For Michael Bloomberg, the Republican Party was the political equivalent of a two-door hatchback: It served a purpose, it got him where he needed to go, but he always looked a little cramped and never overly comfortable with his fellow passengers.
Now, of course, the two-term Mayor has traded in the old heap for an expensive and more-fashionable vehicle known as political independence. His decision made sense, and yet was stunning all the same. Politicians have been known to switch parties in the past—John Lindsay did so as Mayor of New York, and both Mr. Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, were Democrats at one point in their lives. But rarely do politicians renounce parties on principle.
Then again, not many politicians have the financial resources and political gumption of the businessman turned Mayor. Mr. Bloomberg renounced his membership in the Republican Party for the same reason that George Steinbrenner rents aging pitchers: because he can.
The Mayor’s decision may mean nothing, in which case the planet has been denuded of perfectly good woodlands for no good reason, casualties of print journalism’s attempt to explain its greater significance.
The second possibility, of course, is that the Mayor is preparing to run for President in 2008 as an independent candidate—which means as a possible alternative to his fellow New Yorkers Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani.
Another possibility has it that Mr. Bloomberg, who cannot run for a third term in 2009 because of the city’s two-term limit, is positioning himself for a big job with the next President.
It’s hard to believe that the Mayor’s decision means nothing. It would seem equally unlikely that he would need to position himself for an appointed job in a future administration. Given his achievements in public and private life, Mr. Bloomberg is a hot political property who will be on any incoming President’s A list of possible advisors.
So, then, it comes down to Election ’08, and a possible, not to say quixotic, independent Presidential candidacy by a man whose name was unknown to most Americans six years ago.
Only Mr. Bloomberg knows how serious all of this is, and perhaps even he doesn’t know. But one thing is certain: As long as people are chattering about Mike Bloomberg and the White House, it means they are chattering about New York City. And that’s a good thing.
For decades now, New York City has functioned as an A.T.M. for prospective Presidential candidates. They’d fly in for a fund-raising event, deliver generic remarks that contained only the slightest hints that they knew what city they were in, and they’d fly out, checks in hand. New York City generated cash, not discussion.