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New Bloomberg Moves Raise Political Eyebrows

Michael Bloomberg holds two-week-old baby Sienna Farruggio after delivering the State of the City address at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens. (Getty Images).

By Keith B. Richburg
NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg continues to insist he is not a candidate for president, but these days his every word, his moves and his travel schedule are being dissected and parsed like a Talmudic text.

This week, it was learned that Bloomberg has entrusted the management of his personal fortune -- estimated at $11 billion -- to his friend, the financier Steven Rattner, of the Quadrangle Group. The selection raised eyebrows in New York because Rattner is a strong backer of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rattner contributed the maximum $4,600 to Clinton's campaign, and has hosted a series of events for her.

But the decision, allowed by the City Conflicts of Interest Board, stirred interest for another reason; having a high-powered financier in charge of his investments allows Bloomberg to expand his wealth, and possibly free up money for a self-financed, independent presidential run.

Also this week, City Hall announced that Bloomberg would be traveling this weekend to Texas and California -- both vote-rich states that the billionaire mayor might be targeting if he is trying to assemble the 270 electoral votes needed to forge a victory in November.

In Texas, Bloomberg will be meeting with former Tour de France cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, and a former U.S. surgeon general, Richard Carmona. From there, Bloomberg heads to California, for an announcement in Los Angeles about infrastructure projects with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And today was Bloomberg's annual State of the City speech. There was the typical laundry list of local issues -- 500 more beds for the homeless, improving the food quality in city hospitals and senior care facilities, coordinating government computers. But at a time when the city is facing reduced revenues, with the end of the real estate boom and a bear market on Wall Street, what stood out was Bloomberg's pledge to reduce spending and follow through on a promised property tax rebate to all homeowners, steps that solidify his reputation as a sound fiscal manager.

"It's all part of the striptease -- show 'em a little, then take it away," said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College in New York. "The State of the City address can fit into that pattern. He's promising tax relief and spending cuts. It all seems part of the laying of the groundwork, and keeping his options open."

Despite his repeated denials, Bloomberg has continued to fuel speculation about a possible presidential run, flying to Oklahoma on the eve of the New Hampshire primary to attend a forum on bipartisanship, and then paying pollster Douglas Schoen millions of dollars to assess the feasibility of a presidential run and his chances of winning.

A mayoral aide insists this is all just part of the kind of typical planning Bloomberg likes to do as a businessman -- gathering all the facts and data to have at hand before making a commitment. Once all the data is in, the aide said, the first question would be whether Bloomberg could win, and the second question would be whether he wants the intense scrutiny and loss of privacy that would come with being a candidate for the highest office in the land.

George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant not currently affiliated with any candidate, said Bloomberg is positioning himself for a run only if he sees an opening, with the two parties perhaps in turmoil without a consensus choice at convention time. "Bloomberg is putting everything together in order to be a candidate if everything falls his way," said Arzt, who was press secretary for Mayor Edward I. Koch. "He certainly has ambitions for the presidency -- there's no doubt in my mind."

At the moment, New Yorkers don't seem to mind the speculation. In a Quinnipiac University poll last week, about half of those surveyed, 47 percent, thought the speculation about Bloomberg was good for the city, and 52 percent thought he would be a good president.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 17, 2008; 7:46 PM ET
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