mm060: on a personal note…

July 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Didn’t want all of the political and social and career observations to totally obliterate some deeply personal ones (this is my sandbox, after all!).

This weekend we celebrated, in order of importance and reverse chronology, the beautiful (most ever!) wedding of my dear son and his amazing new wife; the 80th birthday of my indomitable mother (attended by her four children and their life partners save one; eight of her nine grandchildren and her two great-grandchildren); and we must mention MUDGE’s and his heroic spouse’s own 37th anniversary.

Helping us to observe these diverse and marvelous celebrations were members of our near and extended families (with some terrific new extensions, thanks to our accomplished and gorgeous new daughter-in-law) and many long-time and exceptionally supportive friends.

A stunningly, dramatically, most wonderful weekend. Thanks belong to all who created and attended and made it the superlative several days it was. When they say “life doesn’t get better than this” it’s not draft beer they mean.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm059: Run, Mike Bloomberg!

July 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Somehow, I knew someone was out there working this…

The Future of RunMikeBloomberg.com

Bloomberg Fans, we apologize for the long delay in posting, we all were swamped leading up to the 4th of July. But no need to fret, were back!

A little background to this site:

We came up with this site because we sat down one day and wrote out the positions our ideal politician would hold. This is what led to the first post, Our Beliefs. Upon review of our little list, we looked and found Michael Bloomberg. While some of us already knew and liked Michael Bloomberg, at least one of us didn’t know much about him. It didn’t take much reading however to show pretty clearly how well he fit with our beliefs. He has been tremendously active during his period as mayor of New York, and he has been a shining example of how good effective government can greatly improve a city.

After looking on the internet for some way to express our support for the Mayor’s Presidential run, we found nothing, so we decided to create a site on our own. However, because we all work (or are in grad school) full time, and, to be honest, we weren’t sure there were others like us, we set benchmarks. Well, we are pleased to announce that our first goal was reached, more than 100 petitioners in less than a month!

After this and the huge amount of press surrounding a Bloomberg presidential run, we are getting more serious. We are determined to turn this into more than just a petition; we want to form the grass roots support behind Michael Bloomberg. We want to start a serious movement.

So here is our plan of the future of this site over the next few months:

• Post a blog entry between 3 and 4 times a week.
• Get in contact with Michael Bloomberg’s people and let them know we exist.
• Expand www.runmikebloomberg.com, turning it into a hub of grass roots support.

To do this we need your help.
If you would like to blog let us know, we’d love to post a blog 7 days a week.
We have started an off site list of people interested in learning or participating in future Michael Bloomberg for President events.
Finally, we want your input on this site. We want to be more than a blog, more than a petition; we want to be the next generation of grass roots online support.

• What do you want to see when you come to this site?
• What is the best way to gather support online around an ideal candidate?
• If you could build any website you wanted, what would you create to help mobilize support?

Join us, we all have an opportunity to build this movement from the ground up.
Join us at its very beginning

The best way to reach us currently is bloombergblog@gmail.com

| Posted by Evangelist for Responsible Government on July 6, 2007 | Permalink

Run, Mike Bloomberg!

Guys, I have a rather eclectic bunch of interests (and, like you, a living to make!), of which Michael Bloomberg is just the one. Happy, though, for any interest sparking initiated or supported here.

Story: and, there is a story. Long ago, my parents began and largely ran a stone-age version of a grass-roots presidential campaign on their dining room table. I was there — I stuffed a lot of envelopes and licked a lot of stamps (stone age indeed!). The Internet shows us daily that it has the capacity to magnify those efforts by large orders of magnitude.

Their distinguished, accomplished (in business as well as executive politics — sound at all familiar? I’m completely dazzled by the parallel) and ferociously capable candidate didn’t get within parsecs of close to a nomination (in those distant days when the convention was everything and was locked up tight as a bank vault), but he did get Under-Secretary of State out of the deal.

So, maybe a new generation of electronically supercharged change agents steps forward…

By the way, I did sign the on-line petition.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm058: Steve Ettlinger: What Kind of President Would Michael Bloomberg Be? – Politics on The Huffington Post

July 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

In the interests of balance…

What Kind of President Would Michael Bloomberg Be?

Posted July 5, 2007 | 08:53 PM (EST)


As a presidential candidate, Michael R. Bloomberg is likely to have problems with his positions on some local issues that have national repercussions, like the abuse of eminent domain. He’s apparently for it. This goes way beyond the discovery that he had heart surgery or that he jets to a weekend home in Bermuda.

Bloomberg is rightly praised for being pragmatic and a successful manager. He has acted successfully on his own creative initiatives. But he may regret hanging tight with his billionaire neighbor, Bruce Ratner, whose Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), New York City and state’s largest developer lobbyist, is trying to build the densest residential community in our country in the middle of brownstone Brooklyn, the enormous and controversial Atlantic Yards project. By being a major, public supporter of Ratner, Bloomberg puts himself in some very compromising positions. It says lots about Bloomberg’s character, and it is not good.

The central problem for Bloomberg is that he and Ratner want the state to use the power of eminent domain to acquire key parts of the land by declaring it “blighted” so Ratner can build his private basketball arena along with 16 skyscrapers holding some offices, some hotels, and predominately market-rate housing with some essentially unaffordable “affordable” housing. It doesn’t even remotely pass the smell test for public benefit.

That would be a severe case of eminent domain abuse, a move that is likely to be blocked by pending court cases that are destined to end at the Supreme Court. Such a loss would be a black mark for a presidential candidate.
His position is odd for a committed capitalist, supporting huge government handouts in an area where private development is already going strong (many of the properties Ratner bought out with the threat of eminent domain were new luxury condo lofts, most of which were recently selling for $500,000 to over $1 million; one remains). Oh, and according to various analysts, Ratner wants the public to provide and the government to back well over $2 billion in subsidies and financing of the $4 billion cost (this and similar figures can be verified here or here).

Strangely, Bloomberg actually doubled the city’s proposed cash contribution to the project–$205 million–to reimburse FCRC for land acquisition, while still claiming that it would be mostly privately financed. Bizarre.
It is also strange that a man who has built his reputation on dealing with facts actually cites the developer’s own questionable financial statistics and has engaged in some clearly contrived publicity for the developer.
Bloomberg often cites the claim that the project will bring 18,000 jobs to New York, when in fact, 15,000 of those are figured by counting 1,500 construction workers working for 10 years. This is not the straight talk we expect from him. Using that kind of calculation, I’ve had 36 jobs!

The other job figures he cites come directly from FCRC and not only include jobs that already exist, but use old figures that government agencies have since re-calculated will generate the grand figure of a mere 375 new jobs. Over $2 billion of public money is difficult to justify for this private development, which has only 2,250 subsidized housing units in the plan, most of which are beyond the means of those most desperate for housing in the city. It seems sickly inefficient, outrageously costly for so few jobs and apartments, and a terrible thing for a supposedly progressive technocrat to promote. The whole thing smells bad.

Speaking of promotion, with a very uncharacteristic dramatic flourish at a public press conference, Bloomberg pretended to sign a “community benefits agreement” that in fact the city was not a party to. It was strictly a private contract between Ratner and some groups that Ratner chose to work with (not groups presented by the community) including the lead group that was created with FCRC’s help for the sole purpose of working with FCRC. Another, the housing group ACORN, was given an exclusive contract to work with Forest City Ratner Companies on the condition that they speak publicly in support of the project. In other words, pure theater. This kind of farcical promotion seems antithetical to the sophisticated Bloomberg presented to the nation.

