Mike Bloomberg, Free at Last


It is never good to live with lies, even half-lies, and it is a great cleanser of the spirit to finally speak the truth. So it was helpful for the mayor and for us last week to finally learn Michael Bloomberg’s real feelings about political parties. He has been in two of them, so he knows something about the subject. “I don’t think either national party stands for anything. Individuals stand for things. There isn’t any philosophy for any party,” he told the crowd at Crain’s Wednesday breakfast forum in midtown. Party platforms? “C’mon, get serious,” he said, that little smile tugging at a corner of his mouth. “That’s just something to give you to write about during a boring convention.”

We know Bloomberg is speaking from the heart, because state campaign records show that he has not written huge checks to the state’s Republican Party apparatus since. . . January. That was when he sat down and wrote one for $75,000 to the New York Republican State Committee. For good measure, he sent another $75,000 to the New York State Senate Republicans.

This is true noblesse oblige. When Bloomberg dropped his Democratic Party registration back in 2000 to become a Republican and run for mayor, he took on the responsibility of supporting the state GOP. It was a billionaire’s burden. How could he ask for support and not give it himself? He opened his checkbook and started writing to the party that believes in nothing: State Republicans got some $466,000 between 2000 and 2003; the Republican National Committee received $250,000 in 2002.

By rights, he should have been quit of this noxious obligation when he easily won re-election in November 2005. It was the biggest win ever, and it was due to his own triumphant record of governing; his party affiliation was, if anything, more hindrance than help. Term-limited as mayor, what more could he expect the Republicans to do for him? But Bloomberg is not the kind of guy to walk away from a friend: In a true generosity of spirit, he kept giving to the Nothing Party. In October 2006, almost a full year after his own re-election, he gave a whopping $500,000 to the Republican Senate Campaign Committee so that it could hold onto its majority against the Spitzer juggernaut then in full throttle.

Altogether, since he entered politics, Michael Bloomberg has given $1.5 million to a party he knew to be engaged in existential nothingness.

As hard as it was for Bloomberg to write those checks to a party devoid of all belief, think how hard it was for him to take on the mission in 2004 to host the Republican National Convention in New York City.

Not only did he have to court the party’s leadership, he had to tell those little lies over and over again, that theirs is a “great party” that would honor him and his city if they held their convention here. Worse, after he got what he asked for (all right—he agreed to bankroll the convention as well), he had to stand before the delegates and praise the standard-bearer of the Nothing Party and say that he was his candidate, too. He was the host—what could he do? Be rude and say that they all believed in nothing? Not Michael Bloomberg. “The president deserves our support. We are here to support him, and I am here to support him,” he said of George W. Bush.

Even harder for the mayor was the task of controlling the hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters. First he kept them out of Central Park, where they wanted to hold a massive rally since it was the only place big enough. Bad for the grass, he said. Then he had his police commissioner lock up 1,821 of them and hold them for more than 24 hours so the president could give his speech and slip out of town. National security, he said. We now know he was chewing on his lip hard enough to bring blood when he spoke, because he believed none of it. He was only going through the motions, trapped in a loveless marriage with a party that was empty.

You can already tell that Bloomberg is much more relaxed now that the truth is out and the divorce public. He’s like Jim McGreevey, giving that big grin as he resigned as New Jersey governor and saying, “I am a gay American.” Bloomberg didn’t want a big announcement for his own coming-out. It was a shock to him that filing a public notice changing his political registration to “unaffiliated voter” with the city Board of Elections—an agency whose staff is chosen directly by the Democratic and Republican parties—would ever leak out so soon.

But he is now a liberated man. You can see it in his demeanor during a talk he gave to the Google company in California on June 18, just a day before his party switch became known. (The show is on Channel 74, NYC TV, running on a loop three times a day, it is that good.)

He went to the lovely town of Mountain View to appear as part of Google’s author series. They put a copy of his most recent book beside him on the table. It is called Bloomberg by Bloomberg. It was published 10 years ago.

From the moment he plants himself in a tall director’s chair and crosses his legs, you can see he is totally at ease. Wearing a blue blazer, he speaks without a note for more than an hour. A bottle of water sits beside him, but he never looks at it. It is a question-and-answer format, but he does all the talking. He lists his education and health policies, the smoking ban, his call for immigration reforms, the drive to get illegal guns off the streets. More people are killed every day by street crime than by terrorists, he notes, throwing a jibe at the current crop of presidential candidates. “Every press conference, they all beat their chests and say, ‘I can protect this country better from terrorists.’ Well, what about protecting them out on the streets every day?”

This is all good stuff, the product of a thoughtful man finally unchained from a false alliance. And then, out of nowhere, he announces that he has “a great story” to tell. A couple of weeks earlier, he had been to Bard College in upstate New York to give a commencement address. “It’s a very, very liberal college,” he says. “They think Trotsky was a capitalist.” During the speech, he noticed that many of the students had signs on the back of their gowns that read “Troops Out of Iraq.” “I said—and this was Memorial Day weekend—’I am not unmindful of seeing the signs, but just remember that young men and women are overseas fighting and dying and have been for 235 years so that you have the right to protest, which you don’t have in many other places.'”

At the convention for that Nothing Party he has since quit, he might have gotten big applause for this story. The Google techies sat on their hands.

Back when Bloomberg ran his own high-tech company, he used to joke about how he’d handled his own chance to defend freedom while the Vietnam War raged: “I had a great agreement with the draft board–they never called me and I never called them.