The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg

How the benevolent billionaire with no political debts ended up owning us all

Rubenstein, registered as a city lobbyist with 19 clients, acknowledges that he's been talking to the mayor about a third term for at least many months. "I've been asking again and again, and he never said, 'Absolutely no,' " says Rubenstein, contrasting that with the flat rejection he got from Bloomberg about any possible run for governor. "He'd say, 'Let's see.' He was thinking about it. He was publicly saying he wasn't interested, but I always felt he'd really like to do it." Asked about a paragraph at the bottom of a Times story that claimed that Rubenstein's client and close, personal friend, developer Jerry Speyer, and financier Henry Kravis, who jointly co-chaired the omnipotent Partnership for New York City, had approached Lauder about supporting a one-time extension of term limits for Bloomberg and the council two years ago, Rubenstein says: "It's all true." Not even Rubenstein argues that the pitch Speyer and Kravis made in 2006 was prompted by a prophetic sense of municipal doom.

What kicked the third-term campaign into high gear, Rubenstein concedes, was a shrinking of Bloomberg's options. Asked if the mayor started seriously weighing the idea of another term after the presidential and vice-presidential dreams died, Rubenstein says: "I think you're accurate. He really enjoys the action." Rubenstein says there's "no doubt" that the mayor then began "searching" for a way to stay in play. His friend Zuckerman offered the Times a similar explanation. Most jobs, Zuckerman said, "would never fully engage him." He would "waste away if he were in a state of semi-activity." Asked by the Voice if this psychic need contributed to Bloomberg's decision to run again, Zuckerman seemed at loggerheads with himself, at first saying, "It's not as if he's totally bored" with his other life, and then adding that "he's addicted to the public life of politics." Since Bloomberg did not want to be governor, where there is actually a constitutionally proscribed vacancy in 2010, the only available therapy for his strobe-light addiction became another stint at a familiar and friendly hall, particularly one where he would not also be responsible for the plight of Buffalo. It mattered little that he, more than any mayor, has repeatedly made the case that the state dictates everything the city can or can't do, down to how many cameras it can post at stoplights. The only way he could save the city, his supporters bizarrely argued, was from City Hall, forcing them to toss out the will of 1,173,558 voters in two referendums.

The recorded sequence of events, some of it abetted by Rubenstein, unmistakably shows how Bloomberg's moods and personal needs, rather than Wall Street's spiral, were setting the agenda. The Post, the paper Rubenstein prefers to leak to, reported in April that the mayor was considering another term, sparking adamant denials from City Hall. On June 4, the Post, citing a secret source, reported that Bloomberg had already done a private poll about changing term limits. On June 6, Bloomberg confirmed that a poll had been done and said that there was "still plenty of time" to put an initiative on the 2008 ballot extending term limits, promising reporters to "get back to you in the next few weeks." Instead, he dallied until it was too late to do a referendum this year and got Quinn to defeat a motion for an early 2009 referendum and ram an extension, without a referendum at all, through the council in record two-week time.

Quinn was in such a Bloomberg-induced rush to back the bill that she did it three days before the council hearings began, then skipped the hearings she'd called, only to cite their mere occurrence during the council vote a few days later as proof of how democratic the process had been. It wasn't the economic panic that prompted the term-limits bill; it was the bill that prompted a legislative panic. Never before was the moribund council so apoplectic.

Kathy Wylde, the president of the Partnership, says she learned "in July" that the mayor was "seriously thinking about it," after making inquiries for at least a year. Wylde's board of directors includes virtually everyone whose name has appeared in stories detailing the early lobbying for another term—Speyer, Rattner, Kravis, Rubenstein, Parsons, Murdoch, and even Lauder's nephew, William, who actually runs the cosmetics company (Speyer went to William Lauder's father, Leonard, to put pressure on brother Ron). Bloomberg was once on the Partnership board himself, and its 20-member executive committee voted unanimously to support the extension legislation.

Wylde also lobbied Quinn, who's been a friend since the two worked together in housing organizations more than a decade ago. Wylde introduced Quinn to the Partnership honchos at a luncheon at the Speyer-owned Rockefeller Center shortly after she became speaker in 2006. "The universal opinion of the CEO is that she has a bright political future," Wylde declared from the onset. Wylde got 30 bigwigs to sign a letter backing the bill, 25 of whom are on her board, and an ad featuring it soon appeared in the Times. The fact is that under Wylde and Speyer's leadership, the Partnership is the closest thing we now have in New York to a political club with the clout to make a mayor.

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