June 25, 2007
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
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,
Lets 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
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
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