So what makes a billionaire media executive who runs a company with 7,200 employees think he can manage the Big Apple and its 8 million citizens? Truth is, Michael R. Bloomberg thinks he can do pretty much anything. Especially when everyone else thinks he can't. Once he officially announces his candidacy in two months or so, Bloomberg will sell himself to the voters as a political outsider with vision and managerial expertise. "I won't be beholden to anybody," he vows.
To better his odds of making it past the primaries, Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat, changed his registration last year to Republican. That way, Bloomberg will likely face only one or two foes; as a Democrat he probably would oppose four, all public officials. "I'm more of a Democrat than any of these guys," Bloomberg quips of his possible rivals, including City Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, the only candidate to declare so far. Bloomberg is against the death penalty, and on most other issues, such as reproductive rights, he's a traditional Democrat.
DEEP POCKETS. It doesn't hurt that Bloomberg can afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on a run. As one analyst who follows his company said: "He can Corzine this election, no problem." That's a reference to another rich guy, former Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine, who spent $63 million to win a New Jersey U.S. Senate seat in November. Bloomberg says he won't take a dime from the public until he has a record to run on. "Maybe the next time around," he says in all seriousness.
Can a member of the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who lives on the tony Upper East Side and flies his own helicopter connect with the construction worker in Canarsie or the McDonald's burger-flipper on Staten Island? "This is the American Dream they are looking at. I started as poor as anybody and worked my way up," insists Bloomberg. Well, he started out middle-class anyway.
To get ready for a tough race, he has hired top-flight advisers. The team includes: media strategist David Garth, 71, who has worked on 155 campaigns, most notably that of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; Barnard College professor Ester R Fuchs; and City University of New York education professor Alan Gartner. His pick for police chief? He'd bring back Raymond Kelly, most recently head of U.S. Customs Service. "Mike has all the credentials," says Garth. "You don't run a business like his without being smart on your feet."
Indeed, Bloomberg says he'll market himself as the CEO mayor. "I can manage. That's the blocking and tackling on financials. I can lead, having the convictions to follow through on my ideas," he says. "I listen. I built a business listening to my customers. I'm accountable. I've been so to Wall Street, to my employees, to my board."
Another New York businessman who knows a thing or two about branding himself likes what he sees so far. "He's got a great reputation here in New York," says Donald Trump.
O.K., so there's one vote. It would probably take anywhere from $15 million to $25 million for Bloomberg to win the race, estimates Garth. No matter how much he spends, some believe he will remain a long shot in a Democratic city. "And businessmen have not had a very successful record winning mayoral races," says political consultant Norman Adler.
But Bloomberg is trying to do what it takes, even struggling with Spanish lessons to woo the city's Latinos. "What can I say? I'm a gringo," he says with a shrug. And he's out and about more than ever. "He's like horsesh-- at a rodeo. He's everywhere," says his friend, gossip columnist Liz Smith. "I want him to win for selfish reasons. I'd love to cover a bachelor mayor." And Bloomberg, no doubt, would love to have Smith write about him as Hizzoner, the bachelor.
By Tom Lowry in New York