One Police Plaza

Bloomberg for President: 2008 Redux?

January 25, 2016

So Michael Bloomberg wants to run for president.


Should polarizing outsiders Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz become the Republican nominee and self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders become the nominee of the Democrats, the billionaire former New York City mayor sees himself as a centrist, third-party candidate. He says he’s willing to spend a billion dollars of his own money.

That, at least, is his hope. Bloomberg hoped the same thing in 2008. But no swell of support for him developed. Instead, he settled for running again as mayor.

Can history repeat itself?

In running for his third term as mayor in 2008, Bloomberg had a problem: the city’s two-term limit law, which, when he first ran in 2001, he promised to abide by. Instead, in 2008, he acted like a true billionaire, tossing his money around so that the City Council repealed the term-limits law. Then, after his re-election, he backed a return to two-term limits.

Most New Yorkers consider Bloomberg a successful mayor. Development projects were begun across the city, from the Second Avenue subway to the West Side High Line. In law enforcement matters, Bloomberg placed all power in the hands of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. After the mayor, Kelly became the most powerful person in city government and the longest-serving police commissioner in city history.

Kelly kept crime low and terrorism at bay, claiming to have prevented 16 plots against the city. Only at the end of Bloomberg’s term did it become apparent something had gone horribly wrong. 

Revelations surfaced that the department had conducted widespread spying on Muslims as well as three million stop-and-frisks, mostly of young black men, virtually all with no justification. The result: the NYPD is currently under the supervision of three outside monitors, something that had never before occurred in the NYPD’s history.

As for those 16 plots, they were revealed to be as something less than meets the eye.

Back in 2008 when Bloomberg considered his first presidential bid, Kelly considered running for mayor. He used Hamilton South, a consultant for the non-profit Police Foundation — which paid South hundreds of thousands of dollars — as his own public relations person to introduce him to potential A-list political contributors.

Since leaving the department in 2014, Kelly has again made noises that he may run, this time against Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017.

If history repeats itself, Bloomberg will fail in his presidential bid. With de Blasio struggling to govern and languishing in the polls, Bloomberg could pull the rug out from Kelly as he did in 2008 and run himself.

This time he doesn’t have to worry about the two-term limit law. The law, reinstated by voters in 2010 as a repudiation of Bloomberg’s tactics, applies only to two consecutive terms.

Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt