You could look at Michael Bloomberg—astringent, profane, irritated by small talk, impatient with the politics of empathy—and see a plutocrat whose billions have given him the freedom to say and do whatever he wants, even to change the law to run for a third term as New York City’s mayor. Or you could look a little further and see a more interesting pattern: a man who turned getting shunted off the fast track at Salomon Brothers—over to information technology, no place for a fledgling master of the financial universe—into an opportunity, creating an entirely new approach to getting traders the data they needed; who took getting fired as a chance to gamble his payout on this idea; who then took the billions he made and chose not to embark on a lifelong vacation but to step into the least-forgiving political arena in the country; and who has since governed New York assertively, putting himself in the vanguard of a generation of mayors who, at a time when the federal government is paralyzed, are testing new approaches to education, transportation, and public health. You begin to see a guy, in sum, who thinks for himself, but not only of himself.
I visited the mayor recently at the open bullpen that is his nerve center at City Hall, where he works from a cubicle in the center of the room. Howard Wolfson, one of his deputy mayors, was telling me how hard it was to close struggling schools, when Bloomberg joined us at one of the small tables that sit on a raised platform along one wall, near the coffeepot. Wolfson was saying that the administration had shut more than 100 schools. “Yeah, 140, I think,” the mayor said briskly as he settled into a worn, straight-back chair. Unlike most politicians or businessmen I’ve interviewed, he never once suggested he would make a comment off the record or on background—it didn’t seem to occur to him that he might—or even hesitated before answering, in a conversation that ranged from his plan to limit the size of sodas, in order to combat obesity; to his approach to governing; to his defense of a mosque being built near Ground Zero; to his views of the presidential candidates and the future of journalism. What follows are excerpts; a full transcript is online.