Joseph Dolman. Newsday. 1/7/2004.

All right, Mike Bloomberg, you're on.


We wanted you to play the soap opera star last year. We wanted you to howl like a wounded panther at the way Albany seemed poised to slap around the city you run.


We wanted you to sweat like a Victorian preacher as you cursed the tepid support from your pal, Gov. George Pataki.


You refused.


You said the idea was dumb. You said you would never act out such a lame and puerile script. You said the best way to get action in Albany was to soften up the state's Three Wise Men with disciplined and measured applications of respect. You swore that reason - as opposed to wild-eyed menace - was the preferable persuader of choice for the likes of Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.


The results were less than splendid.


Now here we are again. Only this year, as the legislature yawns and stretches and does its best to look lifelike, Albany isn't simply weighing the components of yet another first-aid kit for the city's eternal budget emergencies. Not this time. Rather, the state is facing a court order to devise a funding system by July 30 that will allow city schools to give their students a quality education.


As a poll-challenged pol who has asked New Yorkers to judge him on the basis of his education reforms, Bloomberg has a tremendous amount riding on what Albany's ultimately does.


The result could do much to determine the fate of his mayoralty next year. So, if Bloomberg has been storing up political capital in Albany with his quiet diplomacy, now would be the time to spend it. Now would be the time to test - once and for all - if an adult approach to politics works better than spasms of childish bullying and loud histrionics and crazed temper tantrums.


Personally, I doubt it. From the evidence, Bloomberg's Albany influence is slight. Still, the world is full of wacky surprises. So if Bloomberg has a move to make - if he thinks he can cajole and wheedle the Three Wise Men into helping the city's schools promptly - now is the time to act.


What are the state's options?


Well, as mentioned above, it could establish an enhanced school-aid formula by July 30 and make sure that the new money reaches city schools in time for the year that begins in September. This would amount to a mayoral godsend.


Just as Bloomberg's reform program inevitably grinds into a thankless slog, a major cash infusion could give the mayor's signature effort some new momentum and cast him in the light of a hero.


But again, this is a state that seems genetically unable to pass a budget on time. Why assume that a court order might change its habits?


Or Albany could dawdle around and miss the deadline and plop the whole matter into the hands of a court-appointed special master. This wouldn't be good news for a mayor who fought a hard and admirable battle to take control of the city's failing system. If he's an outsider in Albany, he would be a total bystander as the state's court system starts to call the shots.


But even worse dangers lurk for Bloomberg.


When it comes to funding the order for greater aid to New York City's schools, Albany has two problems. First, given the implication of the court order, it only makes sense to simultaneously boost aid to all of the state's impoverished school systems. Second, New York State is flat broke.


The great suburban fear is the Robin Hood plan - in which the Legislature might look to whittle aid from wealthy school systems and present it to the poorer districts. But relax, the Legislature won't look to do that. In all, the state will likely need to find at least $6 billion over a period of years to meet its obligation to poorer students.


If it plundered the suburbs for that kind of loot, noted Assemb. Steven Sanders (D-Manhattan), who runs the Education Committee, we would see "some of the bloodiest political warfare in years." As contentious as Albany is, no one wants to start World War III. There is something to be said here for the principle of mutually assured destruction.


Meanwhile, the nightmare scenario at City Hall has the state simply passing the court's onus down to local taxpayers. In other words, Albany could order the city to pay part of the freight.


This isn't what residents want to hear in one of America's most highly taxed cities. It's certainly not what an embattled mayor wants to hear. Bloomberg could ultimately be forced to cancel the property-tax reduction that he dreams about. If that happens, he can kiss his mayoralty goodbye.


It's time to launch the charm tsunami, Mike.