N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg Drops GOP Affiliation

Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped his Republican Party membership to become unaffiliated. The news has many wondering if he's planning a run for the White House. Bob Hennelly, a reporter at member station WNYC, talks with Renee Montagne.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Six years ago this month, Michael Bloomberg, then a candidate for mayor of New York City, explained why he switched his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): The way the system is today is if I want to change the world, I've got to get to November, and the Republican Party and the Independence Party offered me the opportunity to do that.

MONTAGNE: Very practical. Now Mayor Bloomberg is leaving the Republican Party. He announced yesterday that he was dropping his Republican affiliation - a move that set off speculation that he may seek an independent bid for the presidency.

Joining us now is Bob Hennelly of member station WNYC in New York. For the past three years, he's been covering Mayor Mike, as the mayor has been dubbed by the city's tabloids.

Good morning.

BOB HENNELLY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Here is how Mayor Bloomberg explained his decision. I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead this city. What is the significance of this move, and why now?

HENNELLY: I think it has to do with the fact that Michael Bloomberg is a lame duck. We're term limited here in New York, and this is an opportunity for him to have an effect on the national dialogue. Traditionally, in this period of time running up to a presidential selection in the partisan parties, they have to - the Republicans have to go to the right. The Democrats have to go to the left. We know the script.

Bloomberg, I think, wants to change that. And I think there's an analysis in his camp that, at this point, America's kind of stuck, abroad and at home. And so, if they can emphasize the competence they feel he's displayed, it'll trump the ideology that has, in his worldview, America is stuck right now.

MONTAGNE: Let's back up a moment. Tell us a little about Michael Bloomberg's background leading up to how he came to be mayor of New York.

HENNELLY: It's a real Horatio Alger story. He came out of Massachusetts, John Hopkins undergrad, worked his way through school parking cars - came out of a situation where he read the fact that there was an opportunity to use communication in a new way to get critical information to financial decision makers, and was - and this approach was very unconventional, thought out of the box and became a billionaire in the process. This is a story Americans love.

MONTAGNE: How would you describe his tenure as mayor, and his political views during this time?

HENNELLY: I think that has always - he didn't really change his political views. He was very pragmatic about seeing the fact that, oh, well. There is too much competition to be a Democrat in this city and win the nomination, so I think I'll be a Republican. And so he went about governing from the center, and in the process he made it clear that he was pro-choice, he was for gun rights, he was for gay rights. And he also managed the city in a way that made it governorable in the sense that big problems that had always confounded people, he broke up into smaller, bite-sized ones, if you will. The big breakthrough, for instance, was the 311 complaint line.

In a city as sprawling as New York City, he was able to provide a situation where citizens could call in and say what bothered them, and they could get real-time help. This became a great management tool because the stuff that couldn't be managed, they could get their arms around.

MONTAGNE: It's intriguing that Mayor Bloomberg made his announcement out here in California after - just after he's been on stage with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's also an independent-minded Republican. How do you read that?

HENNELLY: Well, I look at the fact that it was also timed with the cover on Time magazine, where Governor Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg where depicted arm in arm with the caption, who needs Washington, intimating that Washington - as Bloomberg said out there - is a swamp dysfunction, which gets us into things like Katrina and the idea that we're stuck in Iraq. So basically, it was perfectly timed to make him a cause celebre on the other coast. And that's the first thing he needs to do in order to be a national player.

MONTAGNE: And, yes or no, running or not running for president.

HENNELLY: Well, here's the nice thing about this, because this man never leaves any money on the table. He does not, as a practical matter, have to do anything official until May of 2008. That's a lot of news cycles from now, because he has to file in Texas some 43,000 signatures by May to get on the ballot. And most of the other ballot processes kick off in July and August of 08. At that point, the people around him believe there will be candidate fatigue. Because of the front-loaded primaries in February, we'll know who the major parties have nominated. And as I said, there'll be a lot of time for the fourth estate to do its job, and at that point, that he believes that people will have major party fatigue.

MONTAGNE: Bob, thanks very much.

HENNELLY: Thanks so much.

MONTAGNE: Bob Hennelly of member station WNYC.

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