Mayor Michael Bloomberg is too valuable and talented a public servant to allow to simply stroll off into a retirement of philanthropy, golf tournaments and ceremonial positions. But does he have the stomach for Albany?
The topic of the mayor’s political future—not so long ago the basis of impassioned nationwide discussion as a possible third-party presidential bid loomed—has settled back down to earth a bit, or as much as anything involving a headstrong billionaire and New York politics can ever be said to be settled. Word has circulated that Mr. Bloomberg isn’t keen on letting go the reins of power, now that he’s had a taste of what eight years in public life are like, and his team even conducted a quiet poll to float the idea of repealing the term limits law so he could serve a third term. (The verdict? Just as in former polls about term limits, New Yorkers like them and don’t want them repealed.)
There is certainly an argument to be made for another four years of a Bloomberg administration—crime is down, the economy has proved resilient, the overall tone of the city is infused with civility and a common-sense approach to solving problems. But opening the Pandora’s box of term limits, when voters have made clear they want them to remain in place, would be an exercise in vanity, and Mr. Bloomberg has said he has no desire to sail against the prevailing winds.
Another option being floated is a run for governor. That would be a race worth watching: The recently installed Governor David Paterson has already overcome the divisiveness created by the disgraced Eliot Spitzer, and should he choose to run for reelection, he would be a formidable candidate. But think about what Mr. Bloomberg brings to the table: As an independent, he could run equally well among Republicans and Democrats. He could do for the state what he’s done for the city: clean up the fiscal mess; modernize the bureaucracy; revitalize the upstate economy by making intelligent investments instead of blowing tax dollars on politically motivated projects; and create a new climate to attract young, bright individuals into state government. And unlike Mr. Spitzer’s ultimately fruitless promises of vigorous reform, Mr. Bloomberg would stand a good chance of getting it done: He operates as a manager, through artful consensus backed up by steely resolve, unlike Mr. Spitzer’s prosecutorial approach.
But would the mayor want to do it? After all, he is known as a man of the city; the financial engines of big business, the big wheels of philanthropy (of which he is among the biggest), the galas and the dinners—Mr. Bloomberg psychically inhabits New York City to an intense degree.
But think about the legacy. A few years watching Netflix in the governor’s mansion instead of dinners at the Four Seasons might be a small price to pay to fill the shoes of Teddy Roosevelt and F.D.R., not to mention being the first mayor of New York in modern memory to succeed in going on from City Hall to higher office.