We Like Mike

Michael Bloomberg says he is not running for President in 2008. We’ll take him at his word, and with good reason. After nearly five years as Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg has given few reasons for us to question whether he means what he says.

But when he gets a moment to ponder the future, he ought to think about why people consider him possible Presidential material. Five years ago, he was a political unknown. Now he has to fend off questions about his Presidential ambitions. That should tell him something.

And now we’ll tell him something: He should start thinking about it. And when he does, he shouldn’t be thinking about the New Hampshire Republican primary (which may be crowded with other New Yorkers, like his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, and—barring a return to sanity—outgoing Governor George Pataki). And he shouldn’t be thinking about how he’ll have to explain himself to Jerry Falwell and that nutty wing of the Republican Party.

In fact, he shouldn’t be thinking about the Republican Party at all. Or the Democrats. Michael Bloomberg can and probably should run for President as a bona fide independent, a candidate who bows to the dogma of neither party. At a time when pointless partisanship has turned off millions of voters, Michael Bloomberg, independent candidate for President, would be an exciting alternative to tiresome politics as usual. Just maybe the American electorate is fed up, having had in the White House for the past 14 years a character-flawed Democrat and a cowboy Republican.

Of course, the notion of a high-profile, third-party Presidential campaign has some recent history. Skeptics no doubt will point to the curious case of one H. Ross Perot, business tycoon and occasional independent candidate for President. Like a marathon runner who chose not to train before the big event, Mr. Perot got off to a fast start in 1992, when he ran, then stopped, and then started running again. It made for one of the most head-scratching episodes in recent American political history. As a candidate on the stump, Mr. Perot came across as a latter-day Casey Stengel, the legendary word-challenged manager of the Yankees and the Mets. As was the case with Stengel, what Mr. Perot said seemed to make sense, but we couldn’t be sure.

On Election Day, 20 percent of voters—no small number—decided to take the Mickey Mantle approach to Mr. Perot’s platform. Rather than figure out exactly what he was saying, they cast their votes for him and hoped they understood what he was talking about.

While Mr. Bloomberg shares with Mr. Perot an independent image based, of course, on self-made wealth, the Mayor differs with the Texan on one very important matter: Mr. Bloomberg is neither a crank nor a bit of a nut. If Mr. Bloomberg launched a Presidential campaign, you can be sure he would be in it to win—and there will be no pit stops along the way.

What’s more, unlike Mr. Perot, Mr. Bloomberg actually has a record as an elected official—and a record that is the envy of every big-city Mayor in the United States. Mr. Bloomberg is no longer a political novice. He has learned how to govern, he has learned how to forge alliances, and he has learned how to play the game. More importantly, he knows how to pick talent—just look at the remarkable accomplishments of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. We certainly wouldn’t mind having these two men in cabinet positions or in the White House inner circle, instead of a Donald Rumsfeld or a Dick Cheney.

When Mike Bloomberg came into office in January 2002, downtown New York was in ruins, and the city’s financial and emotional health were precarious at best. Mr. Bloomberg, new to the business of governing, immediately grasped what needed to be done. He came to grips with the city’s finances, made public education his personal crusade, vowed to build on the anti-crime successes of his predecessor, and reached out to New Yorkers in all five boroughs.

The results speak for themselves: New York remains haunted by the memories of those we lost five years ago, and we will never forget them, but as a city, we have recovered much of what we feared we might lose. The city’s economy is as strong as ever, and Mr. Bloomberg’s focus on public education—a national concern if ever there was one—has produced astonishing results.

Mr. Bloomberg’s extraordinary record as a businessman, creating for himself stratospheric wealth, certainly gives us a reasonable degree of assurance that he could run the largest economy in the world better than anyone else. He could easily make the case that the U.S. has come to resemble General Motors and Ford—two once-proud and thriving corporations that have lost their market share and been run into the ground by incompetent executives. We have in the White House today a bunch of politicians who have mismanaged the government while at the same time creating runaway deficits.

WHAT’S MORE, IN AN ERA OF GLOBAL TERRORISM, Mr. Bloomberg has experience that no other Mayor—or indeed, few other elected officials in this country—can offer. He has presided over the transformation of the New York Police Department into a world-class counterintelligence agency. Amazingly, even as that transformation has taken place, the NYPD continues to win the battle against more conventional street crime.

That is a record that commands attention. That is the record of a Presidential contender.

The point is inarguable. So why shouldn’t Mr. Bloomberg start trolling the diners of Concord, N.H., or the Kiwanis Clubs of Des Moines, Iowa, in search of Republican primary voters? That’s an easy question to answer: Even with all his success, Mr. Bloomberg is not the sort of Republican who can win a nomination dominated by conservative, evangelical Christians. Mr. Giuliani will face the same issue, but his leadership on Sept. 11 may override his sympathy for abortion rights. (As for Mr. Pataki, the less said the better. Why encourage him?)

As a politician with unlimited resources, Mr. Bloomberg simply doesn’t need traditional party structures and funds. After all, he can afford to spend at least a billion dollars on a Presidential campaign. Besides, his appeal is based on his independence. Running as a Republican, or even as a Democrat, would take away that appeal.

As a businessman, Mr. Bloomberg simply went out and did what he had to do. And he succeeded.

As a Presidential candidate, he has a chance to do the same. He ought to think about it.

Here’s a wonderful possibility: Mr. Bloomberg runs as an independent, Mr. Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, and Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee. Can he beat those two in a three-way race? You bet he can.

New York, you see, still produces political giants. We Like Mike