Bloomberg’s Money, Visibility May Push 2008 Agenda (Update2)
By Edwin Chen and Henry Goldman
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
July 6 (Bloomberg) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t likely to win the presidency as an independent, political experts say, but he may accomplish something almost as rare: putting his pet issues onto the national agenda.
Amid speculation of a possible presidential bid, some of it encouraged by people close to him, Bloomberg has been using speeches around the nation to spotlight causes he says the established parties are playing down: stronger action on the environment; improving schools; gun control; a bigger role for government in promoting healthy lifestyles.
The billionaire mayor of the nation’s largest city — he founded and owns most of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News — has the drive, pulpit and means to make it difficult for established politicians to ignore his causes, said Scott Reed, a Washington-based Republican strategist.
Bloomberg, who spent more than $150 million of his own money in his two mayoral campaigns, “has shown that he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is,” Reed said. “Both parties are going to have to listen to his message.”
Bloomberg, 65, declined to be interviewed for this article. He has said he doesn’t plan on being a 2008 candidate, which political professionals agree would be an uphill quest.
“I don’t see how a third-party candidate can actually win,” said Chris Lehane, a consultant who worked for Al Gore’s 2000 campaign. None has even finished second since former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt led a breakaway faction in 1912.
Bloomberg “has a tremendous opportunity to influence the campaign dialogue,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “Do I think he can win the presidency? I’d put the odds at remote or unlikely.”
At the same time, Bloomberg “is in a great position to affect public discourse,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor. In addition to his high-profile position, Bloomberg is worth between $5 billion and $20 billion, his top political aide, Kevin Sheekey, said in a New York Times interview last month.
In the interview, Sheekey also said he was preparing for a possible independent Bloomberg presidential bid. On June 19, the mayor filed papers to switch from the Republican label he used in his two city races to politically unaffiliated. And a campaign-style swing through California last month attracted both audiences and publicity.
In Los Angeles, he called on politicians to shelve ideological warfare in favor of bipartisan compromises. The San Francisco Chronicle said the speech bore “many of the hallmarks of a presidential campaign address.”
The “big issues of the day are not being addressed, leaving our future in jeopardy,” Bloomberg said in his speech. “We can accept this, or we can say: `Enough is enough!”’
Bloomberg, who appeared with California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, also addressed more than 1,000 employees at Google Inc.’s Mountain View headquarters, a site that many declared presidential candidates have visited. In addition, he addressed San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, which offers a public-affairs forum for many aspiring pols.
He also dined with Sanford Robertson, the co-founder of San Francisco-based investment bank Robertson, Stephens & Co. who now runs the buyout firm Francisco Partners LP, and attended a June 19 dinner at the Los Angeles home of entertainment mogul David Geffen, a one-time Bill Clinton financial angel who’s now supporting Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
Bloomberg’s rhetorical approach to issues generally blends Republicans’ stress on accountability and incentives with Democrats’ pleas for more funding. Still, an agenda calling for more government activism on such issues as global warming, gun violence and promoting healthier lifestyles is likely to receive a warmer response from Democrats than Republicans.
Former Republican Congressman Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth, a group that backs free-market candidates, has denounced Bloomberg’s philosophy as “big-government liberalism.”
Another Bloomberg foray into the national spotlight is scheduled for July 25 at the National Urban League annual meeting in St. Louis. All of the major Democratic presidential candidates are scheduled to speak at the event, and Bloomberg is likely to use the forum to push a handful of his quality-of-life initiatives.
One is called “PlaNYC,” a plan to combat global warming that would cut carbon-dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030, expand bike lanes, convert taxicabs to hybrid fuels and charge motorists a $8 fee for entering especially congested parts of Manhattan.
“I don’t take them very seriously,” said Myron Ebell, director for energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a business-backed group that opposes federal regulation. Bloomberg’s ideas are largely symbolic, he said, because they would delay any pain until he is well out of office.
Bloomberg’s stance on gun control has already won him the enmity of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun-owners’ group. He is “a billionaire, Boston-grown evangelist for the nanny state” and a “national gun-control vigilante,” the group said in an April 2007 article in its “First Freedom” magazine.
Among other things, Bloomberg is financing a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns that is working to repeal a measure in Congress that would ban law-enforcement agencies from sharing data on guns used in crimes in different locales.
At Bloomberg’s behest, the city hired investigators to set up sting operations, acting as “straw purchasers” for illegal sales. To date, 15 gun dealers have settled lawsuits filed by the city and agreed to give authorities access to their records and inventories.
Bloomberg will go to Washington July 10 to lobby Congress on the issue, spokesman Stu Loeser said yesterday.
The underpinning of Bloomberg’s health agenda is disease- prevention through healthier lifestyles, which he says would cut medical costs. As mayor, he has banned smoking in New York restaurants and bars and outlawed the use of trans fats in city eateries.
Bloomberg wants a “pay-for-prevention” approach that rewards primary-care physicians for keeping patients out of hospitals. He also would establish a “prevention-oriented” record-keeping system to enable insurers and institutional providers to “hold doctors accountable for their patients’ performance.”
On education, the mayor has focused mostly on expanding opportunities for poor and immigrant children, who form the majority of the city’s 1.1 million public-school students, by increasing basic language skills and math literacy. He considers educational testing the most objective way to judge student and teacher performance.
He describes improving education for the poor as a civil- rights issue. In Los Angeles, he said he has ended social promotion, lengthened the school day to provide extra help for struggling students, expanded the number of charter schools and cut bureaucracy — resulting in 20 percent increases in graduation rates and math scores, and a 10 percent increase in reading scores.
As speculation and publicity about a possible Bloomberg presidential bid have grown, an anti-Bloomberg drumbeat is reverberating on the Internet. “What will his slogan be?” Instapundit, a self-described conservative blog, asked in May. “`More nannyish than both major parties put together?”’
Opposing an Iraq Deadline
Bloomberg may also draw fire from those opposed to the Iraq war as his positions become better-known. While he hasn’t been nearly as vocal on Iraq as he has been on domestic matters, he has said he opposes setting a deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Like many Republicans, he says that would demoralize American troops and embolden insurgents, and that a precipitous pullout might lead to bloody chaos.
Bloomberg has yet to outline an exit strategy for Iraq, nor has he offered broader visions for America’s role in the world and for government’s role in American society, some analysts say. “I’m not sure there’s enough bite yet to set an agenda,” said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the center for the study of politics and governance at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“If he wants to be taken seriously, either as a candidate or just a commentator, he has to grapple with the big, systemic problems, both at home and abroad,” said former Senator Gary Hart, whose 1984 Democratic presidential campaign was based on a critique of the established positions of the major parties.
With pundits trying to divine Bloomberg’s intentions for 2008, his 1997 autobiography may offer a clue. “I’ve always respected those who try to change the world for the better rather than just complain about it,” he said in the book, published four years before he ran for mayor. “I greatly admire those who put their own money, time, and reputations where their hearts and mouths are.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Edwin Chen in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org , and Henry Goldman in New York at email@example.com .
Last Updated: July 6, 2007 11:33 EDT