All candidates have some explaining to do as they switch to a larger platform. We all understand that compromises for public behavior have to be made by government officials, but the important thing is to look for patterns, for consistency that might indicate the candidate is different from what he wants you to believe, not just when he kisses babies but when he takes sides. Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards might be Bloomberg’s big problem that no amount of explaining will make go away.

Steve Ettlinger: What Kind of President Would Michael Bloomberg Be? – Politics on The Huffington Post

Earlier today someone linked to a previous post here having searched for Atlantic Yards. Is there significant flame beneath the smoke?

As Ettlinger himself says above:

All candidates have some explaining to do as they switch to a larger platform.

If Atlantic Yards is as “challenged” as Bloomberg’s record gets, I for one am not concerned.

Now, Fred Thompson may have some ‘spainin’ to do…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm057: Bloomberg for President? — New York Magazine

July 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

This morning’s Google for “‘Michael Bloomberg’ president” (source for mm056 below) turned up this New York Magazine story several listings down. Take a deep breath; it’s quite long (and my blogging experts in the audience doubtlessly would have me format it or arrange it [linking to a separate page perhaps] differently. I’m a newbie, deal with it!), but worth the trip, I think. No such thing as too much information, if we’re considering a person for elective high office.

nymag

His American Dream

The Bloomberg-for-president scenario starts with the mayor’s growing sense of himself as a man of destiny. Throw in the country’s disgust with the two parties, add a half-a-billion bucks, and you’ve got yourself a race.

(Photo: Jake Chessum)

One day last July, Al From received an unexpected call from Michael Steinhardt. From is the founder and CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist outfit in Washington that helped propel Bill Clinton into the White House; Steinhardt is the once-hellacious hedge-fund manager turned philanthropist whose name now graces the School of Education at NYU, a former chairman of the DLC, and a friend for decades of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When From picked up the phone, Steinhardt greeted him thus: “How’d you like to come to New York and have dinner with the next president of the United States?”

From replied, teasingly, “I didn’t realize you’re so friendly with Hillary Clinton.”

The genesis of Steinhardt’s call was a conversation with New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. Klein said that “Bloomberg was preoccupied—no, that’s too strong a word—that he was really focused on whether he should run for president,” Steinhardt recalls. Steinhardt reminded Klein of his association with the DLC and told him that if Bloomberg wanted to meet From “to get some perspective about the realities of running for national office,” he would happily arrange it. Fifteen minutes later, Klein called back and said that Bloomberg certainly did.

Soon enough, From found himself having supper at Steinhardt’s apartment on the Upper East Side with Bloomberg and his senior political adjutants: deputy mayors Patti Harris, Kevin Sheekey, and Ed Skyler. For the next couple of hours, From laid out his analysis of the political landscape and his views on the viability of an independent candidacy. He discussed DLC poll data concerning the alienation of voters from the two major parties. But he also argued that any mayor—and especially a mayor of New York—would face an uphill slog. Bloomberg listened closely but asked few questions, preferring to hold forth (at great length) about his record as mayor. Regarding his national aspirations, he adopted a posture of self-protective self-deprecation. “What chance does a five-foot-seven billionaire Jew who’s divorced really have of becoming president?” he asked.

Steinhardt left the dinner buzzing and spent weeks talking up the prospect of Bloomberg 2008 at various dinner parties. From returned to Washington dubious about Bloomberg’s presidential prospects, yet firm in one conclusion. “They’re serious about it,” he tells me. “I don’t necessarily think that they’re going to do it, but they clearly want to be ready if the opportunity is there.”

Until last week, when the furor over the Queens police shooting erupted, Michael Bloomberg, 64, was having a nearly perfect year. His approval numbers, which in 2003 fell to 24 percent, had been above 70 precent since January. By taking visible and voluble positions on issues from guns to immigration to stem-cell research, he’d started to carve out a national profile. In a poll released last week rating the likability of twenty big-name pols, Bloomberg ranked seventh, behind Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, and John McCain but ahead of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and (obviously) George W. Bush. And although the racial tensions now simmering in the city suggest that Bloomberg will be on the hot seat for weeks to come, there’s a reasonable chance that his handling of the crisis—conciliatory, consultative, built on a history of fair dealing with New York’s black leadership—may actually redound to his benefit.

From Bloomberg’s City Hall coterie comes a consistent refrain: that their boss has emerged as more than a competent, steady, managerial steward; that he is, in the words of Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, “a great, visionary mayor.” This sentiment is echoed, not surprisingly, by his friends. “There’s just no question,” says the investor Steve Rattner, “that he is the greatest mayor of New York since Fiorella La Guardia.”

The Bloomberg 2008 boomlet owes much to such assessments. Also to the sense that his persona—blunt, pragmatic, consensus-building, ideologically ambidextrous—is in sync with an electorate desperately craving calm, coherent centrism. Bloomberg has steadfastly insisted that he has no intention of hurling himself at the White House. He plans to serve out his term, then turn his attention to giving away his monumental fortune. And yet, in ways conspicuous and subtle, he is keeping the door ajar. “Oh, I don’t know, that’s a hypothetical thing,” Bloomberg says when I ask him if he’s ready to rule out a presidential run. “It’s like, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes’—you can’t say that.”

Actually, you can—unless there’s a chance that you’ll do the opposite. Long before Bloomberg occupied City Hall, his ambition, energy, and ego were nearly limitless, and his success as mayor has enlarged them exponentially. Today, he seems to view himself as a man of destiny, whose wealth and wisdom empower him to transform not just the city but the country and even the world. Now he faces a fateful choice: between the well-trod, comforting, ennobling path of philanthropy and something far more exciting, grandiose—and arguably quite absurd.

“He’s still fairly young, he’s worth a zillion-billion dollars, and he wants to stay relevant,” Steinhardt observes. “I think that his great quandary is, what is he going to do?”

It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, and Bloomberg and I are having lunch (though his idea of lunch is coffee and a slice of incinerated toast) at a diner in Tribeca. Bloomberg is dressed in a charcoal suit, a pink pin-striped shirt, and a pale-blue tie patterned with tiny yellow snails. He’s telling me a story about what a fabulous time he had the day before at the West Indian–American Day parade in Brooklyn—but the real subject is the affection, nay the devotion, the city has come to feel for him.

“There was not one boo, not one catcall,” Bloomberg merrily proclaims. “Young people, old people: ‘Bloomberg! Bloomberg!’ ‘Mayor! Mayor!’ ‘Great! Thumbs up!’ ” Quite a change, that is, from three years ago, when his reception at outer-borough parades was uniformly brutal: jeers, extended middle fingers, cigarettes flung at him. For a bracing experience, he says, “close firehouses, raise property taxes, put in a smoking ban—then do a parade in Staten Island.” He smiles. “Today in Staten Island, I get 80 percent of the vote and everybody loves me.”

