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Bloomberg is still on the presidential fence

He says he isn't running. But why do so many people not believe him?

January 07, 2008|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Here's the billion-dollar question about this city's billionaire mayor: Is he going to run for president, or what?

The discussion is playing out on tabloid pages, on radio and television talk shows, and in cafes and bookstores across New York, where everyone seems to have an opinion about the presidential election. And if Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg jumps into the race, they say it will get even more interesting.

"The conversation is, 'Oh, my God, is he going to do this?' " said Nancy Walters, a retired hotel marketing employee who spent Saturday reading about Islamic extremism in a cafe inside a Manhattan Barnes & Noble. He's been preparing his campaign for a long time, she said.

"Bloomberg entering would make a lot of people sweat," said William McConneghy, 44, a broadband cable specialist. "It would be a fight between him and Hillary [Rodham Clinton]. We are all waiting to really see."

From the way Bloomberg has been behaving lately, New Yorkers say he seems to have taken on the role of a presidential candidate, with national television appearances and spur-of-the-moment commentaries on domestic and foreign issues.

But he's not running -- a point he reiterates whenever asked. And that has fueled the public's fascination with if, when or how he might announce his candidacy, sending rumor mills spinning as political analysts scrutinize every move he makes and reporters pack his news conferences.

People paid close attention to Bloomberg's appearance last week on the "Late Show With David Letterman," and they will probably be watching his Thursday cameo on Donald Trump's "The Apprentice."

Television hosts, including Ryan Seacrest of "American Idol," tried to get a straight answer out of Bloomberg during the New Year's Eve countdown. Bloomberg told Seacrest, "I will not run." Three days later, Meredith Vieira of NBC's "Today" show asked him to swear on his daughter Georgina that he wouldn't run. He replied, "I said to Georgina, I'm not running."

One local headline last week read: "I mean it, I'm not Bloomin' running." The columnist went on to poke fun at Bloomberg's comments made in a news conference over the span of a few minutes: "I am not a candidate. . . . I am not a candidate. . . . I am not a candidate. . . . I am not a candidate. . . . I am not a candidate."

Bloomberg is to attend a meeting with a dozen leading Democrats and Republicans at the University of Oklahoma today -- the eve of New Hampshire's primary -- to focus on putting an end to partisan gridlock in Washington. It's a gathering that some say could be a catalyst for a third-party candidacy.

On the evening before the Iowa caucuses last week, Bloomberg took time out of a news conference about the city's drop in teen smoking to criticize the presidential candidates and push an independent agenda, saying he wanted "to end the partisanship and special-interest influence that has just frozen progress in this country and is really destroying our reputation overseas."

Bloomberg's team has created Facebook and MySpace pages and revamped his website. Last year, the mayor visited China to talk about commerce, Indonesia to talk about climate change, Mexico to talk about poverty, and Texas to talk about energy and oil.

Last summer, he dropped his Republican affiliation while visiting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.

Joseph Mercurio, a New York-based political consultant, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks catapulted Bloomberg and his predecessor, GOP presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani -- two politicians rooted in domestic experience -- into leadership roles that forced them to deal with terrorism and war.

"No other mayor in the U.S. can come close," Mercurio said, "and that is why these two mayors receive so much attention."

If Bloomberg entered the race, joining Giuliani and New York Sen. Clinton, a Democrat seeking the party's presidential nomination, "it would be wildly exciting for New Yorkers."

Bloomberg has the "best of both possible worlds," said David Birdsell, a political science professor at Baruch College in Manhattan. The media are paying attention, Birdsell said, as Bloomberg touts his success as mayor and promotes his policies and beliefs about handling poverty, the environment, healthcare and education, while avoiding the scrutiny that comes with competing in an election.

"It's a great place for him to be," Birdsell said. "But he can't stay there forever. At some stage . . . he's got to declare."

Reading the newspaper at a Manhattan Starbucks, Harry Kolbe, 74, a lifelong New Yorker and a Democrat, said he would vote for Bloomberg.

"In my lifetime, he's the best mayor this city has had," Kolbe said. "Race and gender are invisible issues for him; he doesn't discriminate."

People pay attention to Bloomberg because "there's something about him," Walters said. "Even though he's one of the richest men in the world . . . even though he's arrogant, there's no question: He's a real guy. He takes care of his mother. He rides the subway even though he doesn't have to."

Although Walters said she admired and respected Bloomberg, she didn't want him to run.

"He's done great things for the city," she said, "but I think if he enters the race as an independent, he's going to be Ralph Nader and he's going to elect a Republican president, and that's not what I want."


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