Mayor Michael Bloomberg is perfecting his own two-step, denying the notion that he’s interested in making a bid for national office while using his elevated quasi-presidential platform to discuss distinctly national issues and politics.
This afternoon, Bloomberg gave the performance in front of one his largest audiences yet.
In his first public remarks since dropping his Republican affiliation and sparking a whole new wave of theories about whether and how he might enter the 2008 presidential race, Bloomberg faced more than a dozen television cameras, a gaggle of kneeling photographers and squinting reporters studying any sign of a shift towards a potential candidacy.
Fidgeting with a pen and propping his elbows up on a cubicle wall off to the side, Bloomberg’s closest political aide, Kevin Sheekey — the operative responsible for starting the whole Bloomberg for president storyline early last year — watched the fruits of his labor ripen.
At the press conference on Maiden Lane about the city’s 311 service receiving its 50-millionth caller, Bloomberg again made a show of exasperation with questions about his presidential plans.
“I have said that my intention is to be mayor for the next 925 days and ten hours, whatever is left,” Bloomberg said. “That is my intention. I have the greatest job in the world and I am going to keep doing it.”
Reporters pushed him further, asking what he would do if, come February, the country ended up dissatisfied with the candidates that the two parties offered.
“Number one, I don’t know that you will have a decision on February 5 and 6, it may turn out the states that waited longer are the ones that have a better opportunity to influence,” said Bloomberg. “But I’m confident that this country will have options. I do think the more people who run for office the better and then as we narrow it down, people will I think pick and choose and the choices will look good and hopefully this country is smart enough to pick somebody to lead this country forward.”
Later, Bloomberg’s attention was called to his standing in national polls.
“I think they are wasting their time — I’m not a candidate,” he said. “So they should get down to polling people who are candidates, and there are a lot of them in this country. We even have two people in New York who are candidates for president of the United States. I’m not sure that the state needs a third.”
Asked whether he had ever put his own impressive polling operation to the task of judging how he would fair in a presidential election, Bloomberg gave a mixed response.
“We have never done any national polling,” he said. “I have tried to find out the big issues for Republicans and Democrats. Interestingly enough, the issues tend to be exactly the same thing. They don’t care about these litmus-test issues.”
Bloomberg then weighed in on issues that certainly seem outside the purview of a New York City mayor, explaining, “I feel very strongly I should be out there talking about those issues that influence New York City and that are dealt with at a national level.”
On the subject of foreign policy and Iraq, he said, “Overseas, this country is the only remaining superpower. It does have responsibilities and one of the things that bothers me is that at the moment we don’t have the recourses or the will.”
“The last thing you ever want to be,” he added, “is a superpower with your hands tied.”
He continued: “Particularly about Iraq, we keep talking about how we got to where we are rather than how we are going to go forward.” And, he added, “I think all the candidates should say what they would do.”
He discussed America’s involvement in Iraq in terms of maintaining energy supplies, protecting large and small democracies and “countries that aren’t democracies but are peaceful now.”
He also hinted at a humanitarian interventionist streak: “We to be sure we don’t allow genocide to continue. You want to go back and look at what happened in the 30s when this country didn’t stand up and do what it should have done.”
Along those lines, he expressed wariness about the prospect of a nuclear Iran, but then seemed to suggest that diplomacy was the best route to take to keep Tehran from developing nuclear capabilities.
“I don’t think it would be in anyone’s interest, including Iran, for Iran to have nuclear weapons,” he said.
Addressing the country’s domestic concerns, he said that the country was slipping in science, medicine, education and economics.
“I don’t think we are addressing those issues,” he said.
He brought up immigration, saying that the current intolerance of immigrants in the country posed a threat to the nation’s chances for innovation. “I feel very strongly that this is a country built by immigrants and we cannot forget that,” he said. “We are keeping the best and the brightest from coming here.”
But Bloomberg has been speaking out about such issues, including gun control, and global warming for some time now. Why did he now feel the need to drop the R?
“I’m going to speak out on those issues and by not being affiliated with a party, I think I’ll have a better opportunity to do that,” he said.