As a steady stream of well-wishers stop by to shake his hand, Bloomberg revels in the transformation of his standing in the city. In his 1997 autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg, he announced his belief that he’d make a terrific mayor, governor, or president. And now that he’s demonstrated his capacity in the first of those offices, he says he’s even more certain that he could master the other two. “I know something about how to build constituencies in an independent way,” he says. “I know how to make decisions and stand up to the criticism every day.” So you think you’d make a good president? “The answer is yes,” he says.

That Bloomberg got elected in the first place seems a historical accident. He had entered the race a political neophyte, and one whose switch from Democrat to Republican made him seem a naked opportunist. His gifts on the stump were minimal: He was brusque, infelicitous, maladroit, utterly unvisionary. But then, goes the conventional wisdom, came 9/11—and the mood of the electorate darkened. What voters wanted now was an equable hand to keep the economy afloat and the city from unraveling.

Bloomberg, for his part, dismisses the conventional wisdom as “mythology.” He says, “Fundamentally, [the reason for] my first election was, I worked hard and I spent a lot of money. The Democrats hurt themselves, and that got us into the game, and at the last minute, Mark Green’s campaign fell apart.”

Money also played a substantial part in his landslide reelection: Having shattered city campaign records in 2001 by spending $74 million, in 2005 he indulged in wanton overkill, plowing through $85 million to thrash a hapless opponent. Yet no amount of money would have bought 59 percent of the vote for Bloomberg had his first-term achievements—from coping with a looming fiscal crisis and extending Giuliani’s progress on crime to the smoking ban, 311, and public-school reform—not been so impressive. “At some point in 2005, the cumulative effect of the mayoralty kicked in,” argues NYU professor Mitchell Moss, who worked on the mayor’s first campaign. “People looked up and realized that Bloomberg had made government work in New York.”

Bloomberg has done much to enhance that perception over the past year. Since January, he has secured funding for the largest school-construction program in the city’s history. He unveiled a plan to build and maintain 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2013 and made headway on vast development projects in all five boroughs. The on-time high-school graduation rate was higher than it’s been in twenty years. The crime and unemployment rates have hit historic lows.

Bestowing on Bloomberg all the credit for the city’s post-9/11 revival would be absurd—for much of it is being driven by broader economic and demographic forces over which he has no control. Nor is there unanimity that either Bloomberg or his record has been as stellar as his fans make out. The sense that New York has become a town where only the rich are comfortable is felt by more than a few of its residents. Many elements of his development agenda—Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, the far West Side, Moynihan Station—have stirred opposition. His performance during this summer’s blackout in Queens, when he declared that the Con Ed CEO, Kevin Burke, “deserves a thanks from this city,” drew gales of derision. And now he is mired in what promises to be a protracted, emotional, racially charged debate over the behavior of the city’s police.

But so far the periodic squalls of complaint have done little to dent his popularity. “He’s operating in a very forgiving environment, which he’s helped create,” says one Democratic operative. “His competence has bought off the insiders and the press, and he obviously already had a huge leg up with the power elite. And those are the lenses through which the city largely sees him.”

Bloomberg attributes his belovedness, in part, to the fact that voters now see him as just another ordinary guy. “When I came into office, people said, ‘Billionaire? How do they live? What do they eat? How do they sleep?’ ” he tells me. “Today, they see me on the subway coming uptown. A couple of people say hi, some people smile and nod. Some people just sleep. It’s not an issue.”

A more plausible theory explaining Bloomberg’s Teflon quality is that, in this age of shameless political kowtowing, his candor and what-the-fuck stubbornness have built him a bedrock of respect. That hypothesis will surely be tested in the weeks ahead as the aftermath of the Queens police shooting unfolds. But already Bloomberg is receiving plaudits for handling the controversy in such an un-Giuliani-like way. And that, in turn, suggests another reason for his sustained popularity: his singular aversion to confrontation and histrionics. “There’s always some op-ed guy who writes, ‘We need somebody out there yelling and screaming; New Yorkers want a bigger-than-life, out-there character,’ ” Bloomberg says with a derisive snort. “I don’t know. Show me who wants it. They seem pretty happy with me.”

During Bloomberg’s first term, he repeated ad nauseam that he was “not a politician.” Lately, however, the phrase has all but disappeared from his lexicon. Partly, probably, it’s a matter of his feeling that the point’s been made. But it’s also an admission of the obvious. After five years in office, Bloomberg has honed some serious political chops—and has started, in a fashion too garish for anyone to miss, taking his game to the next level.

Bloomberg’s incursion into national affairs began with a flourish in March, when, in the span of three weeks, he waded into three contentious, headline-grabbing debates. On the fevered grandstanding in Washington over the Dubai ports deal: “What I don’t like is, all of a sudden it becomes the issue du jour and everybody’s rushing up there waving a flag, beating their chests.” On illegal immigrants: “We’re not going to deport 12 million people, so let’s stop this fiction; let’s give them permanent status.” On a gun bill before the House Judiciary Committee: “A god-awful piece of legislation.” Two months later, speaking at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine graduation, he attacked the politicization of science—from opposition to stem-cell research and congressional meddling in the Terri Schiavo case (“Was there anything more inappropriate?”) to the teaching of intelligent design (“creationism by another name”).

Then came the fall campaign and his move beyond national issues to national electioneering—endorsing and raising money for a micro-slate of Bloombergian candidates. There were moderate Republicans such as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. There were moderate Democrats such as Missouri Senate challenger Claire McCaskill. And there was Senator Joe Lieberman, the country’s most prominent independent, whom Bloomberg aided by dispatching a squad of seasoned hands to shore up his faltering operation. “No one in public life,” Lieberman says, “has done more for me in this campaign than Mike.”

Theories abound about the impetus behind the mayor’s plunge into the national arena. Former Bloomberg spokesman and current deputy mayor Ed Skyler analogizes, “It’s like in the movie The American President, where Michael J. Fox says to Michael Douglas, ‘Let’s take that 60 percent approval rating out for a spin, see what it gets us.’ ”

Bloomberg’s answer is both less colorful and ostensibly less political. “I will speak out on issues that affect the city,” he tells me, “and if they happen on a national basis, so be it. The other requirement is, it must be something where I think I can influence the outcome.” (Thus he keeps quiet about Iraq.)

As for backing candidates across the country, Bloomberg says, “I tried to support people that I respect … You look at Schwarzenegger: He’s worked across party lines. Or Lieberman: I’ve disagreed with him on many things, but he’s at least willing to say what he believes and not listen to what the party tells him to say. Claire McCaskill [supports] stem-cell research that may be the difference one day between you living and dying.”

Cynics will contend, not implausibly, that in supporting some of these folks, the mayor had ulterior motives. In helping McCaskill compete in a state crucial to Democratic hopes of retaking the Senate, he earned a valuable chit with Chuck Schumer. And Lieberman was in line to chair the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, a panel of no small importance to the city.

Yet the common theme tying together Bloomberg’s national endeavors, on both politics and policy, is frustration with the failings, inanities, and depredations of the two major parties—perhaps even the two-party system. And here the mayor’s feelings seem profound and visceral, and also increasingly irrepressible.

At an off-the-record lunch with a dozen brand-name CEOs on the day after the election, Bloomberg uncorked a withering indictment of the political class, Democrats and Republicans alike, slamming its members for pandering, myopia, and borderline corruption. He even singled out John McCain, whom he generally respects, for abandoning his position against ethanol subsidies as he prepares to curry favor in 2008 with Iowa caucusgoers.

