Mayor Michael Bloomberg turns 70 Tuesday— a perfect opportunity to take stock of the city’s most prominent septuagenarian.
A birthday is just a birthday. The mayor today is who he was yesterday and the day before. But it is also true that in recent months, he has refined his act, been even more dismissive of political considerations than he was before — probably not because of his age, but because he has less than two years left in office. That makes this legacy time.
Because of his wealth, Bloomberg was always more independent than politicians who have to worry about campaign contributions and support from special interests, ranging from real estate developers to unions. He was never one to pull many punches. But, especially when he was considering a run for the presidency during his second term, the mayor was sometimes cautious and did make some accommodations. He was not notably tough on municipal unions, did not champion same-sex marriage for many years though most assumed he favored the concept, knowing his politics.
Now, he is going for broke. His third term ends December 31, 2013, and he is not about to run for president this year, much less four years from now. There is nothing to hold him back, and Bloomberg not only wants to “make a difference” as he says so often, but, clearly, to influence his place in history.
So he joined Governor Andrew Cuomo in leading the fight in Albany to legalize gay marriage. On the home front, he has all but declared war on the teachers union, and is pushing hard for pension reform, to the fury of the city’s unions. On two controversial national issues, he continues his fight — immigration and his fight against illegal guns — and earlier this month, used his wealth to make a national political statement on an issue of public health.
That’s when Bloomberg donated $250,000 of his personal wealth to Planned Parenthood, in the form of a matching grant, after the Susan G. Komen Foundation cancelled its donations to Planned Parenthood, which had been spent on breast cancer screenings — a decision that Komen subsequently reversed under pressure.
The mayor has made generous philanthropic donations to causes and institutions for decades, but now it looks as though, once he leaves office, he will use his wealth to overtly influence national policy. He has another way to do the same thing: through Bloomberg News.
Bloomberg News has a new opinion section, has hired many established, high-profile writers and editors, and in a decision driven more, it would seem, by business than journalism concerns, has expanded dramatically, even as other media organizations have contracted.
Bloomberg is highly unlikely to be a media mogul in the Murdoch mold; do not expect him to be a hands-on publisher, a role that does not appeal to him. But the mayor clearly wants his name associated with high quality journalism. And, as he looks ahead to leaving City Hall and losing the public platform that comes with being mayor, it would surprise nobody who knows him if he uses the opinion section of Bloomberg News to influence policy.
His future has to be on his mind as he begins his 71st year, and contemplates life after City Hall.