Bloomberg nod is still a prize for candidates

March 27, 2008 7:38:02 PM PDT
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced Barack Obama before an economic speech Thursday, he made it clear he wasn't ready to make an endorsement - a prize all the presidential candidates are seeking. After Bloomberg announced last month that he would not run for president but might put his wealth and support behind another candidate, Obama has mounted what appears to be the most aggressive effort to woo the billionaire.

Aides to the mayor and the Illinois senator said Obama was the first to call after Bloomberg's announcement. He phoned again this week to ask the mayor to introduce him before the speech in Manhattan and to review the text.

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain both have called since Bloomberg dangled the possibility of an endorsement, but neither has met with the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent mayor. Aides to both New York Sen. Clinton and Bloomberg say she and the mayor are trying to set up a meeting.

After Bloomberg's introduction Thursday, Obama heaped praise on the mayor for his "extraordinary leadership."

"At a time when Washington is divided in old ideological battles, he shows us what can be achieved when we bring people together to seek pragmatic solutions," Obama said.

"Mr. Mayor," he added a moment later, "I share your determination to bring this country together to finally make progress for the American people."

During the speech, Obama highlighted the importance of investor confidence in the market - a priority for Bloomberg - as well as tighter regulations on Wall Street, which Bloomberg has argued against.

Obama said the next president should expand oversight to institutions that borrow from the government, toughen capital requirements for complex financial instruments like mortgage securities and crack down on trading activity that "crosses the line" to market manipulation.

Bloomberg, who worked on Wall Street before he founded a multibillion-dollar financial information company that bears his name, has said America's regulatory atmosphere is already so burdensome that it scares companies into taking business overseas.

In his introduction, Bloomberg predicted that not everyone "will agree with every idea, myself included."

"But it is critical that we know exactly where each candidate stands as we make perhaps the most important decision of our lives next November," he said.

Later Thursday during a radio interview, Obama praised Bloomberg's proposal for tolls in parts of Manhattan to help cut traffic and pollution.

Bloomberg has had less interaction with Clinton and Arizona Sen.

McCain in the past month, but he has known them longer.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, endorsed Bloomberg in 2001 when he ran for mayor as a politically inexperienced businessman - a long shot campaign when it began.

They also are social friends, and Bloomberg held a fundraiser at his Manhattan home for McCain in 2003.

McCain called Bloomberg about a week after the mayor announced he would not run.

Clinton was the last to call.

A Bloomberg endorsement of Clinton might be a long shot. While they have worked well together as mayor and senator, iciness between them has lingered since 2005, when he ran for re-election as a Republican and asked her to endorse him. Instead, she backed his Democratic opponent, who was not expected to win.

But Clinton may have an in with Bloomberg through her husband.

Former President Clinton has become friendly with the mayor in recent years and they have worked together on climate change.