Bloomberg's re-election bid to start next year

October 24, 2008 2:44:12 PM PDT
Mayor Michael Bloomberg pulled off a stunning victory Thursday in getting New York City's term-limits law changed so that he can run for a third term, but the billionaire isn't likely to start campaigning until he mends some frayed relationships. The former CEO accomplished one of his greatest legislative wins in convincing a divided City Council to back his bill, which gives officeholders the option of running for a third consecutive four-year term.

Bloomberg's chief argument to do it quickly, and without voter approval, was that his financial background is crucial to leading the city through the fallout from the economic crisis.

New Yorkers can expect this message to be the framework for his re-election bid when the Bloomberg campaign officially gets rolling next year, aides and associates say.

Right now, Bloomberg is focused on repairing relationships with his detractors. He and his deputies have already begun reaching out to city council members, union leaders and other influential New Yorkers.

"We've all got to work together, and I think we all will," he said Friday on his weekly radio show.

This diplomacy effort has two goals: He needs help when he begins making cuts and other unpopular moves to bridge widening budget deficits, such as possibly raising taxes. He also wants to rebuild support for his eventual re-election bid.

The 66-year-old mayor, whose first foray into politics was just eight years ago, said it's no different from the approach he took in the private sector. He founded the multibillion-dollar financial data firm Bloomberg LP and is reported to be worth an estimated $20 billion.

"In business, sometimes you're in partnership with your competitor on one thing but compete on another. You sell to your competitor on one product and buy from them on another," Bloomberg said. "It's not this black and white, good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black hats from the old movies."

While Bloomberg won't be campaigning publicly, the wheels on his political operation will soon start turning.

Some of his former strategists, advisers and political gurus had already begun working for the mayor to help him win the term-limits fight, and after November they quietly will begin shifting gears to his campaign.

For Bloomberg's last re-election effort, a bare bones campaign team worked out of a temporary office space in December, and a larger staff started moving into a sleek 19,000 square-foot headquarters in January 2005.

The billionaire's campaign budget for the 2009 race has not been determined because he typically does not set a limit. In 2001, when predictions were that he was willing to spend $20 million but likely would not go above $30 million, he shattered records and dropped $74 million.

Four years later, he set a new bar, pouring $85.1 million into a re-election effort that ended in a landslide victory.

The mayor hinted on Friday that he isn't likely to be pinching pennies for his third campaign.

"It's expensive to get your message out, and I can see that down the road, but that's a long ways from now," he said. "What I've got to do is make sure that I've got a good message, so I'm going to focus on that."

He is certain to break spending records again in advertising. In 2005, he was on the airwaves by mid-May - uncharacteristically early for citywide races. By the end of the race, he had spent more than $31 million on television advertising alone, plus another $3.6 million on print and radio ads.

In comparison, his opponent relied on donations and public funds, and spent about $9 million.

Bloomberg's lavish spending will be another hurdle for him to overcome during his re-election campaign.

The opposition to his term-limits changes tried to paint him as an out-of-touch billionaire who ignores the will of the people and rules like a dictator, twisting arms to get what he wants.

During a heated debate before the council vote on Thursday, council members, one after another, accused Bloomberg of arrogance, manipulation and making deals to fix the results from the beginning.

"His legacy will be forever tainted," said Councilman Charles Barron. "And the people have long memories."