He won't run, but keep asking

ON DUTY:  At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Bloomberg looked bored.
ON DUTY: At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Bloomberg looked bored. (Melina Mara)

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By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg really doesn't mind denying, over and over again, that he harbors national ambitions.

"Well, it's very flattering, and in all fairness, if you didn't think it was flattering you should probably see a psychiatrist," Bloomberg said in a brief interview as he stepped out of the Four Seasons in Georgetown during a visit to Washington on Tuesday.

The 68-year-old, wearing a dark blue suit and burgundy tie, had just finished addressing the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, where he charmed a similarly power-suited audience with some patently impolitic Bloombergisms. About energy policy, he pronounced: "Nobody wants to hear it: We need a carbon tax." Regarding ill-spent homeland security funds: "No one's likely to attack a cornfield." And as for the bad economics of treating every disease, including prostate cancer in nonagenarians: "You're going to die."

The mayor cavalierly held forth on national issues, but when the Q&A session turned to whether he has national ambitions, he professed - again - a lack of interest.

"I have absolutely no skills to be secretary of the Treasury," he said, crossing his arms and suppressing a smile. And as for an independent candidacy for president, he swiveled in his leather chair and said such a third-party candidate could only hope to be a spoiler, because "party affiliation is so strong."

Outside the hotel, a couple of black Suburban SUVs with New York plates waited to drive him to the Capitol. As he talked and walked, delivering stock responses about how much he loved his job and how he would "find something else to do afterwards," his top political gun, Howard Wolfson, trudged a few paces behind him monitoring the discussion. And what about his aggressive political operatives and their long track record of perpetuating the very presidential speculation he so visibly enjoys knocking down?

"They don't have to do that," Bloomberg said with a shrug. "It's self-generating."

Like the death and taxes the mayor spoke of at the Four Seasons, Bloomberg-for-president speculation is now a certainty in American politics. After six years or so, this phenomenon no longer requires the whispers of Bloomberg's aides to carry it, though many can't help themselves. The spadework has been so thorough that routine lobbying trips to Washington and huddles with moderate senators are enough to jack up the speculation machine. The latest round came Wednesday, when the Huffington Post reported that a Bloomberg-Joe Scarborough ticket was in the works. This, of all outcomes, is not likely.

For many, many reasons, a Bloomberg bid is, as the mayor himself has said, improbable at best. The mayor likes to point out that he is a short Jewish divorced man with a girlfriend. He recently characterized new members of Congress as rubes who didn't hold passports and couldn't read. Ideologically, he agrees with President Obama on almost everything, except gay marriage, which Bloomberg champions, and expanded Wall Street regulation, which he opposes.

The global entrepreneur-turned-pol has no beef with China. And he often bristles at even the minor irritations of media coverage at City Hall. The notion of Bloomberg standing for hours in a grange hall in Dubuque, Iowa, fielding questions without blurting, "Get over it," would be a test of human endurance.

But all those detracting electoral data points are dwarfed by one important figure: $20 billion. That's roughly how much Bloomberg is personally worth, and he has shown no compunction in spending mind-boggling sums to win political office.


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