New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sometimes seemed as if he were secretly campaigning for mayor of San Francisco. Bloomberg has not only worked to remake New York into a tech hub, he has vigorously embraced nanny statism that pushes Berkeley-style liberal values—consider the bans on trans-fats, large sugary sodas, and cigarettes. Not to mention the Citibikes, hated by conservatives. His latest initiative, the push to get New Yorkers into composting in a big (read: mandatory) way might seem to be the capstone in his move away from the Republican party, under whose banner he originally ran for the office. Composting? He might as well slap a Free Tibet sticker on his Prius and send a big check to NPR.
But, in fact, stereotypes aside, composting might just represent a move back to Bloomberg’s conservative roots. Consider, first of all, how much money a successful composting program might save the city over the long run. One estimate puts it at as much as $100 million per year in savings, surely something fiscal conservatives would cheer.
And then there’s the cultural angle. It’s no accident that the city’s composting rollout began in Staten Island, the borough that is both the city’s most Republican, and its most suburban. Composting is a smelly business, tough for those who live in tiny New York City apartments to imagine. For all its hippie-dippie associations, it is a recycling method best suited to homeowners with a lot of land—the wealthy or the exurban dweller, often. Who also just so happens to be, often, Republican. I suppose if you live in an Upper East Side mansion, it’s not impossible to imagine finding a place in your home to compost without stinking up the whole place, too.
It is entirely likely that when people consider the legacy of Bloomberg’s composting program, they will mostly consider how it has shifted the search for New York smelliest block. But maybe, too, it will be another way—like Citibikes—in which the Bloomberg administration’s liberal aesthetic values nicely cover up its decidedly un-liberal disinterest in the problems of the city’s less fortunate.