Bloomberg Maneuvers to Crown a Kennedy

Who's Caroline's daddy?

Paterson's acquiescence on term limits convinced the Bloomberg camp to use Kennedy to seal their growing alliance with the governor as well. Initially, Kennedy's candidacy rapidly gained traction, but when a backlash of negative media swelled in late December, a chagrined Bloomberg complained at one press conference that things had gotten "out of control," which was his way of saying that things had gotten out of his control. A panicky Bloomberg said Paterson should make a decision immediately, which was contrary to the single public promise the governor had repeatedly made: He wouldn't select a new senator until the old one was confirmed as secretary of state.

With Paterson sticking to his schedule, insiders began to believe for the first time that he might not climb aboard the Bloomberg/Kennedy bandwagon. Paterson's last great career decision—when he became Eliot Spitzer's running mate in 2006 and gave up his position as Democratic leader of the senate minority—was just such a roller coaster, with Paterson rejecting Spitzer's offer more than once, only to reverse himself at the very last minute. Bloomberg's apparent discontent, plus Kennedy's sinking polls, suggested that the governor was pulling back from the mayor's inevitable candidate, opening the door, at least momentarily, to the many other contestants—Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Congressman Steve Israel, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, and Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand. But then, when Paterson delivered his State of the State address last week, there was Bloomberg sitting next to Paterson's wife and father, with the governor going on and on about obesity, trans fats, and junk foods—all Bloomberg hobbyhorses. Paterson confirms that he interviewed Kennedy over the weekend, but his office won't say whether he plans to do the same with Cuomo, who leads the polls for the post and has made his interest in the appointment clear without campaigning for it like Kennedy has.

With a Democratic high tide, nationally and in New York, Bloomberg is suddenly doing all he can to cement his ties to the party. But if that awkward arrangement is going to work, the mayor has to hope that his new friends, like Paterson and Kennedy, don't look too carefully at the last eight years.

Caroline Kennedy and her barker, Mike Bloomberg
Paul Hawthorne/Staff
Caroline Kennedy and her barker, Mike Bloomberg


Special reporting by Sara Dover, Jana Kasperkevic
Additional research by Patrick B. Anderson, Ana Barbu, Beethoven Bong

Gone are the days when the mayor called the GOP, as he did at a Manhattan Republican event in March 2005, the party of "honesty, efficiency, compassion, and inclusiveness." Also inoperative is his 2003 declaration at a Lincoln Day dinner in Staten Island: "We are going to get George W. Bush re-elected as president. We are going to carry New York City and State. Everybody thinks I'm crazy, but I think we can do it." Dismissed as well are his comments when the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general found that the White House had doctored press releases about air-quality findings at Ground Zero, leading to lung damage for thousands of firefighters and others: "I know the president. I think he's a very honest guy. It would never occur to me not to trust him."

Also unnoticed—even as Bloomberg went to Israel last week and derided any criticism of the Gaza invasion as "ridiculous"—is the contrast between that pander and the rationale he repeatedly offered for his refusal to answer questions about Iraq: "It's not a local issue, and I don't have anything to say." This obfuscation—about a war that has cost 55 city residents and 4,204 Americans their lives (as opposed to only four Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rockets)—was designed to conceal the fact that he has always quietly supported this war, calling for it in a September 2002 speech at the United Nations and openly endorsing it at that Staten Island GOP event, when he said the war was "not only to protect Americans," but "to protect people around the world who want to be free." In fact, he connected the war to his support for Israel at a Solidarity Day breakfast, when, shortly after the wind-up of the ground invasion, he declared that Bush was "the best president for Israel in history."

Only the audacity of billions can explain why a man who endorsed Bush for re-election, who declared with Laura Bush at his side at the dedication of a 9/11 downtown memorial that the Iraq War "started not very many blocks from here," whose only national Democratic endorsements in 2006 were Joe Lieberman and Rod Blagojevich, and who has broken records by donating $4.2 million to Republican committees since 2000, thinks he can fix the selection of a Democratic senator and, in so doing, neutralize a president he declined to endorse though 77 percent of his city voted for him. With Kennedy, newly recruited Clinton mouthpiece Howard Wolfson, Brooklyn's city-subsidized Democratic boss Vito Lopez, old reliables Schumer and Quinn, and, potentially, new ally Paterson, Bloomberg would have recast himself as a Democrat in everything but name.

And even that is subject to change. Remarkably, the last two chameleon mayors of New York—who will have run the city for a total of 20 years if Bloomberg is re-elected—have changed registration a combined six times, and every switch has coincided with a career need. Rudy Giuliani became a Republican shortly before Ronald Reagan installed him in a top Justice Department post, and Bloomberg switched only because he didn't think he could win a 2001 Democratic mayoral primary. Both somehow converted this self-serving inauthenticity into virtue—swinging, at their convenience, between Democrat, Independent, and Republican, even in a city where voters appear to believe, in most elections, that party really does matter. (In fact, at the same time that Bloomberg has been making nice lately with Democrats, he's been quietly reaching out to Republican county chairs, keeping all of his 2009 options open.)

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