Monday, October 12, 2009

Seeing What Works: The Tiger of Ambition In Bloomberg

One of the first jokes I remember my father telling me is a pretty well known-one: Most of you have probably heard a version of it by now:
A man is sitting on a bus watching another man read his newspaper. Whenever the man reading the newspaper finishes reading a page he crumples it up into a ball and throws it out the window of the bus.

Finally, the man watching can’t restrain himself any longer. “Why are you crumpling the newspaper pages into balls and throwing them out the window?” He asks.

“To keep the tigers away,” the other man responds.

“There are no tigers on Fifth Avenue!” says the first man incredulously.

“See! It works!” responds the second.
We bring this up in the context of the question of whether New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will run for president against Barack Obama in 2012. We have suggested that Mr. Obama ought to be concerned and watching his back. (See: Saturday, October 3, 2009, What Purnick Has Purged: The Bloomberg Bio Mysteriously Missing Atlantic Yards and Sunday, October 11, 2009, Thompson’s Campaign: Lacking a Clarion Message, Plus Issues of Confused “Respect”)

We had a conversation with someone whose opinion we very much respect who told us “Bloomberg’s not going to run for president; he’d be crazy to.”

We don’t know about that. He showed an interest in running for president, publicly, in 1997. He expressed his interest in becoming mayor in 1997 too. . . And he became mayor. He was definitely clearly still wanting to run for president in 2008. That was not destined to be: That’s the election where Obama got elected. We knew he wanted to run in 2008 from the press reports back then, and now we have been specifically reminded of the details of his 2008 ambition because they are prominently placed in the new book by Bloomberg’s friendly biographer, Joyce Purnick. The details include the fact that Bloomberg was waving a billion dollar check he was offering to pay his own campaign expenses. (That’s an extraordinarily large check that negates the need to do any fund-raising at all. Just so you know.) Purnick even takes Bloomberg’s ambition back further, writing that Bloomberg has “harbored” the “fantasy” to be president “since college.”

Our friend who thinks Bloomberg won’t run said: “Why would he want to take on the nation’s first black president. How would that look? Not a great idea.”

We responded: “He didn’t seem to have any problems about intentionally making things difficult for New York’s first black governor- Though perhaps he wasn’t as open about what he was doing. . .”

We have another friend. He works for a member of the Albany legislature. . . He’s politically savvy- He gets paid for it! A few minutes later we were in contact with him getting his opinion, telling him about the difference of opinion we had with our other friend. “Do I think he won’t run for president? He’s going to run for governor first! Nobody gets to be president by being mayor of New York! But there is an honored tradition of becoming president after being governor of New York. That’s the way to do it.”

Well, as we noted, Bloomberg did help to take the Governor Paterson down a few pegs. And in1997 when Bloomberg expressed his interest in becoming mayor and president he also expressed his interest in becoming governor.
A Digression: In case you are trying to figure this out, the race for governor comes first with the election in 2010 (a year after this year’s race for mayor). If Bloomberg vacates the mayor’s office to go to governor’s mansion in Albany, the line of succession is that the Public Advocate ascends to become mayor. By that time the Public Advocate will almost certainly be Bill de Blasio. You might start thinking about what kind of mayor de Blasio would make if this sounds realistic to you. - Interestingly, just today Bloomberg proposed and then retracted the idea that the office of Public Advocate be abolished. (That would take a City Charter revision.) Was that just hubris? Or was it a campaign tactic, an effort to subliminally plant the idea in the public’s mind that Bloomberg is such an excellent mayor that we can start getting rid of checks and balances that might hold him back?
Is Bloomberg going to run for president against Obama? Our assessment is that there is nothing in the new Purnick biography of Bloomberg that Bloomberg doesn’t want to see there. As we said, she is pretty friendly and she pretty much buys Bloomberg’s self-image. So we don’t think it’s an accident that the book is detailed about Bloomberg’s 2008 ambitions to run for president, including the detail about Bloomberg’s waving of the billion dollar check to catch the attention of whomever might therefore be interested in running him. Suffice it to say that we think the detail of the check is in there because that billion dollar check is still waving.

Then there is the dissing of Obama that’s in the book. That can’t be there by accident either. What tactical reason would the mayor of new York have for planting negative comments about the president of the United States in his biography? Unless it was that Bloomberg wants the idea to take hold that he, Bloomberg, could do a better job.

Do these Purnick bio morsels sound like Bloomberg wants to have people talking about how he could do a better job than Obama? (And does Purnick sound like she is handmaidening his ambition?)
In his own mind [Bloomberg’s], the presidency was a job not for the glamorous, but for a manager, an administrator. (P. 172)
And right after that, (cushioned by an acknowledgment that either of the then likely party-nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, “might turn out to be a great president” ) Purnick gets this quote:
But what the hell do they know about management and dealing with people? Nothing. If you look at my company, why, after all the success that we had before I ran for office would you not think that I couldn't run the government? What the hell do I gotta do to prove myself? Or, after the success my company has had and our administration has had, why do you think I wouldn't be qualified to be president of the United States? I mean, for God's sake, I'm not running, but this is not different.
Though neutral in public about the presidential contest, the mayor privately [“privately”?] called Obama inexperienced at running things and too willing to make political compromises. (p. 180)
And finally, remembering that when Bloomberg first unveiled his political ambitions in his 1997 book he did so by simultaneously denigrating typical politicians:
Bloomberg routinely deplores the corrupting influence of money in other people’s politics. When Barack Obama abandoned his commitment to run with only public subsidies and pending limits, Bloomberg privately [“privately”again?] criticized him for hypocrisy. (p. 202)
Sounds to us just like the “I am great” political tee-up in Bloomberg’s own 1997 book.

Maybe in the end Bloomberg will decide not to run for higher office, not to run for governor and not to again pursue his dream (that goes back to his college days) to be president. Maybe, like our friend we quoted in the beginning said, Bloomberg will decide that it will be a bad idea to run. But if, in the end, Bloomberg decides that it isn’t smart to run you might find us here at Noticing New York, telling you that we helped Bloomie to reach that decision. If Bloomberg doesn’t run, we’d like to think it might have to do with our efforts to convince people that its just not a good idea for Mr. Bloomberg to be in public office. (Do we hear any tigers growling?)

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