Bloomberg’s wallet hurting his image?

Jeremy Hobson Nov 2, 2009

Bloomberg’s wallet hurting his image?

Jeremy Hobson Nov 2, 2009


KAI RYSSDAL: Tomorrow is election day in some parts of the country, including the country’s biggest city. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running for a third term. Besides name recognition, he’s got another huge advantage — his wallet.

Bloomberg is far and away New York’s richest man, to the tune of $16 billion. He’s expected to spend as much as 140 million of it on this race. His opponent, less than 10 percent of that.

From New York, Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson reports.

NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER BILL THOMPSON: The only word that could be used for the amount of money that’s being spent is obscene.

JEREMY HOBSON: That’s the Democrat in the race, City Comptroller Bill Thompson. What’s Bloomberg’s response?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Costs a lot of money to get a message out, and I’m trying to show what we’ve done and tell people.

Chris Smith has covered Bloomberg for New York Magazine since he first ran for mayor in 2001. He says the mayor is spending so much, in part, because he can. Remember, even $140 million is less than 1 percent of Bloomberg’s money.

CHRIS SMITH: You know, you gotta be honest. If you gave a bottomless checkbook to any political candidate, they wouldn’t be restrained, they’d spend as much as they possibly could.

Trying to wipe out all potential hurdles and make sure they get what they want. But what does Bloomberg want, other than a win? A lot of people, including Smith, say he hasn’t proposed anything new or bold.

SMITH: He’s running on his record, and generally, the people think he’s got a good record.

Hobson: People think he’s got a good record. He’s gotten the endorsement just now of The Times, the Post, the Daily News. It seems just excessive to spend all this money, given the fact that he probably would have won even if he was a millionaire or even a thousandaire.

Smith: Yeah, but you’re never going to find a candidate who’s going to assume he’s going to win. And Bloomberg and the strategists he employs believe in a Colin Powell doctrine. You know, use overwhelming force.

Political scientist Jennifer Steen at Yale is baffled by Bloomberg’s spending. She’s studied self-financed candidates and says her research indicates money can’t buy a win.

JENNIFER STEEN: If you look at self-financed candidates as a class, they have a very poor track record. They tend to lose most of their elections.

Just look at presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Steve Forbes and Ross Perot. She says all money can do is clear the field upfront.

STEEN: When a wealthy self-financer throws his or her hat into the ring, it often deters other potentially strong candidates from entering that same race.

In other words, it’s about how much money a candidate could spend, rather than what he actually does spend. And for some New Yorkers, all this spending appears to be hurting Bloomberg.

NEW YORKER 1: I kind of feel there is a little bit of dictatorial behavior there.

NEW YORKER 2: He’s OK, but I just don’t like the way he flaunts his money around, so I’m not for him.

But polls indicate most people are for him — something Chris Smith says makes the mayor smile even more than knowing he owns one of the most powerful financial news organizations in the world.

SMITH: You know, being mayor of New York City brings you a kind of prestige and power that you can’t get even running a major multinational company.

So would he spend a billion dollars on the race? Smith says that might be a little much, even for a 16 billionaire like Mike Bloomberg.

In New York, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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