A lengthy story from last week’s NYTimes.
Published: June 21, 2007
It seemed to be no coincidence that the day after he announced his formal departure from the Republican Party and left open the door to an independent presidential campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg mundanely announced yesterday that the city’s 311 customer service telephone line had received its 50 millionth call.
By focusing on this rather prosaic milestone, Mr. Bloomberg seemed to be trying to reinforce an image of himself as an adroit manager, as if to reassure New Yorkers that, whatever his lofty political ambitions in the future, he remains very much their meat-and-potatoes mayor.
But if the mayor’s tentative tiptoeing into a national campaign accelerates into a marathon, inevitably the question of whether he can run for president and effectively manage the city simultaneously will arise. Can he avoid diminishing the legacy he is still constructing because he will be distracted by a national campaign?
Precedent seems to say no. The consensus, though, is that Mr. Bloomberg, because of his immense wealth, competent staff and willingness to delegate work, may have a better chance of pulling it off.
“The mayor invested a great deal in establishing the 311 system so he doesn’t have to be a pothole mayor,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group and one of Mr. Bloomberg’s strongest supporters in his campaign to charge drivers for entering Manhattan below 86th Street, a program known as congestion pricing.
“He’s transformed the role of mayor,” she said. “It’s not micromanagement anymore. It’s ambassador to the world, business development, restoring confidence in New York City after 9/11.”
Still, running the city has long been viewed as one of the toughest jobs in the country, and some officials are skeptical that Mr. Bloomberg can juggle a national campaign — even an unofficial one — with the responsibilities of running the city’s sprawling bureaucracy.
“I think it takes tremendous focus to keep New York City together,” said Councilman Bill DeBlasio, a former aide to Mayor David N. Dinkins. “I think we are doing well today, but whether the financial situation or the safety situation, it doesn’t take much to have new challenges. And I just think it’s a very hands-on job.”
Moreover, Mr. Bloomberg has some very big plans for his final 924 days in office, including congestion pricing, redeveloping Manhattan’s Far West Side and revamping the way the city collects garbage. All require support in Albany, and while the mayor is known for delegating duties to top aides like Daniel L. Doctoroff and Edward Skyler, he has been personally working the phones to try to push those projects through, his spokesman, Stu Loeser, said.
Will he continue to push hard for those things if he is also regularly crisscrossing the country speaking on national issues? City Council President Christine C. Quinn, an ally of the mayor, said she thought he could.
“Mayor Bloomberg has been, since Day 1 of his first term, laser-focused on making this city better, and I think laser-focused on leaving a legacy of being the best mayor in the history of these five boroughs,” Ms. Quinn said. “Nothing in these last 900-plus days is going to get in the way of that.”
If Mr. Bloomberg eventually declares his candidacy — and, because of his personal wealth and the timing of primaries, he can quietly step around a race for months longer — he has only one precedent to turn to, and that one is not encouraging.
In 1971, two years after being jilted by fellow Republicans and winning re-election, on the Liberal Party line, to a second term as mayor, John V. Lindsay switched to the Democratic Party. He mounted a short-lived presidential campaign the following spring.
Mr. Lindsay, who called the mayoralty “the second toughest job in America,” was dogged by daily crises from City Hall — including the killing of police officers; vitriol over low-income housing proposed for middle-class Forest Hills, Queens; and political sabotage by the governor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Republican.
“No matter how good things are or seem to be today in the city, there is a daily controversy that crops up that creates problems for a national candidate,” said Richard Aurelio, who managed Mr. Lindsay’s aborted White House bid. “Something always was occurring in New York that distracted the campaign.”
For Mr. Lindsay, running for president after barely being re-elected as mayor seemed, if nothing else, like a good excuse to get out of town.
Without having declared himself a candidate, Mr. Bloomberg has already been getting out of town more than in the past. In the last 12 months, he has taken 26 trips outside the state, not counting foreign travel — eight more than he took in his first four years in office combined.
Still, unlike Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Bloomberg would run from a position of unusual popularity for a second-term mayor.
As a billionaire, he would not be distracted by time-consuming fund-raising or be vulnerable to conflicts of interest because contributors did business with the city.
Moreover, he leads a very private life, choosing not to live in Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, and sometimes vanishing on weekends to Bermuda or one of his other retreats and insisting that his whereabouts are nobody’s business.
Edward I. Koch was such a visible presence as mayor that, when he ran for governor in 1982, he had to defend himself against concerns that the city might not survive without him when he left town to campaign. “A mayor of the City of New York is not a city manager,” he said at the time.
Still, Mr. Koch, said yesterday, “there’s no question people will be upset if he runs and doesn’t give up the position.”
“It will be unfair in my judgment, because this city is no longer in crisis,” Mr. Koch said. “He’s got a terrific set of people as deputy mayors and commissioners.”
Chris McNickle, the author of “To Be Mayor of New York,” recalled Mr. Lindsay’s candidacy and Fiorello H. La Guardia’s role as federal director of civil defense while he was New York City’s mayor in 1941, and said it was “hard to find an example of anyone doing both demanding things effectively.”
“At the same time, Bloomberg is the most skillful manager who has ever had the job,” Mr. McNickle said. “He has broken all the rules in the past and may break them again.”
In 1991, with two chartered planes waiting on the tarmac at the Albany airport and only 90 minutes left before a filing deadline in New Hampshire, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo capped weeks of tortuous public deliberations and stepped back from the precipice of a presidential campaign.
Mr. Cuomo blamed Albany Republicans for holding him hostage to budget negotiations.
Now, Mr. Bloomberg, too, is weighing the “plausibility” of a national campaign, Mr. Cuomo said. “He will not run just for the fun of saying he ran for president. He will run only if he thinks he has a good chance to win. And there is reason to believe that this time around might be easier for a third-party independent race than ever before.
“Would he do a better job if he concentrated 24 hours a day on the city? Of course,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Would he do an adequate job if he concentrated somewhat less than that for seven months? In some ways, he could make an argument that it would be better for the city because he could have more impact in Washington.”
In calculating the plausibility of a campaign, should Mr. Bloomberg consider whether he can still be effective as mayor? No, Mr. Cuomo said.
“The mayor doesn’t have those huge, big issues that are cataclysmic in their significance,” Mr. Cuomo said. “He can run the mayoralty from wherever he is.”
Danny Hakim contributed reporting.
A third party candidate has little chance of winning an election, so says conventional wisdom.
Are these not unconventional times? I wrote last week that I regret that our country doesn’t seem ready for a woman president, nor a (most literally) African-American one. By that criteria, could we possibly ready for a Jew?