worried the smoking ban would become a political liability and pundits predicted his tax increases would haunt his reelection campaign. But Mr. Blooomberg was right about the smoking ban and he made up for raising property taxes too much by giving homeowners $400 rebates every year.

The far West Side is another example of how Mr. Bloomberg is making the best out of a bad situation. After Albany quashed his dream for a West Side stadium, conventional wisdom presumed the railyards just south of the Javits Convention Center would remain undeveloped for years. So Mr. Bloomberg came up with a plan for the city to buy the railyard air rights from the MTA and then bring in developers who will pay for space on a platform the city builds. Mr. Bloomberg’s $500 million offer is low, but the idea is right.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was largely responsible for blocking the mayor’s stadium plan last summer. At the time, conventional wisdom said their relationship was finished and that Mr. Bloomberg would surely exact revenge on Mr. Silver. That hasn’t happened. And their relationship, while a bit tattered, is intact.

Mr. Silver is at the pinnacle of his power, and conventional wisdom holds that he’ll lose influence in Albany if (read: when) Eliot Spitzer becomes governor. The theory is that governors viscerally try controlling legislative leaders from the same party — much the way Governor Pataki has sought to overpower the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno. But Mr. Spitzer has a genuine political debt to Mr. Silver that will probably change the nature of their power-sharing.

Mr. Silver began aggressively supporting Mr. Spitzer two years ago, well before Mr. Spitzer was the heir-apparent for the Governor’s Mansion. At the time, Senator Schumer was making noises about running for governor — and Mr. Silver was among the first politicians to try quieting those noises. Given the junior senator’s legendary temper and tendency to hold a grudge, Mr. Silver took a risk. Mr. Spitzer knows that.

That said, Mr. Spitzer likes a good fight and will have a sparring partner in his successor as attorney general. Andrew Cuomo is emerging as the favorite in that race. But just four years ago, conventional wisdom predicted Mr. Cuomo’s political career was over after he backed out of the Democratic primary for governor just a week before he would have been pummeled in the voting booth. Mr. Cuomo destroyed the slim chance Carl McCall had at unseating Governor Pataki. Democratic leaders were furious and declared Mr. Cuomo a has-been. Yet not only has Mr. Cuomo has resurrected his political career, he could wind up ending the political career of a Republican who was also misjudged by conventional wisdom.

Jeanine Pirro emerged as the Republican Party’s rising star a year ago and was considered a contender for any office, especially after her award-worthy performance at the 2005 Legislative Correspondents dinner in Albany. She flirted with running for Senate and flamed out, finally settling on attorney general. She will probably lose this fall to either Mr. Cuomo or the other potential Democratic nominee, Mark Green.

Conventional wisdom was also off in the Republican primary for governor. Party leaders backed William Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, in his quest to become the second American to lead two states. His primary challenger was a little-known former state assemblyman from the Capitol Region who most observers dismissed outright as a nuisance. With the election approaching, Mr. Weld is watching from the sidelines and the former assemblyman, John Faso, is the candidate.

The irony is that the Democratic nuisance candidate, Tom Suozzi, was actually considered by conventional wisdom as a real threat to Mr. Spitzer’s chances for governor.

Conventional wisdom gets plenty right. But when politicians strategically work to reverse course — or don’t focus hard enough at staying on course — outcomes can change dramatically.The same applies to companies: The conventional wisdom that week-long blackouts are limited to the rural areas, the tsunami-zone and hurricane-prone areas was based on a mistaken belief that Con Ed focuses on keeping our power supply in good shape.

Now is the time for Mr. Bloomberg to defy the conventional wisdom that he was tone-deaf last week by forcing Con Ed to shape up and pay up. New Yorkers may understand his instinct to defend a fellow CEO, but not a determination to stand by him no matter what.

The New York Sun

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