After months of flirtation and lots of serious thought, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Thursday (February 28) that he's not going to run for president this year after all. The self-made billionaire, who had been a Democrat and a Republican before switching last year to independent status, announced his decision in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, saying that an independent could win the race, but it won't be him.
"I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for president," Bloomberg, 66, wrote. "I have watched this campaign unfold, and I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership. The most productive role that I can serve is to push them forward, by using the means at my disposal to promote a real and honest debate."
Another thing he changed his mind about was a former vow to remain neutral in the race, adding that he may at some point step in and help the candidate he thinks is on the right path. "And while I have always said I am not running for president, the race is too important to sit on the sidelines, and so I have changed my mind in one area," he wrote. "If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I'll join others in helping that candidate win the White House." He added that he will also try to steer the dialogue among the remaining candidates away from partisanship and toward unity, "away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance."
The question now is whether Bloomberg's decision could be a boon to the just-announced presidential bid by maverick consumer advocate and independent candidate Ralph Nader, who has said in the past that a run by Bloomberg could help break the stranglehold held by the two major parties on the White House. With a personal fortune in the billions and an economic savvy that could have made him a strong contender in this time of looming recession and financial instability, Bloomberg could easily have financed a bid and made a case that his fiscal know-how is what the country needs. And he appeared to be poised for an announcement after months of building what seemed like a campaign framework, despite repeated denials that he had White House aspirations. According to the Times, he researched getting on the ballot in all 50 states and tested his appeal across the country in speeches.
Even with Bloomberg off the roster, though, Nader's chances are practically nonexistent, according to Columbia University political science professor David Epstein. "Ralph Nader is in a class by himself. I'm assuming dissatisfied third-party types would have voted for Bloomberg rather than Nader, but I can't see Nader getting many votes this time either way considering his infamous role in history," said Epstein, referring to the long-held belief that Nader's 2000 candidacy siphoned enough votes away from former Democratic Vice President Al Gore to hand the race to President Bush. "I think Bloomberg would like to be involved, but you're either a candidate or you're not."
Epstein said that in a year when the Democratic roster was weaker, Bloomberg — a lifelong Democrat who switched to the Republican Party during his 2001 bid for mayor of New York — could have been a strong Democratic candidate. Though he doesn't see him in a possible vice-presidential role, Epstein said it's possible he could be tapped as a Secretary of Treasury in a Democratic administration.
Bloomberg's second term as mayor ends in 2009, when the Harvard Business School graduate and founder of financial news service Bloomberg LP will be forced out of office due to term limits. It has been estimated that if Bloomberg had decided to jump into the contest this late in the game it could have cost him between $500 million and $1 billion to mount a successful campaign.