Last Stop for the Bloomberg '08 Express?

NORMAN, Okla.—Michael Bloomberg’s appearance here at a forum on bipartisanship may go down as the moment the serious speculation about his presidential ambitions finally came to an end.

New York media outlets (including The Observer) sent reporters to the University of Oklahoma to cover it, including four from The New York Times alone: one hard news correspondent, one editorial writer, one “just there for color” and another doing research for a book about the mayor. When the panel organizers announced via e-mail the event would end at 1 p.m., instead of the originally scheduled noon, The Daily News and New York Post switched their flights in order to stay in Oklahoma an extra night, fearing there wasn’t enough time to file what they expected to be major national stories and still get to the airport on time.

The conference participants seemed to find it all amusing.

At one point, Bob Graham, the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate, pointed out to reporters that not even Theodore Roosevelt could get elected as an independent president. Asked if Bloomberg should say once and for all that he’s not running, Mr. Graham said, “I thought that’s what he did today. Isn’t that what he said? Why don’t you believe what the man said?”

For the record, Mr. Bloomberg had responded to a question about what he would do to promote unity if he ran for higher office by saying, “Look, I’m not a candidate, number one. I’m a former businessman and a mayor.” This was perfectly consistent with the mayor’s other public statements on the matter, which were mostly various forms of dismissal.

Of course, the mayor has been having it both ways. He has been traveling the country giving speeches on national policy and, recently, criticizing the existing field of presidential candidates. One explanation of this is that he is merely using the speculation about a potential billion-dollar independent campaign to stave off lame-duck irrelevance. Another is that he actually hasn’t made up his mind.

But if this is the case, events are rapidly passing him by. For one thing, as of this writing, New Hampshire was witnessing heavy turnout for its primaries, roughly 40 percent of whom were independents. Whatever else that may indicate, it’s not a sign of desperate yearning for an alternative to what the major parties have on offer.

Even at the bipartisanship forum—a meeting of a 17-member group of Democratic, Republican and independent elected officials unhappy with the current state of politics—there was precisely zero detectable enthusiasm for a Bloomberg bid in 2008.

Former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman said before the conference that she had no interest in it being a vehicle for Bloomberg ’08, and after the panel discussion she walked right off stage, pointedly ignoring shouted questions from reporters.

Later, conference host David Boren (a former senator) told a group of reporters surrounding him, “I’ll put it to you this way. I take the mayor at his word. I don’t really think the mayor wants to run. Does that mean the mayor would never run if the system, if he still views the system as failing? I think he’s a good American, and I don’t think he’ll close the door on it if he thought it was his duty.”

He added, “I don’t think he has the ambition to run for president. And I think he hopes like the rest of us—hope against hope—that the two parties will rise to the occasion.

“Every indication I have is he does not have a burning desire to run for president of the United States. He does not have an ambition to run for president of the United States,” said Boren. “I think he hopes that the system will work without his having to do that.”

And here, talking at the conference, was Bloomberg himself:

“I think all the members of the panel are optimistic that the candidates will listen to us and will understand there is a deep need in this country and a deep desire among the electorate to have candidates face the big issues. And if we can be a little bit of a catalyst along those lines, then we really have accomplished something. And you’ll never know whether they’re changed because of us or didn’t change in spite of us. Who knows?”

And that, it seemed, was that.

Last Stop for the Bloomberg '08 Express?