Mayor Denies Political Bid but Fuels Talk With Actions
By DIANE CARDWELL
Last week, Michael R. Bloomberg, the New York City mayor, stood on a
sunny public school terrace in Queens and told reporters that he was
not running for president.
"I'm just going to be giving an energy speech in Houston on Friday and
a commencement speech in Oklahoma Friday night," he said, describing
his national campaign-style travel plans. He added coyly, "I don't
know why you would think anything like that."
So it goes with Mr. Bloomberg, who simultaneously rejects and stokes
the idea that he might run for president, all the while sharpening his
national profile and allowing behind-the-scenes machinations just in
case he decides to make an independent bid for the White House.
Despite the denials in Oklahoma City on Friday he said, "I have no
presidential plans. I'm not running for president." Mr. Bloomberg, a
multibillionaire unafraid to spend vast sums achieving his political
goals, has increasingly fueled speculation that he will run, by doing
things like retooling the Web site he used for his mayoral campaigns
to promote his record in the public and private sectors.
And while aides say he has not been persuaded to mount a campaign, he
has fashioned a second-term agenda for the city that is in many ways
as national as it is local, focusing on broad issues like interstate
gun trafficking, illegal immigration, energy and environmentally sound
He has also crisscrossed the country in search of a national audience,
traveling in recent weeks to Ohio, Texas and Oklahoma to deliver
sweeping speeches on policy and politics.
"He's clearly looking at the whole country," said Ed Ott, executive
director of the New York City Central Labor Council, who is a member
of the mayor's Sustainability Advisory Board and attended a private
dinner where Mr. Bloomberg spoke broadly about governing throughout
the nation. "These trips, they're not just trips this guy's probing.
I think he's genuinely interested in, `If I do this, can I have an
Though Mr. Bloomberg's travels and speeches have fueled much
speculation about his political intentions he has been featured
recently in Time and on the covers of The Weekly Standard and Fortune
it is far from clear how they will play out.
Mr. Bloomberg has said privately that he is not interested in a
campaign simply to make a point or to be a Ross Perot-like spoiler.
Like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, he would be in only to win.
For him to run a determination he could wait on until early next
year, after the major parties have selected their nominees he would
need to be convinced that the field was polarized enough to create an
opening for his brand of moderate, pragmatic politics.
But for now, political analysts say, the mayor is aware that talk, and
perhaps even excitement, about a Bloomberg candidacy can enhance his
influence not only in the city, but also in the corridors of the State
Capitol and Congress.
That is especially the case since Mr. Bloomberg will be forced from
office by term limits at the end of 2009, said John H. Mollenkopf,
executive director of the Center for Urban Research at the City
University of New York Graduate Center.
"People who might not want to go along with the mayor's program know
that the clock is ticking and can wait him out," Dr. Mollenkopf said.
"Any lame duck needs a strategy for staying relevant, and what could
be a better strategy than convincing people that you're going to be a
powerful political figure?"
At the same time, Mr. Bloomberg's increased stature could help him in
the future, whether in a quest for political office or in influencing
policy as the head of the multibillion-dollar foundation he is
And at the very least, being considered presidential material is a
great source of entertainment for a man with middle-class roots who
got his start on Wall Street counting bond certificates in
un-air-conditioned bank vault in his underwear.
Indeed, the mayor has acknowledged as much, conceding that the
presidential rumors are flattering and helpful in attracting support
for the city, given that he sees Washington as the key to many of the
"Anything that gets us attention so that we can promote New York
City's interest, which is what my job is," Mr. Bloomberg told
reporters in March.
"Whether it's in getting us homeland security money, getting us
federal government tax policy that helps New York businesses, whether
it's getting regulation that helps us survive and prosper those are
the kinds of things that, if they speculate about the presidency, and
if it helps, I'd be derelict in my duty if I didn't go and continue to
use every advantage that I can to promote New York's cause," he said.
Already accustomed to the heady circles of the extremely rich, Mr.
Bloomberg is now burnishing his reputation among important
policymakers and enjoying access to federal lawmakers. This week, he
is set to share a stage with former President Bill Clinton as a host
to international city leaders at a global climate conference in New York.
Whenever Mr. Bloomberg visits Congress, said his chief spokesman, Stu
Loeser, lawmakers stop in the halls to say hello or ask why he is
there, offering an opportunity to press for the city's needs.
"People are interested in what he has to say," Mr. Loeser said. "He's
a gifted salesman who, when he has three points to make and two
minutes to make them, he makes them."
Although some government insiders say that Mr. Bloomberg has seemed
distracted from governing this term, flitting from town to town and
policy issue to policy issue, many officials and advocates who work
with the administration disagree and say there is little downside to
the mayor's focus outside the city.
"When it comes to issues like housing and gun control and national
health, mayors have always spoken out," said City Comptroller William
C. Thompson Jr., who is seen as likely to seek Mr. Bloomberg's office
in 2009. "I think it helps keep New York City at the forefront of an
At the same time, others wonder if the mayor's national ambitions,
whether for the presidency or for influence, are guiding policy
decisions at home.
Recent changes to a planned overhaul of the school budgeting system
were widely viewed among education advocates as a concession to avoid
a high-profile battle with the teachers' union that could damage Mr.
Bloomberg's growing national reputation as a reformer.
"The shift on the school issue was so dramatic, so out of character,
so sudden that it really did raise a question other people had been
raising," said Michael Gecan, an organizer with the Industrial Areas
Foundation, a group active in education, community development and
labor issues. "We know of no local reason why he would have done that,
and we hope that it's going to be reversed."
But Mr. Loeser said that Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein had decided
that the change, which will make it harder to redistribute experienced
teachers to more troubled schools, would be fairer.
Still others see Mr. Bloomberg's activities as capitalizing on a shift
in attitudes across the country as Americans developed more positive
feelings about New York after Sept. 11, a shift that former Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani is tapping into in his bid for the White House.
"New York is now a city that people identify with," said Mitchell L.
Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at the Robert F. Wagner
Graduate School of Public Service at New York University who has
advised Mr. Bloomberg. "And so the mayor of New York has a different
kind of audience now."
Cheryl Camp contributed reporting.