People

Billionaire sets off buzz over presidential bid

Having been both a Democrat and a Republican, and now an Independent, Mr Bloomberg stands at a unique ideological crossroads.
Having been both a Democrat and a Republican, and now an Independent, Mr Bloomberg stands at a unique ideological crossroads.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Michael Bloomberg known for being critical of leaders who pander to their constituents

Mr Michael Bloomberg believes he knows best.

When he was Mayor of New York City, he cracked down on cigarettes in New York's bars and restaurants, banned trans fats in the city's eateries and waged war on super-sized sodas - part of his plan to combat obesity.

When he reached the end of two terms as mayor - the maximum allowed by law at the time - he moved the goalposts and pushed through controversial legislation in 2008 that allowed him to run for a third term. His reason? The city needed his financial prowess to ride out the recession.

 
 

A critic of leaders who pander to their constituents, Mr Bloomberg, 73, the son of a bookkeeper who grew up in suburban Massachusetts, prides himself on his good judgment.

"People aren't good at describing what is in their own interest," the father of two, told The Atlantic magazine in 2012. "What leaders should do is make decisions as to what they think is in the public interest based on the best advice that they can get, and then try and build a constituency and bring it along."

He takes the same stance when it comes to consumers of news.

LEADERS MAKE THE DECISIONS

People aren't good at describing what is in their own interest... What leaders should do is make decisions as to what they think is in the public interest based on the best advice that they can get, and then try and build a constituency and bring it along.

MR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

"You don't know what you care about," he said, referring to readers. "Because what you care about changes with what's going on in the world, and you need somebody to make those decisions for you."

Now, he is flirting with the idea that Americans might need another option for President of the United States this year - himself.

While the buzz over the last week is that he might be considering a presidential bid, pundits say he is likely to run only if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not on track to clinching the nomination. After all, his credentials do have substantial areas of overlap with two possible nominees, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

For starters, Mr Bloomberg, is a self-made billionaire - with net worth at US$37 billion (S$53 billion) , much like Mr Trump with net worth at US$4 billion, but with many billions to spare.

Money was tight in Mr Bloomberg's family when he was growing up and reports say his father worked seven days a week as an accountant at a local dairy to feed his family of four.

The young Bloomberg worked his way through college and after graduating from Harvard Business School, was hired to work at Solomon Brothers in 1966, and rose through the ranks to head the firm's equity and sales division.

In 1981, he was fired after losing an internal power struggle, but was handed US$10 million as severance.

He used part of this money to launch a computerised financial-information company that became Bloomberg L.P.

In 1990, with the company a phenomenal success, he launched Bloomberg Business News (now Bloomberg news) which delivered financial stories direct to Bloomberg terminal subscribers.

As much as Mr Trump has tooted his own horn about spending his own money on his presidential bid, Mr Bloomberg is known to have spent at least US$261 million of his own money in the pursuit of public office, according to the New York Times, more than anyone else in the US. And he is perfectly capable of underwriting his own presidential campaign, if he were to run.

On the other hand, Mr Bloomberg shares liberal social ideas with Mr Sanders. He was named the United Nations' first special envoy for cities and climate change in 2014.

He has donated generously to women's health organisations and also co-founded what is known today as Everytown For Gun Safety, a non-profit group working to end gun violence and build safer communities.

His stance against guns is in fact much clearer than Mr Sanders who has been criticised for not being tough enough on combating gun violence.

Having been both a Democrat and a Republican, and now an Independent, Mr Bloomberg stands at a unique ideological crossroads.

A Democrat before seeking elected office, he ran on the Republican ticket in 2001 instead. Two years after winning his second term, he left the Republican party and switched his status to unaffiliated.

He said in a statement at the time: "I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city."

The move stoked speculation of his interest in a presidential bid, though it did not materialise in the end.

Mr Doug Schoen, who worked with the former mayor as a pollster for 16 years, told the Washington Post that, given record levels of desire for an independent candidate to run, "this is arguably a unique moment in the country's history when Mr Bloomberg will not only be able to respond to the anger that exists, but to also channel it into constructive non-partisan leadership".

In the Atlantic interview, Mr Bloomberg noted some important traits in a leader.

"The public... is much more likely to follow if the public believes that you are genuine…

"George W. Bush, who I don't agree with on a lot of things, I think he got elected and re-elected because the public thought he was genuine. They think his father was genuine."

And whether Mr Bloomberg has the authenticity to rival Mr Trump or the conviction to take on Mr Sanders, well, he should know best.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'Billionaire sets off buzz over presidential bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe