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June 25, 2007

America Isn’t New York: Can Michael Bloomberg Become President?


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who enjoys 75 percent approval ratings and the sort of consensus-reputation for competence that eluded even his predecessor, announced earlier this week that he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent. And despite his denials, all indications from his behavior are that a Bloomberg presidential run next year is a very real possibility.


Bloomberg would be running on his record as mayor, when he continued the economic, anti-crime and development successes of the Guiliani years, but without the scandals, ever-broiling racial tension or Yankees championships that marked Rudy's reign. "Mayor Mike" has even made some progress in reforming New York City's schools – a task thought impossible.


The first New York mayor to ever also be the city's richest resident, Bloomberg declined to move into Gracie Mansion when he took office, presumably because his own house is bigger and nicer. The former media mogul and current politician/philanthropist is worth an estimated $5 billion, and would have something like a billion dollars – before any donations – to spend on a race. Possible partnerships with disaffected members of both parties, such as Chuck Hagel and Joe Lieberman, are possible, as is a potential teaming-up with the Unity '08 effort.


Bloomberg would certainly have no problem affording a White House bid. But can the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent actually have a hope of winning in '08? I have my doubts.


Traditionally, third-party presidential candidates have been fiery populists, inspired by one major issue, who have stuck back against the prevailing establishment. The mild-mannered Bloomberg is far from fiery, and he doesn't quite have the populist gene either. If he runs, the mayor will likely push his record of "competence." And while certainly in short supply, competence isn't something that brings voters out in droves. Ask Walter Mondale.


A Bloomberg run would require the candidate to run against the "incompetence" of George W. Bush, just four years after the mayor presided over Bush's 2004 nominating convention in New York. It would also put Bloomberg up against Rudy Giuliani, the man who endorsed him for mayor in the weeks after Sept. 11, after which the new mayor repaid the favor by performing Rudy's wedding to Judith Nathan.


In fact, Bloomberg's possible entrance paves the way for the real possibility of a three-way race – Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Rudy Giuliani and Independent Michael Bloomberg – consisting entirely of social liberals from New York. In that event, I'd imagine Rudy, once or twice or 500 times each day, would remind everybody that Hillary's really from Illinois/Arkansas, and Mike's really from Boston.


The second saddest thing about that scenario is that the New York politician who would make the best president of all – Gov. Eliot Spitzer – is left out of it. What's the saddest? All the anti-Northeast/big city/"elite" antipathy that's built up among the right in the last two decades would have to be unleashed somehow, which would almost certainly lead to yet another third-party effort (Fred Thompson? Lou Dobbs? Tom Tancredo?) based on uniting the red states against abortion, immigration, New York and everything else championed by the three existing candidates.


The other problem for a Bloomberg candidacy is that the entire structure of American politics is based on the two-party system. The parties both have organizations, in all 50 states, backed by tens of thousands of people, and even more money than Bloomberg has, dedicated to getting candidates of their party elected. For an independent to win, he would need to defeat not just one powerful nationwide establishment, but two.


Let’s not forget, Bloomberg is also a bit of a political novice, who has run for office exactly twice in his life and has no foreign policy experience to speak of. He was elected in 2001, weeks after Sept. 11, when opponent Mark Green imploded. In 2005 he was lucky enough to face mediocre political hack Freddy Ferrer. Against stronger candidates and a bigger machine than Al Sharpton's, Bloomberg remains largely untested.


Then there's the demographic question. Bloomberg is Jewish, has a surname that makes no secret of that fact, and would be entering a race that, despite nearly 20 candidates, currently has no one of the Book on either side. He's also a bachelor. Presumably, his long-time girlfriend, New York state banking superintendent Diana Taylor, would be First Lady in a Bloomberg Administration.


Bloomberg's appeal comes in his reputation for efficiency and effective leadership. He "makes the trains run on time," as I heard a talk-show caller say last week. But there's a slight problem with that. America's a lot bigger than New York, and there are a hell of a lot more trains to keep track of. And besides, as a one-time New Yorker, I can assure you: The trains, regardless of who the mayor is, never run on time.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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