Why Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of Obama matters


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
November 2, 2012

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of President Obama is prompting many to analyze the billionaire’s move. Is this a sign that business isn’t as anti-Obama as it seems? (Bloomberg is, after all, a highly successful entrepreneur—and business bible The Economist endorsed the president the same day.) How many independent voters might actually be swayed by the mayor’s lukewarm praise? And what does this mean about the man’s own presidential aspirations, and his post-mayoral life?

I think one of the most interesting things about the endorsement, however, is the reason Bloomberg gives for making it. He doesn’t focus on tax cuts, or budget deficits, or jobs numbers—that holy trinity of politics for business leaders. Rather, he seems to have made his decision primarily based on who was more focused on climate change. “We need leadership from the White House” on environmental issues, Bloomberg wrote. “And over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.”

Bloomberg did not make an endorsement in 2008, and had expressed frustration with both candidates in this election. But recent storm Sandy appears to have changed his mind. “One [candidate] sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet,” he said in his Bloomberg View column, setting up the differences between Obama and Mitt Romney. “One does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.” And interestingly, the other reasons he lists are not directly related to the economy, either: “One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not. … One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.”

Bloomberg may be known now more as the mayor of New York than as a billionaire businessman. But he is still, arguably, this country’s most successful entrepreneur-turned-politician, and it is refreshing to see him publicly sharing that a business leader can care about more than simply the state of the economy or the size of his own tax bill. Corporate CEOs are painted—fairly or unfairly—as a mass voting bloc that thinks only about economic political issues, because it is so rare to hear any of them speak out regarding anything else.

That’s despite the fact that, of course, the success of American business is driven by more than just the size of corporate tax rates or the implementation of economic policies that help to drive job growth in this country. It is affected by the ability to recruit a diverse and well-educated pool of talent. It is driven by the quality of the national infrastructure our government maintains and improves. And yes, it is affected by how much the rate of climate change could imperil the ability to do business.

Bloomberg’s endorsement may or may not do much to help President Obama win the election—it’s hard to believe a billionaire New York City mayor, even an independent one, holds much influence on voters in Ohio or Colorado. But perhaps it will help to lead some entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to speak out more publicly regarding the other social and national issues that are essential to their success.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

More from On Leadership:

In Sandy’s aftermath, more openness for remote work?

Gov. Christie praises Obama’s leadership during the storm

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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