On Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood before some 200 people at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County to set straight a nasty rumor about Senator Barack Obama, intended to strike fear into the hearts of Jews. The rumor holds that Obama is really a Muslim, who will not support Israeli or even American interests. Bloomberg went to South Florida to tell Jews the real story, and his actions lead to this question: Will each of us stand up when our turn comes? Over the years Bloomberg has not made it a habit to talk publicly about his Jewish faith or ties to the Jewish community. Nor is he an Obama supporter. He even tested the waters for his own presidential run this year, and he is known to be close to Senator John McCain. But according to The New York Times, Bloomberg told the Palm Beach crowd that the rumors about Obama represent "wedge politics at its worse, and we have to reject it - loudly, clearly and unequivocally."
In Make Hope Real, I dedicated Chapter 3 to what I call, "A New Breed of Leaders," and included Bloomberg among individuals who are exhibiting a new, promising kind of leadership.
"The new leaders are people who have highly pragmatic approaches to policy, who seek to find ways to make public life and politics work rather than to disparage it, who vigilantly look for opportunities to engage people in the ongoing process of governing and improving their lives, who try to avoid hyperbolic and heated rhetoric." (pg 26)
But there was another point in that chapter that I have come to believe is just as important. Over and over again, people in communities have asked me, "How communities can get the leaders they need to make public life and communities work?" My response: We must stand by our good leaders when they come under fire, even when we do not agree with their positions or political party when, to vouch for their principles and values.
That's what Bloomberg did last Friday for Obama. Instead of standing on the sidelines watching people take pot shots at Obama, he stepped forward. He did so because he knew that he held special credibility on this issue with fellow Jews; and he knew that many of the people now living in South Florida once lived in his beloved New York City.
The Times quoted Elizabeth Sadwith of Delray Beach as saying, "There was no other evidence, so I believed the [rumor-filled] e-mails." There are many people across America who might make the same statement; indeed, perhaps my 103-year old grandmother from Brooklyn, who now lives in North Miami, has entertained such thoughts.
Whether or not people end up supporting Obama is their personal business. But whisper campaigns to make people fearful must be fought head-on. Bloomberg has done that, and I gratefully and enthusiastically applaud his actions.
Now, the question for each of is: When a good leader comes under fire, will we stand next to them and vouch for their integrity and good will, even if we do not agree with a particular position or their party?
If we want to change public life and politics, then more of us will need to follow Mayor Bloomberg's lead.