In case you haven’t been following the New York City mayoral race, here’s a quick recap: City council speaker and Michael Bloomberg-anointed successor Christine Quinn’s campaign for the Democratic nomination crashed and burned, as former Hillary Clinton campaign manager/city public advocate/really tall guy Bill de Blasio claimed the spot on a campaign built on promises to reduce economic inequality and his son’s awesome hair. De Blasio instantly got progressives all excited, then all unexcited when they realized he got to a position of political power by playing politics. He now faces off against a Republican mostly known for getting the trains running reasonably fast after Hurricane Sandy, who currently trails by about a billion percentage points in the polls.
Now that you’re all caught up, we can visit Tuesday night’s mayoral debate, in which de Blasio was asked about plans to build a soccer stadium in Queens for the new New York City F.C. franchise. I can’t find an actual transcript, so here’s New York Times columnist Michael Powell’s summary:
Early on Tuesday night, he was asked about Major League Soccer’s attempt to place a Spaceship-Enterprise-size soccer stadium in the midst of Flushing Meadows, Queens’s densest and most heavily used park. He cleared his throat with some populist rumbling about city tax giveaways. Then he allowed that, well, perhaps, maybe, a pro soccer stadium might raise the money needed to give that dowdy dowager of a park a face-lift.
It was left to Mr. Lhota to make the point that, perhaps fortunately for Flushing Meadows, appears to have won the day: Our urban parks are a precious patrimony, and in this densest of American cities it is rarely wise to auction off greensward. If Flushing Meadows-Corona Park needs money, and enough three-piece-suit-wearing worthies cannot be found to toss together a conservancy, a mayor should find a way to pay for that park.
“It shouldn’t be in that park,” Mr. Lhota said of the stadium. “We don’t have enough park space in this city as it is.”
The weird thing is that, as the Queens Chronicle pointed out in an outraged editorial, the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park stadium plan is essentially dead, so why even give lip service to reviving it?
Of course, this could all be the media trying to find some news in an awkward turn of phrase by a candidate to liven up an otherwise dead-boring campaign. And de Blasio did say earlier this month (on Reddit, America’s favorite non-debate political news source) that he didn’t necessarily see the need for a new soccer stadium at all:
“I have not heard any viable plan for a stadium in Manhattan and I don’t foresee that,” de Blasio said. “The only way there could be a status in Queens is if the conditions I’ve laid down are on complete parkland replacement and sufficient subsidies for surrounding parkland.”
He added, “I wouldn’t be shocked if a soccer team ended up using Yankee Stadium or CitiField.”
Still, the whole fooferaw is a valuable reminder that especially for local elected officials like mayors, political principles or party labels are way less determinate of actual policy than the need to placate all the powerful forces that truly run the city (and determine who’ll get enough campaign funding to have a shot at running it). De Blasio clearly won’t be as in love with sports subsidies as his predecessor has been, but he’s not going to oppose them outright in case some important allies decide they want some — as witness his support for the Brooklyn Nets arena project as a city councilmember. Progressive mayors are different from conservative mayors, but the most important thing is that they’re all mayors, and you don’t get the job if you rule out sucking up to the right people.