The Bloomberg Factor

Several times on Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg fended off questions on whether he’ll run for president as an independent.

Later Monday night, it was hard not to think that he was running for president. 

He appeared before what seemed like all of Los Angeles’ political and media elite at the Getty House, aka the mayor’s residence, to kick off the USC Annenberg School of Communication conference “Ceasefire! Bridging the Political Divide.” The intent of the conference, from the school’s new Center for Communication Leadership, was to find shared ground in political discourse.

The latest “it” non-candidate, Bloomberg has enjoyed a week of great attention, sharing the cover of Time with Arnold Schwarzenegger, appearing on talk shows,  playing the  political guessing game. He also had little good to say about the 2008 process too far, saying that candidates offer simplistic solutions and that the debates “have absolutely nothing to do with the job an the qualifications.”

Bloomberg talked of America being “at a crossroads” and on a “wrong-headed course.” He lamented Washington, which he said was “sinking into a swamp of dysfunction” with a “corrosive culture of partisanship.” And he spelled out what he calls the “five values of leadership,” citing in almost hyper -detail what he’s done in New York City, everything from taking over the city’s schools to eliminating the city’s deficit to setting new goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In sharp contrast to his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, he took aim at the health care system, saying that it misses the whole idea of prevention.

“Not only is our health care system terribly expensive,” Bloomberg said, “it is terribly ineffective.”

Although he avoided citing anyone by name, it was not difficult to discern when he aimed his fire at President Bush. He suggested that ideology over science had hurt such things as competitiveness — a swipe at the president’s position on stem cell research.

The whole point of his speech was that, in spite of Washington, he Villaraigosa and Schwarzenegger and other state and local leaders are getting things done on issues like global warming and health care. Most of all, he warned against excessive party ideologues, and tried to crack a joke about it. “Unfortunately, there’s no ‘Promises’ clinic for partisanship.”

“It all begins with independence,” he said. He said that to get things done “means embracing pragmatism over partisanship, ideas over ideology.”

In a crowd that included mainly Democrats or
centrist Republicans, there were few who would disagree. Among those there was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa, California First Lady Maria Shriver, former Governor Gray
Davis,  former U.S. Trade Rep. Mickey Kantor,  former Clinton chief of
staff John Podesta,  Wallis Annenberg,  John Emerson, David Geffen, Arianna
Huffington, former Rep. Harold Ford and Anjelica Huston and Robert
Graham. Former Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, spoke of having 75% Democrats on his staff, and in the spirit of bipartisanship noted that his taxes doubled under Ronald Reagan. “He actually wasn’t so conservative.”

Many of those who attended already have chosen their candidates for the 2008 presidential race. But it was hard to come away optimistic that the “corrosive” atmosphere of Washington would change with any of those in the field, given the excessive emphasis on raising money and appealing to the base. Earlier in the day, at a visit to Google in Silicon Valley, Bloomberg had little good to say about the 2008 process so far, saying
that candidates offer simplistic solutions and that the debates “have
absolutely nothing to do with the job an the qualifications.”

Speaking from the audience, Shriver even singled out Barack Obama, who has called for unity as part of a “new kind of politics.” “I think it’s curious that the press doesn’t ask Barack Obama, ‘where are the Republicans on your staff.'”

Ford, now head of the Democratic Leadership Council, did try to temper all of the D.C. bashing a bit when he reminded all of those gathered, “Let me tell you this: All of these jokers that are criticizing Washington — they all want to be there.” The crowd laughed. “One of them wants to change the Constitution to be there.”

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