Rubin: Bloomberg Sounding 'Presidential'
BY RUSSELL BERMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
March 14, 2007
WASHINGTON With the air of a presidential aspirant, Mayor Bloomberg
used a major financial summit here to offer harsh criticism of
anti-immigration proposals, the nation's public education system, and
the widening gap between America's rich and poor.
Straying afield of the boardroom talk that dominated yesterday's
conference, Mr. Bloomberg prompted a former Treasury secretary, Robert
Rubin, to remark that the mayor's forceful commentary "sounded like
something a presidential candidate would do." The reference to Mr.
Bloomberg's rumored White House hopes drew laughter from the red-faced
mayor and a smattering of applause from the Georgetown University crowd.
The mayor later acknowledged that though he has denied his intention
to run for president, he has done little to tamp down speculation that
he may enter the race. A former adviser, Esther Fuchs, was quoted as
saying last week that there was an "80%" chance Mr. Bloomberg would
run as an independent if the two parties nominated "extreme" candidates.
The contradiction between the mayor's repeated denials and the public
hypothesizing by his aides has left open the question of how seriously
he is weighing a White House bid. Offering a slightly different spin
than usual, Mr. Bloomberg argued to reporters after the conference
that the national attention he is getting and the attendant
presidential speculation is good for the city. "If they speculate
about the presidency and 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. "That's what I was hired for, and that's
what I'm going to do."
Mr. Bloomberg appeared at a conference hosted by the current federal
treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, to examine ways to maintain
America's edge in capital markets in the face of increasing
competition from global financial centers overseas. Participants
included the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett; two
former chairmen of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan and Paul
Volcker; and other financial leaders.
Sitting on a panel next to Mr. Greenspan, the mayor sounded the
loudest alarm about threats to the city and the nation's economic
dominance, moving beyond the conference themes of regulatory policy
and litigation to address deficiencies in immigration, education, and
the widening income gap in America.
"This society cannot be going forward the way we have been going
forward, where the gap between the rich and poor keeps growing," he
said. "It's not politically viable, it's not morally right, and it's
just not going to happen."
Mr. Bloomberg said the government needs to allow hundreds of thousands
more skilled workers to immigrate every year, and he cited what he
called the "abject failure of public education in this country" as
setting America back in the global battle for economic supremacy.
It was those remarks that got the attention of Mr. Rubin, a former
Goldman Sachs executive who served as treasury secretary to President
Clinton. "I was most interested in Mike Bloomberg raising this to
another level," he said. "It sounded like something a presidential
candidate would do."
The atmosphere was friendly for Mr. Bloomberg, who thrived in the
business world as the founder of a financial news and information
company. His fellow panelists referred to him not as "Mayor Bloomberg"
but as "Mike," and he frequently appeared to switch hats between
speaking as a municipal leader and as a businessman.
The panelists also discussed the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley
Act of 2002, the law Congress enacted to address Enron and other
corporate scandals, which has drawn criticism for the high costs of
compliance it has imposed on companies.
"We are doing a lot of things that I regard as unnecessary" as a
result of the added regulation, Mr. Buffett said, citing the steep
cost of auditing fees and the attention diverted from issues material
to the companies he owns.
Mr. Greenspan warned that too much regulation could hamper the
flexibility that allowed the economy to rebound quickly from the stock
market crash of 1987 and the attacks of September 11, 2001. The
panelists also focused on litigation, as several said tort reform was
key to improving conditions for business in America and keeping
companies from heading overseas.
Yet despite the complaints about Sarbanes-Oxley, there appeared to be
little support for repealing it among some top executives. The head of
General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, said he and other leaders were not
out to push for a "rollback" of regulation.