In the Shadow of Wagner: Plebiscitary Politics in New York City
Mayors since Wagner have labored in his shadow. The decline in party government and the centralization of administrative power in city hall that Wagner shaped is the environment in which all mayors must labor. Events such as the fiscal crisis in the 1970s, the elimination of the remaining check on the mayor—the Board of Estimate in the 1990s, and the continued erosion of party government have sharpened the contours of the new order. Democratic mayors since Wagner have with great difficulty sought to stake individual claims to power while using the remnants of the old party system to build grassroots support. Republican mayors have sought to build alternative, candidate-centered political machines. Mayors of both parties have been successful implementing reforms through administrative fiat, but less successful when reform required mobilization of political coalitions. The new mayoral-centered plebiscitary politics discourages citizen participation in local governance. While administrative centralization can create efficiencies and block corruption, civic disengagement threatens the legitimacy of city government.
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