Bloomberg is hardly more restrained two weeks later, when he calls me for a chat. “Republicans blame Democrats and Democrats blame Republicans, but just look at both of them,” he harrumphs. “They will do anything, say anything, to avoid talking about the important things and the need to sacrifice.” Bloomberg’s pace quickens as he warms to his motif. “The public wants government to address long-term issues: Who’s going to pay for spiraling health-care costs? Or solve our foreign-oil dependency problem? Or pay for retirement costs or take on the environmental issues? … [Politicians] talk about fiscal responsibility, and yet they’re building up this unconscionable deficit, which means your children and grandchildren are going to have to pay for the services the elected officials are promising to the public today. It’s a disgrace.”

If Bloomberg’s riff rings familiar, it should—for it echoes unmistakably the Texan twang of H. Ross Perot. Perot was manifestly unhinged; Bloomberg, by all indications, is sane. And Bloomberg has none of Perot’s isolationist or nativist leanings. But in other ways, their similarities are striking: both arch-capitalists, self-made men, technocrats, moralists; both possessed of a belief that government ought to be run more like a business; both allergic to the cant and dogma inherent in professional politics.

The question is whether that’s the end of the similarities—or if, come 2008, the correlation will gain a new dimension. When I ask Rattner what’s driving the mayor to go national, he answers cautiously. “If by speaking out, he can help move the country forward on issues he cares about, he’s going to do that, even if there’s nothing in it for him,” Rattner says. “That’s at least 50 percent and probably more of why he’s doing it. The rest is, ‘I want to build my profile, keep my options open, and see where life takes me.’ ”

Others, however, are less circumspect. “Once you’ve conquered Gaul,” says the New York political consultant Norman Adler, “you move on to the rest of the empire.”

The day after Bloomberg’s reelection, Kevin Sheekey, his campaign manager, gave a TV interview. At 40, Sheekey is a character straight from central casting: If Karl Rove is (or was) the Architect, Sheekey is the Operator. Puckish, preppy, tousled, and inordinately caffeinated, he was born and bred in Washington and worked for years on Capitol Hill, establishing a rakish reputation. After rising to become Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s chief of staff, he was hired away by Bloomberg in 1997 to be Bloomberg LP’s chief lobbyist and has been with the mayor ever since. Now, appearing on NY1 News, he averred that a Bloomberg presidential bid was “not likely”—though no one had asked if it was.

With that mischievous spark, Sheekey ignited speculation that would soon be blazing like a Bronx tenement circa 1977. By the summer, rarely a week would go by without another story about Bloomberg 2008—most of them the handiwork of Sheekey, whose desire to see his boss run was (and is) frank and unconcealed. “My view is, the country needs to start over; it needs independent leadership,” Sheekey told me last week. “And in 2008, Mike Bloomberg is the guy who could give the country that chance.”

Bloomberg’s refusal to muzzle Sheekey is seen in political circles as a sign that he wants to stoke the fire. (To put it mildly, there isn’t much freelancing among the mayor’s people.) Bloomberg does nothing to dispel this impression when I ask about his adviser’s sotto voce presidential ruminations. “I’m shocked if Kevin is doing this,” he says, in his best Captain Renault tone. “Shocked!”

That the mayor has an interest in keeping the guessing game going is inarguable. “When you’re talked about as a potential president, it’s flattering to the people you represent,” says his former communications director, Bill Cunningham. “So that helps keep your numbers high, which lets you deal with the State Legislature or the City Council or Congress on stronger footing.”

Over lunch, Bloomberg nearly admits as much. “It gives the mayor a great deal of visibility and a greater ability to influence the debate and get resources for the city,” he says. “From the city’s point of view, it’s probably helpful.”

Bloomberg informs me that barely a day goes by without someone urging him to run. So? “If you ask me in my heart of hearts,” he says, “I don’t think that my view will change that I have a better job, I’d like to finish out what I’m doing here and then try something brand-new, which is challenging, in philanthropy … I was elected for four years. Now, everybody says this is ridiculous, but I take it seriously—though I don’t know that it’s a be-all and end-all thing … Then there’s practical aspects of, ‘Hey, pro-choice, pro–gay rights, pro–science and evolution, against guns’—I don’t know that I’d ever have the opportunity. My mother keeps saying, ‘Don’t let it go to your head,’ but I’m sure she likes the articles.”

Bloomberg’s answer is reasoned, measured, and blessedly wink-free—but it’s also riddled with elisions and escape clauses wide enough to drive a Hummer through. For one thing, Bloomberg’s socially liberal positions would only be a problem if he were seeking the Republican nomination, an eventuality roughly as plausible as his becoming pope. And a Democratic candidacy is almost as unlikely. No, if Bloomberg were to enter the fray, it would be as an independent.

Whether that happens will likely depend on two factors: who the two parties pick as their standard-bearers and the mood of the country. Bush’s longtime media guru, Mark McKinnon, who now advises McCain, contends that “if a year from now there hasn’t been much progress or bipartisanship, and if the primaries do what they often do and squeeze out the moderates, you’ll have an ideal situation for a third-party run.” Sheekey, in fact, has publicly laid out the most likely Bloomberg-friendly scenario: McCain is beaten by someone to his right (Mitt Romney, say) and the Democrats choose someone generally seen as unelectable (guess who?).

By itself, however, even the presence of the Arizona senator in the race might not deter the mayor. “McCain, is he a viable candidate?” Bloomberg muses. “Is it McCain from the ‘Straight-Talk Express’ or the guy that went to Liberty University?” For emphasis, he adds, “He is a very nice guy … but I also think he’s pretty conservative.”

Bloomberg being Bloomberg, his ultimate decision will be well considered and ruthlessly pragmatic. “When he ran for mayor, he had to have a clear path in his mind about how he could win,” says Cunningham. “There would have to be a combination of factors where he believes there’s a road map that gets him to 1600”—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that is.

All of which is why some Bloomberg confidants believe the odds are low that the mayor will bring himself to pull the trigger. “He views running as an independent as a triple bank shot,” says a friend. “He hasn’t closed his mind to it, but the probabilities are he won’t get comfortable with that.”

But Sheekey remains hopeful. “I think he’s giving you an honest answer [in saying he does not intend to run]. That said, he’s looking at a moment in time, and things may be different in a year—more and not less partisan rancor and gridlock, less and not more attention to long-term issues, a much greater desire in the country for an independent candidacy. The question is whether he would change his mind. And I do think it’s a possibility.”

David Garth—the storied New York political consultant who helped Giuliani and Bloomberg—holds a more definite view. “There’s been a subtle change in Mike in the past couple of years,” Garth says. “In the beginning, I don’t think he saw himself as a potential candidate for president. But as time went on, he started to become more of a believer, mainly in his potential.” Garth pauses. “Mike is not the kind of person who says, ‘I’ll just throw my hat in the ring’; neither is Rudy, for that matter. But my feeling is, they’re both going to be there at the end.”

If Bloomberg is there at the end, his chances will depend much on Sheekey. “I can’t think of anyone better-qualified to run a national campaign,” says pollster Doug Schoen, whose clients have included Mr. and Mrs. Clinton as well as Bloomberg. “He’s big-time,” concurs Mark McKinnon. “He’s got the James Carville–Karl Rove DNA.”

Sheekey’s game plan for 2008 begins with the premise that the mayor can afford to wait until early that year to jump. And afford is the proper term, for mounting a tenable independent campaign would likely cost $250 million to $500 million. For most fantasy-league candidates, raising that kind of dough would take years, if not decades. For Bloomberg, it would take, figuratively speaking, a trip to the ATM. (“Half a billion dollars?” he said to someone at a party this year. “Not a problem.”)

Waiting until early 2008 would be necessary, of course, to get a bead on who the Democrats and Republicans were inclined to nominate. But delaying is desirable for other reasons, too. “In any third-party effort, you want to start late,” says McKinnon. “You gotta catch lightning in a bottle, not let yourself get stale. If Perot had waited to start his campaign until after his daughter’s wedding, he would probably have been president.”

Perot’s implosion, to be sure, was largely self-inflicted. But it was also a result of Bill Clinton’s maneuvers to co-opt his issues—talking up the deficit, in particular—before the 1992 Democratic convention. “If the major-party candidates have time to move in on your turf,” says Al From, “then you get squeezed and there’s not a lot you can do.”

The biggest downside to starting late is that it makes it harder to get on the ballot in all 50 states. But here the putative Bloomberg campaign has been blessed by fate with a ready-made solution: Unity08, a grassroots outfit in Washington that intends to field a centrist presidential ticket (selected via an online convention in June 2008) and handle the ballot-access hassles. Though the group may sound a little sketchy, two of its prime movers are Doug Bailey, the Republican consultant who nearly engineered an upset win for Gerald Ford in 1976, and Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s White House chief of staff. Sheekey, it turns out, has already met with Jordan. And Bailey is openly courting the mayor. “It’s in both our interests for him to seek the Unity08 nomination,” he says, audibly salivating.

What kind of campaign would Sheekey run? He isn’t saying. But judging from the one he devised for Bloomberg in 2005, it would be extremely sophisticated. Schoen points out that Bloomberg’s operation in 2001 was ahead of the Bush team’s now-famous use in 2004 of microtargeting—the new political science of combining consumer-database information with voter rolls to target people likely to be receptive to your message. And in 2005, Sheekey cranked up the tactic up another notch. In both elections, the Bloomberg campaign applied new technology, plus a boatload of cash, to the task of identifying and turning out independent and unenrolled voters. Hence the model that Sheekey would surely try to duplicate on a national scale.

For all of Sheekey’s imputed brilliance, though, the reasons to be skeptical about Bloomberg’s prospects in a presidential contest are many. “There are things about Mike that do not add to the comfort level of your support,” Garth says. “He really is a self-made man, which is terrific in one sense but also raises questions”—meaning that his business dealings and personal wealth would come under close scrutiny. “Also,” Garth notes, “he is Jewish, which you have deal with because people are going to raise it.”

Nor is it clear that Bloomberg’s blend of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism is the electorally ideal admixture. Frank Luntz, the GOP pollster who advised Perot, tells me that Bloomberg’s showing in a recent survey he conducted—in the mid-twenties versus Clinton and a non- McCain, non-Giuliani Republican—meant the mayor was “ahead of where Perot was at this point in the 1992 cycle.” But though Perot’s voters still exist, Bloomberg’s stances on trade and immigration aren’t likely to entrance them. Then there’s Bloomberg’s total lack of national-security bona fides, not a trivial weakness in an age of terror.

Maybe most problematic is the very quality that makes Bloomberg appealing to, well, many readers of this magazine: his brass-tacks managerialism. “Being able to get people into a room and work together is a wonderful thing when you’re governing,” says From. “But presidential campaigns tend to be ideological campaigns. Not necessarily in the gross sense of ideology, but you have to have ideas that cut with voters—they want to be inspired.” After all, the last presidential candidate who campaigned on “competence, not ideology” was Michael Dukakis. And we all know how that turned out.

But other national political professionals give a Bloomberg run more credence. “Given his resources, it’s all sitting there for him,” says Joe Trippi, the Internet-savvy operative behind Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. “People are so sick of the polarization of politics that he could make the case that it’s time to move beyond the two parties and that he’s the one to lead us.”

Thus does Sheekey keep the fires burning. If the results of the 2006 election carried any lesson, he says, it was one temporarily obscured by Rove & Co.’s base-courting strategy in 2002 and 2004: Independents are at once the fastest-growing and most-frustrated segment of the electorate. “The whole discussion has been built on the idea that the country is changing, heading in a certain direction,” Sheekey notes. “If that change occurs, people will be in the market for independent leadership. And when you’re in the market for independent leadership—for someone who has a record, can run, can win, and then can lead—in my view, you’ll only come back with one answer.”

The mayor ambles into an upstairs room in Gracie Mansion and sits on the edge of a sofa beneath a Regis François Gignoux painting. It’s late afternoon on an Indian-summer day, and Bloomberg is here for a cocktail party he’s hosting for the Randalls Island Sports Foundation. In a building so replete with history, I feel compelled to ask if Bloomberg especially admires any of his predecessors. “David Rockefeller, whom I’ve become friendly with—I’m always impressed, I know a Rockefeller!—his first job was as secretary to La Guardia,” he says. “Jimmy Walker was a lady’s man and ran off to avoid going to jail.” And that’s the image he’d like to portray? “I think not.”

Apparently rendered bored by historical reflection, Bloomberg takes a bite of an oatmeal cookie and leaves the past behind. “All I’ve got to worry about is my eight years as mayor,” he says. “You’d love to go out and have every editorial board write this glowing, he’s-done-a-great-job thing, because that’s the measure … When I walk down the street, people yell out of the cab, ‘Love you! Great job! Keep it up!’ Anybody who doesn’t like that should see a psychiatrist.”

Bloomberg, naturally, thinks that talk about his legacy is premature; he still has three years left, right? (Right?) Yet one of the most admirable things about his tenure so far has been the way he has taken on issues where progress is hard and often achingly slow. Education. Infrastructure. Public health. Poverty. The physical transformation of the city. “The mayor’s smart enough to know that his most important initiatives aren’t three-years-and-I-can-wrap-it-up things,” notes Kathryn Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City. “So he’s trying to tie down as much as he can.”

Bloomberg doesn’t dispute the point, but he’s aware of how limited his power is to tie anything down. He cites education, an area where his policies are being imitated in cities around the nation. “What scares the heck out of me,” he says, “is that Albany, when the current mayoral control runs out in June 2009, they’ll say, ‘We like it, but of course we need some representation from the teachers union. And of course we need the parents there, too’—and then you’re right back to what you had before.”

And that would be tragic?

“It’s not tragic for me,” Bloomberg replies in a tone of infinite solemnity. “Tragic for the kids. And for the city. And for the country. And for the world.”

Some of the mayor’s lieutenants are worried that the advent of the Spitzer era will prove similarly nettlesome, especially regarding big-ticket development projects. “Eliot’s a control freak,” says a private-sector pooh-bah. “I think he respects the mayor, and will try to handle him carefully, but I think he won’t be able to contain himself.”

Bloomberg says he’s sanguine about Spitzer, but that doesn’t stop him from firing warning shots across the governor-elect’s bow. “Eliot’s big problem is not New York City, it’s upstate,” he says. “He’s going to find out that the State Legislature is a force to be dealt with.” He adds, “What’s the incentive for Eliot to have big fights with a mayor who’s only going to be around for three years and has a 70 percent approval rating? Where the city is the major generator of cash for the whole state? No.”

One way Bloomberg could counterbalance Spitzer—who may be governor for a while—and more generally protect his legacy is by handpicking a successor. “I think [Time Warner CEO] Dick Parsons would be a great mayor,” he declares. “If Dick were to run, I would be hard-pressed not to support him.” I ask if he’s prodded Parsons to run. “Yeah, but in a joking way, not seriously,” he replies. “He doesn’t need me to tell him the job. He doesn’t need me to convince.”

But Parsons tells me that the mayor seemed plenty serious. So is he interested? “That’s not my thing. I’m focused right now on getting Time Warner accomplished,” he says. But when I press him on whether he’s saying no definitively, absolutely, Parsons sounds uncannily like Bloomberg regarding the presidency: “I don’t think that sensible people say things like that. You know, never say never.” Even so, the mayor must have been disappointed. Parsons laughs. “It’s flattering, he’s flattering, but what I’m signed up for is extending term limits,” he says. “Make it possible for him to serve a third term.”

No doubt in a wistful moment that thought has crossed Bloomberg’s mind. “The sad thing is, in my next life, when I’m back in the civilian world, you don’t have the power of being mayor,” he says. “But you have the freedom to do other things.”

The Sunday after the election, Bloomberg flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, to give a speech at the Clinton presidential library. The occasion was a conference on philanthropy organized by Slate, which each year features a list of the country’s biggest donors, the Slate 60. In the second-floor hall of the library, looking out on the Arkansas River, Bloomberg said, “As one of my favorite authors once wrote, ‘I’ve always respected those who tried to change the world for the better, rather than just complain about it.’ That quote is from a stirring autobiography written ten years ago. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Bloomberg by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s oratorical proficiency is often roundly mocked. (Given his relentless monotone, one of the more amusing experiences in rhetorical voyeurism is listening to him try to do justice to an exclamation point in his prepared text.) But Bloomberg’s speeches occasionally have passages that are working on a subtler level than you first imagine, and the above is an example. What he seems to be doing is mocking himself, poking fun at his own ego. But he’s also reminding his audience that he has been preaching the virtues of philanthropy since before Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, et al. made it fashionable.

Bloomberg, to be fair, has been doing more than preaching; he’s been walking the walk. With donations of $144 million in 2005, he ranked seventh on this year’s Slate 60, just under David Rockefeller. And if he lives up to his word, his rank will almost certainly rise. Bloomberg says that he intends to give away most of his moola after he leaves office. To that end, he recently bought a $45 million building on East 78th Street near his home, out of which he and Patti Harris will run his foundation.

How much cash will they be dispensing? Possibly more than anyone presumes. For now, Bloomberg has squelched rumors that he’s preparing to sell Bloomberg LP—but someday he will, and when he does, his net worth will expand dramatically. A recent piece in the New York Sun estimated that the mayor’s net worth, which Forbes pegs at $5.3 billion, may be over $20 billion (if his company is properly valued). Bloomberg’s aides whisper that the story may be accurate. In any event, the mayor tells me that in the future he expects to be doling out “$300 million, $400 million a year.”

Bloomberg says that public-health causes will be among the main beneficiaries. Of all the things I heard Bloomberg brag about in our time together—a list as copious as that of Wilt Chamberlain’s sexual conquests—none was touted with more pride than the smoking ban. “Nothing I ever do in all my life will save as many lives,” he exults. “Because of that, we have twelve states and twelve countries that have banned it. France has talked about passing a law banning smoking in restaurants. Who would’ve thought it? France!”

But Bloomberg tells me he has another concept brewing. “There’s the area of, how do you encourage more democracy,” he says. “Whether it’s getting good people to go into public service, or finding ways for the public to measure the people they elect and whether they deliver what they promise.”

You’re talking about merging your politics to your philanthropy, I say.

“Yes, but you’ve got to distinguish between what I’m talking about and what George Soros is trying to do. Soros uses his money to push his views. I’d be more inclined to use my money to give people the ability to make up their own minds and express themselves.”

Bloomberg’s ideas on this topic are larval, incredibly vague. One interpretation of them is that he aims to become a hybrid of Bill Gates and Bill Clinton: a very rich man with the benefit of a history in politics, with all the savvy and connections that it entails. “Whatever amount of money Mike has, it’s less than Gates has,” Steve Rattner notes. “And whatever amount of political capital he has, it’s less than Clinton has. But Bill Clinton has no money and Bill Gates has no political capital. And Mike could be an interesting amalgam of the two.”

Bloomberg seems to like this interpretation when I present it to him. “What I find fascinating,” he observes, “is that for most people in government, their whole objective is to work themselves up to living in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue … But you don’t have to live in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to have a real chance to make a difference.”

There is, however, a less, er, charitable—and perhaps more incisive—reading of Bloomberg’s vagueness. “I don’t think that, deep in his heart, he has any philanthropy that really touches him deeply,” his old friend Steinhardt says. “Now, he’s not a guy who shows emotional connections readily. But frankly, I don’t think that he’s a guy who has deep emotional connections to very much. Neither people nor things.”

If Steinhardt is right, the decision that awaits Bloomberg at the end of next year promises to be even more vexing—and fateful—than it appears. And it may yield a result that makes 2008 even more interesting than it’s already guaranteed to be. “He’s going to have to deal with his future, and in a peculiar sense, the easiest way to deal with his future is to run for president,” concludes Steinhardt. “It’s something he’d be totally consumed by. Something he’d be excited by. Something that will fulfill his ambitions. Give me something else that you can answer yes to more strongly than that.”

Additional reporting by Janelle Nanos

Find this article at:
http://www.nymag.com/news/politics/25015/index.html

Bloomberg for President? — New York Magazine

I don’t feel like a wingnut (of course the oddballs never seem odd to themselves!), And I’ve evolved beyond U—-8, but I’m thinking that there has to be room for this guy on the national stage. Help me find one!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Technorati Tags: ,


mm056: Rolling Stone : Bloomberg ’08: Can a Republican Mayor of New York Take the White House?

July 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Interestingly, this morning’s Google for “‘Michael Bloomberg’ president” turned up this Rolling Stone analysis from last August as its second (and first deemed safe by my McAfee SiteAdvisor) listing.

rollingstone

Bloomberg ’08?

The Republican mayor of New York has become the party’s fiercest internal critic. But can his “billionaire populism” bridge the nation’s blue-red divide?

BEN WALLACE-WELLS
Posted Aug 22, 2006 9:52 AM

The first thing you notice about Michael Bloomberg is that he doesn’t behave like other politicians. When he finishes an interview, New York’s mayor doesn’t smile or shake hands – he just gets up to go. Stuck on a podium with a class of third-graders, he doesn’t chat them up, or clown around, just coolly assesses the skies for evidence of rain. Asked whether he’s ever smoked pot, he beams and says, “You bet I did! And I enjoyed it.” Pressed to reiterate his working-class roots, so voters will forgive him for being a billionaire, he refuses. “In New York City politics, there’s a race to the bottom: ‘My mother washed more floors than your mother, for less money.’ I mean, come on.” Bloomberg behaves like someone who believes he has discovered an alternate political physics, one where the normal rules don’t apply.

