The New York mayor had avoided a public endorsement, but now says the president's environmental policies make him the man for America.
Few fence-sitters have been more closely watched this cycle than Michael Bloomberg, New York mayor, Wall Street maven, grizzled pragmatist, and professional centrist. Throughout the campaign, he's been disdainful of both candidates: Barack Obama for failing to live up to his 2008 promises of bipartisanship, Mitt Romney for his social conservatism and refusal to raise taxes.
It appeared likely he would endorse neither man, so his announcement on Thursday that he's backing the president for a second term comes as a surprise. To be sure, it's not a full-throated endorsement. Bloomberg finds time to complain about Obama's shortcomings. But he makes clear that the events of the last few days made it clear to him that it would be unwise to elect Mitt Romney:
The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast -- in lost lives, lost homes and lost business -- brought the stakes of Tuesday's presidential election into sharp relief.
Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week's devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action ....
Here in New York, our comprehensive sustainability plan -- PlaNYC -- has helped allow us to cut our carbon footprint by 16 percent in just five years, which is the equivalent of eliminating the carbon footprint of a city twice the size of Seattle. Through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group -- a partnership among many of the world's largest cities -- local governments are taking action where national governments are not. Leadership Needed
But we can't do it alone. We need leadership from the White House -- and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.
And Bloomberg raps Romney for abandoning the moderation that he displayed as Massachusetts governor -- a mixture of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism not unlike the one Bloomberg espouses. Calling Romney "a good and decent man," Bloomberg writes, "If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him." But Romney's views on women's rights and gay rights do not put him "on the right side of history," Bloomberg says.
Much ink and many pixels have been spilled gaming out the possible political ramifications of Sandy -- with some speculation reasonable, other off the rails -- but to my knowledge no one predicted that it might deliver Bloomberg's endorsement to Obama. Indeed, one of the peculiarities of the Obama-Bloomberg dynamic was that although the men agreed on much, including climate change (Bloomberg -- a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned independent -- was even to Obama's left on gun control), he seemed turned off by the president's mien.
But here's what we do know: Although Sandy seems to be the catalyst for Bloomberg's public backing of the president, he decided to vote for him some time ago. In this month's edition of The Atlantic, the cover of which featured hizzoner, Bloomberg spoke with Editor-in-Chief James Bennet, and said this:
I was asked at a press conference the other day: Would I endorse? And I said, "If we do it, I will let you know." And then somebody asked -- although I think it was in the reverse order -- "Do you know who you're going to vote for?" And I said, "Yes, I do know who I'm going to vote for -- but without giving you the story that you'd like." Stay tuned.
In the same interview, Bloomberg offered a preview of some of the accomplishments he praised today: support for gay marriage, and the Race to the Top education program.
But it's climate change that got the most ink in Bloomberg's Thursday Bloomberg View column. As Politico's Dylan Byers notes, Bloomberg's impassioned plea makes for an uncomfortable contrast with Mitt Romney's reaction to a climate-change heckler today. During the Republican National Convention, Romney cracked wise about oceans rising, and today he grinned condescendingly at his questioner. There are plenty of folks along the eastern seaboard who don't see much humor in the high water.
How much difference will Bloomberg's endorsement make really? That's tough to say. New York's vote was never much in doubt -- it's a solid blue state, as are most of the states affected by the storm. And given the whimpering flop of Americans Elect, the third-party effort that tried to draft someone like Bloomberg to run as president, it's doubtful that most of the U.S. can be swayed by a prickly, unapologetic East Coast elitist. But if Romney loses, this may be seen as a symbol of the failure of his campaign. If a wealthy, successful businessman who turned to public service late in his career and made his name as a pragmatic, realistic, numbers-based policymaker can't win Michael Bloomberg's vote, what's the point?