The mayor and the race for the White House

Behind The News
February 28, 2008 1:00:17 PM PST
He is first and foremost a businessman. If he weren't, there's no way Michael Bloomberg would have built a giant media information company that has landed him with a net worth many people estimate at more than $10 billion. (Forbes puts him north of $5 or $6 billion -- for most of us, the difference doesn't matter; but among people of that financial ilk, the gap is substantial.)

Anyway, you don't make that much money without knowing something about winning and losing.

Bloomberg knew that as an unknown in a Democratic town, he'd have no chance of becoming Mayor. So, this life-long Democrat switched parties in 2000 and ran as a Republican.

Hey, he's a businessman -- does it matter what party he belongs to? Businessmen think of the bottom line, and the bottom line for Michael R. Bloomberg at the turn of the century was he wanted to become Mayor.

So he ran in the party where he could get the nomination.

And a funny thing happened to Bloomberg in the those first couple of years. His poll numbers were horrendous -- an 18.5% property tax hike will do that, even though it was the right thing at the time -- but he found that he loved the job. Loved politics. Loved the rough and tumble, which wasn't so much rougher than the world of business. In fact, in some ways, it was less rough.

You could tell right away when you talked to him -- or, in our case, when we interviewed him. This guy got the bug -- in a way that he didn't when he first ran for office.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when -- faced with a term limit end to his tenure -- Bloomberg started toying with the notion of running for President.

Money wasn't an issue -- he would be beholden to no one other than his interest-bearing checking account.

He had already started and run a business, already had the second most powerful elected job in the country -- so why not go for the big enchilada?

His friends - and by friends I mean other wealthy people -- urged him to run.

There were informal meetings aplenty -- and what emerged was a Bloomberg intrigued with the notion of taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The key, people close to him said, was that he wouldn't run unless he thought he could win.

And he clearly couldn't get the nomination as a Republican. It was one thing to become a Republican in the most Democratic city in the country. It would be quite another to capture the party's nomination nationwide.

After all, it was the Democrats who elected Bloomberg twice as Mayor. New Yorkers are not hesitant about electing Republican mayors. Can you say Giuliani and Lindsay?

But just think of the problem Giuliani had with the party's conservative base. Bloomberg would have that problem in spades.

He's far more socially liberal than Giuliani ever thought of being. And he was never really comfortable with the Grand Old Party, anyway.

Remember Bloomberg's welcome-to-New-York speech to the 2004 Republican Convention? It was early in the morning, before the TV cameras were rolling. He came, gave his speech, and then got out of there faster than you could say George W. Bush.

And Bloomberg, citing other pressing matters, was no where to be seen for the convention, except for those quick hope-you-all-are-having-a-good-time welcoming remarks.

So it was no surprise when Bloomberg last year ditched the Republican Party and registered as an Independent.

And he became, because of his job and his money, the leading symbol for Independents.

Then John McCain -- whom arch conservatives disdain -- became the presumptive Republican nominee. And Barack Obama's express train got rolling. Suddenly, Bloomberg's window of political opportunity was shutting quickly.

Today, he chose the op-ed pages of The New York Times (that he didn't chose The Sun says much about his real politics) to announce, with not an inch of wiggle room, that he would not seek the Presidency.

But he says he wants to be involved -- and offer his support -- to any candidate who takes an independent, bi-partisan approach to solving the country's problems.

And so, at least for now, Bloomberg continues the New York City Hall curse: no Mayor has gone on to higher office since 1868, when Mayor John Hoffman was elected Governor of New York.

Tonight at 11, we'll have the latest on Bloomberg's decision -- and news from the campaign trail, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama head to next Tuesday's primaries.

Also at 11, we're following the story of an infant girl, found in the back of a livery cab. The driver who discovered the baby took her to a firehouse. But who is this baby, and who is the mother?

And a fascinating story out of a middle school in Whitehouse Township, that's in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

Some eighth graders - 40 of them -- felt especially prankful today, and they all decided to pay for their lunches today in pennies.

Here's what happened, according to our assignment editor Howard Price, who headlines this tale as "A Penny Saved, A Penny Spurned."

Says Howard: "The kids -- all in different classes -- enjoyed the joke, a prank the school district's Assistant Superintendent described to Eyewitness News as a 'challenge.' But the cafeteria staff was not amused. After all, they had to count every penny on every sale. And the delays on the lunch line, according to school officials, built up to such a point that some students in the school didn't get to buy lunch at all.

"The school's Vice Principal spoke with the 40 penny-pinchers -- to praise the good efforts of the lunchroom staff, to explain the implications of the students' adventure, and to ask that they not do it again.

"School officials concede the penny is legal U.S. tender, and they certainly give the kids points for creativity. But they say such pranks are disruptive to the smooth running of the cafeteria."

That admonition would have been fine, it seems to me, for eighth graders. But the school didn't let it rest at that; all of the students involved in the prank were slapped with two after-school detentions. It's not as bad as a suspension; but punishing kids for using legal tender seems a bit harsh.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports, including the latest on the FBI's investigation into Roger Clemens and whether he lied to Congress about not taking steroids.

One other note: I'm off on Friday, so this column will resume on Monday.

BILL RITTER


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