Prolegomenon: Mayor BDB suffered a few missteps during the initial weeks of his term. Errors that caused perception problems. To be fair, everything he said he’d try to accomplish he’s forged ahead with and I’m dumbfounded at why approval polls are indicating dissatisfaction. What did people think he’d do? But what he needs to do first is appoint a perception czar.
WANTED: PERCEPTION CZAR
Mayor Bill de Blasio would do well to consider enlisting the services of a perception czar, someone appointed to step out of the more historically administrative role of stewarding an aspect of urban governance and direct the mayor’s actions accordingly in order to craft and steer the public’s perception of Hizzoner. Perception (as is oft-quoted) is reality. Perception takes into account memes, themes, sentiment and the temperamental mood swings of a constituency hardwired to and in sync with the erratic pulse of social media. And you know when it comes to social media, everything’s magnified and exaggerated by the self-absorbed. Remember: Twitter’s for the exhibitionist; Facebook’s for the narcissist.
The mistakes made in Mr. de Blasio’s initial weeks of mayordom weren’t that of a corrupt administration or even an incompetent one, far from it. But rather one nescient as to perception and image. He seemed clueless, tone deaf, detached and disconnected – he went from one gaffe to another at incredible speed. And this from a man who played image and perception so deftly in his campaign. Indelible memes were deftly bounced to and (Dante’s) fro.
Two of the mayor’s more interesting errata are analyzed herein.
Snowcompetence. (After all, what would any piece be without a pithy neologism and portmanteau?) Even the historian tyro knows full well that if there’s one thing that will incite the pitchfork and torch brigade it’s a mayor who fails to possess minimum standards for snowcompetence, loosely translated as the ability to appear to know what you’re doing especially and particularly after major snow falls. It’s not so much that you actually do anything or have the slightest clue as to what you purport to do, just look like you know. Remember: It’s perception. Two great examples come to mind to counter the Lindsay reference.
First, a word on John Lindsay. There’s nothing worse than having your name word-associated with a less than favorable image. Try it. What comes to mind when I say Betty Ford, Tommy John, Shinola? I think rehab, surgery and an inability to recognize the difference between said bootblack and … well, you know. Now, think John Lindsay. I think of a dearth of snowcompetence. And what the newly minted mayor de Blasio should have done had his perception commissioner been on board and on duty was at the first sign of a snowflake to don an appropriately badged and brightly lettered sanitation jersey (perhaps a Christie fleece) with MAYOR emblazoned prominently and channel Rudy Giuliani and owned it. Look also to the dashing exploits of Newark’s caped crusader Cory Booker, who while mayor braved the snow, charged into a burning building to save its helpless and hapless occupant, all the while Tweeting of his valor nonstop. That’s perception perfection.
Mayor de Blasio missed that one. And what was worse was to have a –gate appended to your controversy. And while Plowgate might be dwarfed by Bridgegate, the perception that postelection retribution might have inspired targeting the Upper East Side would and could have been avoided by a perception czar who would have carefully noted snowplowing targeting and anticipated that complaint head-on.
It’s a beautiful day. February 13, 2014. Snow like we haven’t seen in a long time. Ice Station Zebra snow. Bad. Real bad. For whatever reason, Mayor BDB decides to keep schools open. Incurring the wrath of teachers, parents, students and of all people, Al Roker. Al Roker! And as no one actually said but many thought à la LBJ, when you’ve lost Al Roker, you’ve lost America. Roker’s made a career out of being universally agreeable and jolly but you, Mayor de Blasio, pushed this lovable weatherman over the edge.
And then, it happened. And as they say, you can’t write this stuff. Chancellor Carmen Fariña weighs in with this beaut. “It is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now.” It falls in the category of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” as Dubya remarked to (soon to be ex-) FEMA Administrator Michael Brown after Katrina’s devsatation in 2005.
“It is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now.” Amazing. I remember seeing kids on TV trudging and schlepping and slogging through the ice, slush and frozen road custard, disappearing into ice and snow mounds. And, if you thought it couldn’t get any better, Chancellor Fariña after declaring the beauty of the day cancelled a townhall meeting in Brooklyn . . . due to inclement weather. You can’t make this up. Had the perception commissioner been on board, the good Chancellor would have been ordered to make that meeting even if she had to enlist a team of Iditarod sled dogs.
Now to be fair His Honor never said it was a beautiful day just as he was never the driver during (his other “gate”) Speedgate, but he absorbed and inherited the remark’s fallout. You take credit and fault for your subordinates. Natch. In agency law it’s called respondeat superior. In politics it’s called politics.
Plato said that science was nothing but perception. Let me add: political science.