Marc Fisher Column: If Mayor Bloomberg Were Governor of Virginia

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By Marc Fisher
Thursday, April 16, 2009

RICHMOND, April 30, 2010 --

Virginia Gov. Michael Bloomberg has imported a New York pace and a billionaire's bravado to his adopted home, completing his first 100 days in office with a trio of startling announcements: The former New York City mayor has ended the unregulated sale of firearms at gun shows, taken over troubled schools in the state's four largest cities and unilaterally ordered construction of a Potomac River toll bridge into the District.

The governor will pay for the bridge from his own pocket -- and he'll keep the toll receipts.

Bloomberg's surprise blitz through the 2009 governor's race turns out to have been a sign of things to come. The new governor has taken Richmond by storm, even if he has insisted on doing most of his work from his new estate in Loudoun County.

Virginia's first Jewish governor -- who returned to the Republican Party last fall, handily defeating Democrat Terry McAuliffe in what pundits dubbed the Battle of the Carpetbagging Titans -- contends that his presence in the capital is not often required. He prefers to "take my action plan directly to the people of Virginia" through his nightly prime-time show, now simulcast on Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

The governor's embrace of a virtual capital grew out of his long-distance campaign, in which he managed to outspend the all-time Democratic fundraising champ by nearly 3 to 1. Bloomberg won in every region of Virginia, despite actually visiting only the Northern Virginia suburbs; elsewhere, he told crowds by video hookup that he'd be happy to set foot in their communities "once you get some decent-sized airports."

Bloomberg's decisive victory despite his remote-control campaign has given Virginia Republicans a new lease on life, settling, at least for now, a debilitating internal battle pitting social conservatives against pragmatic moderates who argued that the party's hard line on social issues was undermining its ability to appeal to Northern Virginians and other suburbanites.

It was Bloomberg's sudden and curious barrage of TV ads painting then-presumed Republican candidate Bob McDonnell as a gun-loving, anti-gay, anti-women, religious nutball that caused the former state attorney general to plummet in the polls last spring. Spooked by the prospect of losing 2009's highest-profile race in the nation, Republicans including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain stood beside Bloomberg as he launched his last-minute challenge to McDonnell -- an announcement that came, oddly enough, from New York's Empire State Building, which Bloomberg said he was buying out of foreclosure and would move to Tysons Corner if he was elected governor.

Bloomberg won rural areas with his promise -- now fulfilled -- to launch a "Virginia Is for Trash Lovers" campaign to bring jobs and mountains of garbage to the state's depopulated backwoods areas. Construction has begun on a trash superhighway, an underground railway that will carry refuse from New York and other Northeastern states to landfills in Virginia counties devastated by the recession.

In retrospect, it was the trash issue that first should have flagged political insiders to Bloomberg's budding interest in moving his career -- including the headquarters of the massive business information company that bears his name -- to a less expensive location. McAuliffe could talk a blue streak about jobs in his gubernatorial campaign, but only Bloomberg could promise -- and deliver -- on moving a multibillion-dollar company to Virginia in a matter of days.

With the Bloomberg news operation now up and running in Tysons, the governor is wooing the New York Stock Exchange and other pillars of what remains of Wall Street. Offering huge tax incentives, apartments three times the size of the average Manhattan dwelling, and remedial driving lessons for lifelong New Yorkers, Bloomberg has said he expects the bulk of the nation's financial center to relocate to Northern Virginia by the middle of his first term.

Meanwhile, the governor has quietly charged Lt. Gov. Brian Moran, who dropped out of the Democratic race for governor to join Bloomberg's bipartisan ticket, with heading up a task force to create programs in elementary schools and adult education facilities to train Virginians to speak standard American English. "If this place is serious about becoming the financial capital of the world, they've got to get the marbles out of their mouths and start pronouncing the letter 'R,' " Bloomberg told a private gathering of corporate executives, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post.

Bloomberg celebrated his 100th day in office by cutting the ribbon opening the Clarendon outpost of New York's famed Carnegie Deli. The governor's attempt to pay for his pastrami sandwich with old New York City subway tokens was rebuffed; the governor, annoyed, immediately announced that he was buying the restaurant and renaming it after himself.

"Potomac Confidential" returns to its regular time next Thursday at noon at http://www.washingtonpost.com/discussions.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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