Bloomberg is small and stands very straight and wears great suits and has a face that looks strikingly fresh, exfoliated to the edge of pink. He gives off an air of social awkwardness and sometimes has a tin ear for the problems of ordinary New Yorkers: When the city’s transit workers threatened to strike in 2002, he showed off for the cameras a fancy, spanking-new $600 mountain bike he’d bought to ride to work and urged New Yorkers to do the same. In recent months he has become the GOP’s loudest and fiercest internal critic. He calls the Republican position on stem-cell research “insanity,” derides the party’s gun-control legislation in Congress as “god-awful” and says of conservative plans for illegal immigrants, “We’re not going to deport 12 million people, so let’s stop this fiction.” Thanks to his loud attacks on partisanship in Washington, he has begun to be talked about as a third-party candidate for president. Here, supporters say, is a man who can bridge the blue-red divide: the Republican mayor of the nation’s biggest and bluest city, a fiscal conservative who is liberal on social issues, a power broker on a crusade against the establishment, a billionaire who spends what for a man of his class must be an unseemly amount of time in the Bronx. He is coming to seem, more and more, like the Republican equivalent of Sen. Joe Lieberman: a man seemingly out of place in his own party.

Bloomberg, in fact, identifies strongly with the defeated Democrat from Connecticut. “I think what they’re doing to Joe Lieberman is a disgrace,” the mayor volunteered when I met with him in his offices in July, shortly before anti-war bloggers helped Ned Lamont beat Lieberman in the primary. Lieberman lost not because he supported the war in Iraq, Bloomberg insisted, but because “he’s been willing to say what he believes even if it doesn’t help the, quote, party.” The mayor was as apoplectic as he gets – not quite angry, exactly, but deeply, deeply annoyed. “My point is that there are things you’ve got to stand up for,” he said. “And when we are intolerant of opposing views, what does that say about us?” What Bloomberg calls intolerance, of course, others call voting: The mayor has an unrepentant streak that can come across as undemocratic.

A few days later, Bloomberg was offering to campaign for Lieberman – and political observers wondered whether the move wasn’t a calculated way to pull in support among centrist Democrats for Bloomberg ’08. Although the mayor has frequently dismissed the possibility of a self-financed presidential run (“Which letter in the word ‘no’ do you not understand?”), he has recently turned more coy. At a dinner party this spring, he noted that he had half a billion dollars to devote to a bid for the White House, the kind of cash that would enable him to completely bypass the political parties. And in August, Bloomberg had dinner with Al From, the head of the Democratic Leadership Council and the centrist kingmaker behind Bill Clinton’s run for the presidency. (Bloomberg, long a Democrat, switched parties to run for mayor.) This summer, when I met Bloomberg in his office, he told me in no uncertain terms, “I won’t be announcing any candidacy for any office – sorry to disappoint.” But one of his senior advisers, a few minutes later, walked up to me and said, “You’re in for ’08, right? You’re on the bus?”

Bloomberg’s wealth – the size of the annual national product of the Bahamas – is hard to ignore. The plain fact is that he enjoys being rich. He has a private plane, which he uses to toggle between his $17 million town house on New York’s Upper East Side, a $10 million Victorian town house in London, a $10.5 million estate in Bermuda, a $1.5 million condo in Vail and another house north of Manhattan, which he bought, as New York magazine put it, “as a base for his daughter Georgina’s equestrian training.” He has taken trips to promote the city of New York to Greece, Afghanistan and Turkey (dining with the mayor of Istanbul in a former prison that has been converted into a Four Seasons hotel), paying for the trips himself. “I went to Miami with the mayor for a meeting once,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. “And when we were ready to fly back, there was some problem with the mayor’s plane. So we got on his other plane. That was pretty good.”

Americans have historically been suspicious of the very rich getting involved in politics; all those billions too close to the voting booth seem like something edging a little too close to monarchy. Even the most philanthropically inclined billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are spending their money on social services that circumvent government. Bloomberg is trying something different: not just buying himself into public office but banking on his vast reserves of cash – which mean he never has to take a single campaign donation – to render politics irrelevant. He aims to forge an unlikely brand of politics: billionaire populism. Along the rotten old industrial sections of Brooklyn and the Bronx, bright glass buildings are rapidly being pushed into the empty ghetto spaces between warehouses as if some wealthy, distant hand were playing Monopoly with the boroughs. That distant hand, of course, is Bloomberg’s. But in his time in New York, the mayor has already achieved something more profound, and lasting, than mere development: He has shown Americans what they might get if they ever manage to get politics out of government.

It is summer in the South Bronx, in the nation’s poorest congressional district, and a tall Puerto Rican politician named Adolfo Carrion Jr. is addressing the Chamber of Commerce. Carrion, the Bronx borough president, is remembering an ugly episode in the city’s history. As a child in 1977, he tells the crowd, he watched as the broadcast of the World Series at Yankee Stadium cut away to images just outside the ballpark, where rioters had started a fire in an empty elementary school that had engulfed the surrounding streets. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Howard Cosell intoned, “the Bronx is burning.” The moment would become a symbol for the next quarter-century of chaos in New York’s outer boroughs.

But Carrion is here today to mark a new epoch: The ugliest ghetto in the country, he says, has cut unemployment to six percent, about the same as Sweden, and is sending up airy new high-rises in lots that once burned. Carrion waits for the applause to die down, and then he turns to the small, stiff-standing white guy on his left. The mayor, he says, deserves the credit. Carrion is a liberal Democrat who opposed the billionaire businessman when he first ran for office; now, he tells the crowd, Bloomberg will go down “as one of the greatest mayors – if not the greatest – in our history.”

I met with Bloomberg in the vast, open room in City Hall that his aides call the bullpen, a room that is itself one of the mayor’s proudest accomplishments. An unabashed management geek, Bloomberg conducts his interviews here, at a square table on a platform running the length of the room, to show off the triumph. The room is designed to democratize the business of governing; no one, not even the mayor, gets his own office. Instead, everyone sits at stations at long banks of desks, like daises at a phone-a-thon. Bloomberg spends most of his time here, bouncing around the room, looking over his subordinates’ shoulders and pressing them about data. Bloomberg is a freak for facts, and his administration is premised on the idea that if you run the right regressions on nearly anything, you can figure out how to help the most people the best. “Every time I see him, he says, ‘How are the numbers?’ ” says Shaun Donovan, the mayor’s housing commissioner. There’s a frenetic and excited energy about the room, because at any moment the big man might challenge you. “It’s your agency,” he’ll tell subordinates. “Don’t screw it up.” When the mayor has more pressing business to attend to, his aides have to wander down into the bullpen and pull him away.

Even after nearly five years as mayor, Bloomberg can still sound shockingly out of touch, as if the lives of the poor are a matter of anthropology. I asked him what it was like to walk through working-class neighborhoods in the outer boroughs during his first campaign. “I was, I don’t want to say surprised, but struck,” he said. “They work in jobs that many of us might not rush to say that’s where we work or that’s what we did, but they are proud of those jobs.” The mayor still seems most comfortable with people when they are abstracted, as statistics. Three years into his term, The New York Times considered it news that the mayor “can now kiss babies and flick a thumbs-up without explicit instructions from his press secretary.”

When Bloomberg has failed, it has been from an insular bullheadedness, a political naivete that failed to comprehend that ideas that looked great on the bullpen’s spreadsheets might not seem so great to ordinary people outside City Hall. Bloomberg lobbied hard for a long-shot project to bring the Olympics to New York, eventually losing out to London, when most city politicians would have given up. He also spent years pushing a vast, city-funded football stadium for a rusting, city-owned rail yard on Manhattan’s West Side, one that his economists told him would spur an economic renaissance in that neighborhood. But he overestimated his political clout, and the owners of nearby Madison Square Garden – who didn’t want the competition – joined with local residents and real-estate developers to kill the stadium plan. In a typical Bloomberg flourish, his opponents hadn’t just blocked his pet project – they had “let down America.”

But Bloomberg has been equally stubborn in his successes. His signature initiative was his decision to ban smoking in public places, an idea that, the bullpen’s spreadsheets assured him, would keep thousands of New Yorkers from dying of heart disease. The restaurant and hotel industry – powerful players in New York – hated the idea, because they thought it would cost them business. When Vanity Fair‘s editor, Graydon Carter, a celebrity from Bloomberg’s own social circle, protested the “imperial” law by smoking in his office, the city sent cops to the magazine’s headquarters to write a ticket. The bill passed, and deaths from heart disease in the city dropped by 1,200 in the first year – “which is almost exactly what the statistics predicted,” the mayor says, looking pleased with himself.

Bloomberg’s most successful initiatives are often like this – moves everybody thought would be good ideas but that had been considered politically impossible. He first ran for office saying that he wanted to reform the city’s schools, seeking to break up the city’s Board of Education and hold individual schools responsible for results – a move opposed by the powerful teachers’ union. As the first mayor in years not to need the union’s support, Bloomberg won this fight, too, and test scores across the city have increased by as much as nineteen points.

By the 1990s, New York had become a den of murders and chaos, a gory gang screenplay come to life, and Rudy Giuliani became a national hero by using innovative policing techniques to seal off ghettos, helping to cut the city’s murder rate from 2,200 per year to its present level of less than 600, which is lower than it was in 1965. Bloomberg’s great ambition has been to better Giuliani by not just beating the ghetto back but by Manhattanizing it, bringing businesses and middle-class neighborhoods to places long ago abandoned as hopeless, and trying to rebuild the city from the bottom up. The mayor has completely revamped the city’s property tax code, enacting the largest tax hike in New York’s history and turning the city’s $6 billion deficit into a record $3.6 billion surplus. He has presided over what has become the largest affordable-housing initiative in the nation’s history, cutting deals with developers to convert rotting industrial parks into high-end apartments, with a portion of the units reserved for middle-class families. And he has spent more on parks in the outer boroughs than anyone since the New Deal.

The rapid development has led to accusations of cronyism, and a state judge ruled in June that Bloomberg’s administration gave a contract to a favored developer without competitive bidding. The mayor’s emphasis on business growth, critics say, has done little to help the one in five New Yorkers who lives in poverty. “Mike Bloomberg thinks everything’s going just great in this town,” said Fernando Ferrer, the mayor’s Democratic opponent in the last election. “For some it is, but for millions of others it isn’t. There are two New Yorks.”

But it has been difficult to argue with the effect: a booming economy all over the city and flashy commercial strips popping up in unlikely corners of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Bloomberg’s approval ratings, once mired in the George Bush territory of the low thirties, are now consistently above seventy percent, and when he trounced Ferrer last year, it was the largest margin for a Republican mayor in the city’s history. Douglas Muzzio, a professor of political science at the City University of New York and a longtime observer of the city’s politics, is only half-joking when he credits Bloomberg with creating a whole new category of American politician: “plutocrat as philosopher king.”

Nowhere is Bloomberg’s independent streak more evident than in the way he handles the dicey political territory of terrorism. Say the threat is dire, and you look like a fear-monger; say it’s overblown, and you look naive. Bloomberg, who has seen the intelligence reports and has dispatched NYPD officers to London, Afghanistan and the Middle East to investigate the jihadist threat, doesn’t hesitate. Americans, he tells me, are “too freaked out” about the threat of another attack. “There is a much greater risk from lifestyles that hurt you – smoking, walking across the street without looking both ways, not putting bars in the window if you’ve got kids and you live above the first floor, those kinds of things.”

In recent months, as the mayor’s national profile has grown, he seems to be going out of his way to say the blunt and controversial thing. He recently sued fifteen gun dealers for selling weapons that ended up being used in hundreds of crimes, angering the powerful National Rifle Association and alienating many in the GOP. I ask him whether there is a single stance that his own party, moving ever rightward, has taken in the last few years that makes him proud to be a Republican. “Neither proud nor disgusted,” he says. The Democrats aren’t any better, he adds: “Take a look at one of the most contentious issues – guns. Howard Dean has been eight times endorsed by the NRA, and you’re going to tell me this is a Republican issue? I’m sorry, no, it’s an outrage.”

Bloomberg is in a unique position in American politics: Thanks to his wealth, no party or politician can force him to wait his turn if he decides to run for president. He often seems more comfortable with Democrats than with members of his own party. He is close with Sen. Hillary Clinton, but he’s closer with New York’s other senator, the hard-charging Democrat Chuck Schumer, with whom he sometimes speaks several times a day, and whose wife Bloomberg employs. If he decides to run, such alliances are unlikely to win him many friends in Republican territory. “It’s hard to imagine Bloomberg winning a single red state,” says Marshall Wittmann, a centrist political strategist and the former communications director for another GOP maverick, Sen. John McCain.

It’s true that Bloomberg might come off as too much of a wealthy, detached New York liberal to play in red America. But his biography, political handicappers point out, has the kind of scrappiness that plays well in the heartland: He started off far poorer than George Bush, John Kerry or Al Gore and ended up far richer than all of them combined. The hope for Bloomberg is that he might buy himself the same independence from national interests that he enjoys in New York, at a moment when polls show that a growing number of Americans long for an alternative to the two major parties. The hope, in other words, is that Bloomberg might prove to be a more competent and saner version of Ross Perot, the wealthy, plain-spoken candidate whose third-party campaign in 1992 made both the Democrats and the Republicans look like they were speaking in jargon.

That, after all, is the kind of ambition that $6 billion in the bank might buy.

From the September 7th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone : Bloomberg ’08: Can a Republican Mayor of New York Take the White House?

I have to say that I remain intrigued. I haven’t read anything so far (most of which I’ve shared here during the past month or so) that has scared me in the slightest.

The crowded field for 2008 is littered with individuals possessing less style than substance; some few having substance without much style (read: electability); and fund-raising superstars who are accumulating political IOUs that will only lead to continued business as usual — and we know and despair over what business as usual has bought us in government over the past 55 years.

Am I crazy to have latched onto Bloomberg? Ross Perot, with whom many comparisons are made, including above, was a genuine all-American, Texas-sized wacko. Bloomberg is something entirely different, and maybe tonic for our ailing nation.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Technorati Tags: ,