Bloomberg and Booker, a Love Fest

David Gregory touted the joint appearance of Michael Bloomberg and Cory Booker on Sunday’s Meet the Press as an opportunity to discuss the “economy and the president's stimulus plan and their impact on big cities across the country.”

But mostly it was an opportunity for the two mayors, cross-generational allies who lead vastly different cities separated by a 20-minute PATH ride, to give each other a few politically beneficial pats on the back.

Take Gregory’s first question on the economy to Bloomberg, about whether a recovery might be under way.

Bloomberg replied that he first wanted to “say something about what Cory can't say, but it happens to be true. He has one of the most difficult jobs in America.  He’s taken over a city where you've had many years of underinvestment and lack of foresight and terrible government, and he really is the future of Newark.  With him, they have a chance to rectify things.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Bloomberg made sure to sing Booker’s praises on the subjects of gun control, tort reform, reducing health care costs, and economic competition with foreign cities.

When it was his turn to speak, Booker was happy to reciprocate. Praising Bloomberg for launching Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Booker said, “This is an American issue, it's a left-right issue and another coalition that Mayor Bloomberg has pulled together across party aisles.” He also heralded a poll of gun owners as evidence of “Mayor Bloomberg—again—his extraordinary leadership.”

But he saved his best for last, volunteering near the end of the segment that “I have endorsed Mayor Bloomberg. He's a Republican. We cast our country too simplistically in left-right debates.  He's been a leader in bringing America together around gun issues that are sensible for all Americans.  He's brought people together around lowering carbon footprints in cities, the left-right coalition. This is the way we need to move forward.”

Gregory even joined in the fun at one point, reading a recent Booker “tweet” in which the Newark mayor playfully suggested that his New York counterpart mimic him and Washington mayor Adrian Fenty by shaving his head. It was all smiles.

What exactly was going on here? After all, if Meet the Press had really been interested only in a report card on stimulus activity in American cities, invitations could have been extended to mayors who might have offered more pointed comments and not turned the segment into a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society.

But those other mayors wouldn’t have provided the same ratings punch as Bloomberg, the leader of the nation’s largest city, and Booker, the telegenic media darling who’s already starred in an Oscar-nominated film. Very understandably, star power won out.

Once they were booked together, the on-air love-fest became inevitable. Booker and Bloomberg are friends and allies, each keenly aware of the political benefits of his association with the other.

Start with the 40-year-old Booker, whose political aspirations extend far beyond the mayor’s office that he finally claimed in 2007, after a nearly decade-long pursuit. He’s been smart about positioning himself, rejecting numerous entreaties to join Jon Corzine’s (probably) doomed ticket in this year’s gubernatorial election. His big move figures to come in 2013, when the Democratic gubernatorial nomination will be wide open.

An alliance with Bloomberg gives Booker invaluable credibility with the suburban New Jersey voters who look on Newark with disapproval and condescension. Booker won many of these voters over back in 2002, when he emerged as every suburbanites’ favorite Newark politician—the young, brilliant and urbane reformer standing up for clean government against Sharpe James’ ruthless machine. As the joke went, Booker lost Newark in that election, but won the rest of New Jersey.

But preserving that image is a little tricky now that he’s actually mayor. Any bad news that comes out of Newark is now a potential threat to Booker’s Golden Boy status in the suburbs.

That’s where Bloomberg comes in. To New Jerseyans, who mostly know New York as commuters and day- (or night-) trippers, Bloomberg is immensely popular—a strong, capable master of efficiency who has tamed a massive bureaucracy. For a time in the ’90s, it was said that the most popular politician in New Jersey was Rudy Giuliani. Today, Bloomberg could probably make a run for that title.

So it’s quite helpful to Booker when Bloomberg goes on national television to remind viewers that Booker “has one of the most difficult jobs in America.” The message to suburban New Jersey might just as well be: Hey, even if he doesn’t turn it around, what can he really do? It’s Newark, for God’s sake.

It’s a nice partnership for Bloomberg, too. The chief threat to his reelection bid is the overwhelming registration advantage in the city that Democrats enjoy—and the reflexive loyalty of many of those Democrats to their party’s line, no matter how much they might like the other candidate in the race. This is a major reason why Bloomberg’s lead over his Democratic foe, the almost invisible Bill Thompson, was just 10 points in a recent poll.

The effusive support of Booker, a nationally prominent Democrat, makes it that much easier for New York Democrats to defy the party line. That Booker, like Thompson, is black doesn’t hurt, either.

So everyone won on Sunday. Meet the Press got the two most compelling mayors in the country. Cory Booker received an endorsement that resonated in living rooms in Westfield and Summit. And Michael Bloomberg showed New York Democrats another reason why it’s O.K. to vote for him. Oh, and they said some stuff about the economy, too.