Out of the Box: He's Rich, a Global Brand and a Star in New York's Social Elite-And Now Michael Bloomberg Wants to Be Mayor

By Bai, Matt | Newsweek, April 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Out of the Box: He's Rich, a Global Brand and a Star in New York's Social Elite-And Now Michael Bloomberg Wants to Be Mayor


Bai, Matt, Newsweek


Being mayor of New York has got to be one of the four best jobs in the world, Michael Bloomberg is saying. The billionaire baron of media and finance goes on to list them, in no particular order: president of the United States (that one's taken), secretary-general of the United Nations (also taken), president of the World Bank (taken by a close friend, no less) and, finally, "the one Rudy Giuliani has." That job just happens to be coming open this year--which, from Bloomberg's perspective, is a happy coincidence. "Rudy's job is the best," Bloomberg says. "You make a decision in the morning, it's on the streets by this afternoon and you see the results tomorrow."

Bloomberg likes the job so much, in fact, that he may spend a considerable chunk of his own fortune--as much as $20 million, by some estimates--to get it. "I'll give you a scoop," says Bloomberg, who's done everything but announce his candidacy for city hall. "I've thought about this, and if I were mayor, I wouldn't take more than $1 a year from the city." Nor will he take a single campaign contribution or a penny in public matching funds--something that has his opponents seething already, since it means he's free to spend more than all of them put together. Bloomberg, a bookkeeper's son from a working-class suburb of Boston, won't apologize for being rich, or the advantages it brings. "They've got to raise money, and I don't," he says. "I'm a very lucky guy."

So you thought politics in Gotham would be boring after Rudy left the scene. Take heart. Here comes Michael Bloomberg: the perfect icon for an age when big-time businessmen are tabloid celebs and politics is just one more big business to conquer. If Giuliani is the city's real-life Batman--a dark-souled crimefighter who makes people feel safer, even if he creeps them out a bit--then Bloomberg comes off more like Bruce Wayne, the tuxedoed ladies' man and philanthropist whose charm masks a deeper ambition. He's as likely to pop up in gossip columns as he is in the financial pages, and he's given hundreds of millions of dollars to local causes. "Giving away money and trying to change the world is one thing," says Bloomberg. "Doing it with your own time is another, and I'm looking for that new challenge."

It will certainly be that. To secure a spot on the ballot, Bloomberg, formerly a liberal Democrat, had to switch his allegiance to the GOP. That could be a problem, since Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 5 to 1 in the city, and you could still swim in the East River the last time voters put back-to-back Republicans in city hall. But New Yorkers love brash, superhero-style mayors, and it's Bloomberg's good fortune to be matched up against the Democrats' Forgettable Four: worthy politicians all, but any of whom would have trouble getting a table on a crowded night at Le Cirque. They say Bloomberg doesn't worry them, but they're already sniping. Mark Green, the Democratic front runner, insists Bloomberg doesn't have a chance. "Him wanting to be mayor is like me going this afternoon to knock on the door of Bloomberg Inc. and saying, 'Hi, I'm Mark Green, I've never run a company for a day in my life, but I'd like to take over in four months. Where do I apply?' " The mayoralty, Green says, "is not an entry-level job."

True enough, but 20 million bucks will get you a hell of an interview. Bloomberg's media guys will use that money to tell New Yorkers the remarkable story of a kid who worked his way through school and hit it big at Salomon Brothers on Wall Street. Fired in 1981, Bloomberg used his $10 million severance to start his own company, Bloomberg Financial Markets, providing stock prices--and, later, a news service--through leased machines known as Bloomberg boxes or just "Bloombergs. …

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