On a Bloomberg Candidacy

The press is all a twitter about the possibility of a Bloomberg presidential bid (see ReutersNew York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times). Despite the New York mayor’s statement that he is not a candidate, his announcement Tuesday that he was leaving the Republican party was seen as precursor to a bid (although it could also make him an acceptable Secretary of the Treasury for a Democratic president).

The stories all stress the odds against a Bloomberg victory, and the likelihood that a run by him would siphon votes away from other candidates, presumably Democrats. Indeed, the fact that I would vote for him is negative indicator, since I have never voted for a winning Presidential candidate (I lodge protest votes).

Why do I like Mike? He’s proof that having someone outside the system in charge can be enormously beneficial. Even though there was considerable doubt about Bloomberg when he was campaigning for mayor, he has proven to be enormously effective, and in a very low key manner.

What most people outside the five boroughs don’t realize is that when Bloomberg assumed office, the city was in a fiscal mess. Despite the late 1990s Wall Street boom, which meant low unemployment and high business profits across the city, Giuliani did nothing to address the deficit, which shot up during the dot com aftermath and the post 9/11 paralysis that seized the city. Bloomberg managed to bring the city into surplus by 2005. Yes, he was aided by a very strong year on Wall Street, but Rudy had had a longer run of good years than that and failed to use it to advantage.

His tenure hasn’t been perfect; the police were very heavy handed during the Republican convention; he backed a plan to build a stadium on the West side of Manhattan which seemed more good for business than for the city; he is pushing congestion pricing, which while probably necessary, is terribly regressive. But he has also built bridges to black leaders and handled some potentially explosive incidents with skill, created the first long-term and environmentally oriented plan for any major city, managed to get control of education and had made considerable progress, and has led a remarkably scandal free administration.

My perception is that Bloomberg is running for the right reasons. He thinks the country is in a mess and believes he can make things better. He has very little ego for someone in his position (perhaps putting his name on the Bloomberg terminal took care of that). And at this juncture, it probably takes someone who hasn’t been bought and paid for by special interests to take on the tough issues facing this country: health care, income disparity and declining social mobility, and Iraq.

Bloomberg is acutely aware of this risk and his aides report on his stringent criteria for entering the race:

A Bloomberg aide tells ABC News there is a four-part test for the mayor to decide whether or not he’ll get into the race after the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are chosen next spring.

First, both party’s nominees need to have unfavorable ratings at least in the 40s. Second, 70 percent of the nation needs to think the country is headed in the wrong direction, as is the case currently. We’re there right now. Third, at least 60 percent of those polled need to have their minds open to a possible third-party bid. Lastly, 20 percent to 25 percent need to be open to the notion of President Mike Bloomberg. If those four criteria are met, Bloomberg will throw his hat into the ring.

While the process of getting on the ballot in all 50 states, the lack of a party infrastructure to rely on, and the hurdles created by the “winner take all” within a state by the Electoral College system, pundits may have underestimated the weaknesses of the existing candidates:

1. This is the first time in a very long time that neither a former President or Vice President is running

2. None of the current candidates, save Rudy Guiliani, has any executive experience. The last time a legislator was elected president was John Kennedy (and it is widely believed now that the Democratic party fixed that election by stealing key precincts in Texas and Illinois).

3. Many states have moved their primaries earlier so as not to be irrelevant (there was a widespread sentiment that Kerry developed the perception of being annointed without being adequately tested). Having the bulk of the primaries early, with a long gap to the party conventions, will give Bloomberg a reading early enough on who the winner will be and how the public reacts to him/her to enable him to throw his hat into the ring

4. None of the current candidates is worthy. The best the Republicans have is McCain, and he is unelectable by virtue of his age and having toed the Bush line too closely of late. Rudy is deranged (we New Yorkers know that firsthand). Romney might be electable, but he is remarkably thin on any substantive policies, and his statements on the Middle East and torture are frighteningly ill informed. Ron Paul was refreshing, but the party machinery turned on him, quickly. The fact that Fred Thompson is gaining ground says how weak the rest are. On the Democratic side, despite his considerable charisma, Obama is dangerously unseasoned, and (although I admire his nerve for putting forth a detailed and substantive health care plan) Edwards, while with more legislative experience, is similarly wanting. While Hillary appears certain to win unless she makes a huge gaffe, she carries a lot of baggage. And the fact that the election cycle is so prolonged will put a spotlight on all the candidates’ warts

5. Bloomberg would outspend anyone. This advantage should not be underestimated. The press so far has said Bloomberg would spend up to $500 million. My sources have said the real number is more like $1 to $2 billion. Given that he spent $72 million on his first mayoral race, that sort of commitment may well be necessary. By contrast, Perot spent only $29 million

At this juncture, Bloomberg’s criteria for running are not met. But if the economy continues to deteriorate, dissatisfaction will increase, making a third party more viable. And Hillary will likely become more polarizing with more exposure.

But even if Bloomberg in the end does not run, his presence on the sideline through the primary season will force all the candidates to sharpen their game. That alone will be of some help this election cycle.

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