Bloomberg Sounds Like a Presidential Hopeful
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent a lot of time denying that he's interested in running for president. The speculation was fueled by the announcement that he has left the Republican Party and become an independent.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg admitted he was flattered by all the media attention.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York): I thought, you know, I'm not running for president and I'm going to be mayor the next 925 days. But there's a reason why my picture was there. They thought that I would be a credible candidate. They must think that I'm doing a decent job.
NORRIS: All denials aside, the prospect of a billionaire joining the presidential race will keep the declared contenders looking over their shoulders.
Bob Hennelly from member station WNYC has this profile of Michael Bloomberg.
BOB HENNELLY: It was the annual dinner of the prestigious Foreign Policy Association at the Pierre Hotel. The lists of past guest speakers includes the movers and shakers of the global scene going back decades. But domestic successes are also recognized.
Last night, it was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's turn. The self-made billionaire won the group's gold medal for improving the city's public schools after decades of decline. John Whitehead, the event's honorary chair, introduced the mayor.
Mr. JOHN WHITEHEAD (Honorary Chairman, Foreign Policy Association's Annual Dinner): His record as mayor speaks for itself - major crime has dropped 30 percent, test scores and graduation rates are up, construction is booming, the deficit has become a surplus...
(Soundbite of applause)
HENNELLY: As usual, Mayor Bloomberg, a consummate team builder from his corporate days, credited others who worked for the administration. Then he offered the internationalist crowd his take on immigration.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: We are a nation of immigrants and if we don't continue to bring in four, five hundred thousand people a year, nobody's going to be around to pay your social security. We have to let the best and the brightest come here, we just have to stop this craziness and understand who we are and not be so threatened by terrorism that the terrorists win without firing a shot. I think sadly, that's what they're doing.
HENNELLY: Even dinner attendees who already had their presidential pick, liked the idea of having Bloomberg in the mix. They want perennial issues, like the flood of illegal handguns and health care to get attention. Long before he became mayor, he was one of the nation's leading public health philanthropists. On this topic, he's passionate.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: We're a country that pays people to die early. We spent 50 percent more than Western Europe does on health care and live 40 years less; it's one of the great wastes of money. Nobody's willing to talk about those things.
HENNELLY: Bloomberg's boosters are betting the nation wants competence more than ideology. Noel Lateef is the CEO and president of the Foreign Policy Association. He is hoping Bloomberg will run.
Mr. NOEL LATEEF (CEO and President, Foreign Policy Association): I think the country is looking for someone who is prepared to look at the tough challenges facing it domestically and abroad from a non-partisan perspective.
HENNELLY: And supporters say the rising fortunes of New York City should be proof positive that the mayor's approach works. On a recent trip to New York City, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, himself a potential presidential candidate, had high praise for Bloomberg.
Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Republican Representative, Georgia): The truth is, that the extraordinary achievements of New York City over the last 12 or 15 years are proof that you can get government to be effective.
HENNELLY: Behind the scenes, the biggest change Mayor Bloomberg made early on was shutting the trapping of a big office with a door. Rather, he and his staff all share a cavernous space with no partitions that he calls a bullpen. In a one-on-one interview during his last campaign, the mayor said it was about equality and easing accessibility.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: The bullpen requires, I think, a lot of confidence in yourself because everybody can see you. The interesting thing is that people that are sort of forced to work on the bullpen get that confidence.
HENNELLY: And while some politicians talk about the value of the bully pulpit and others use the tabloid smack down, Bloomberg advocates schmoozing.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: You can walk up, smack them upside the face and then ask for something, or you can walk up and you can make nice to them - in the terminology of the street - and then I asked him for something. Which do you think is going to be more effective?
HENNELLY: These days, Michael Bloomberg chuckles at all the media hype, leaving the Republican' Party landed him right in the middle of the action.
For NPR News, I'm Bob Hennelly, in New York.
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