The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Mon­ica Porter

AS WE near the 2012 Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, once again there are ru­mours that the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, might en­ter the race, thereby mak­ing him­self po­ten­tially the coun­try’s first Jewish pres­i­dent. The Com­mit­tee to Draft Michael Bloomberg, which un­suc­cess­fully urged him to run in the 2008 elec­tions, has an­nounced that it will try to per­suade him to wage a cam­paign next year.

As for the 69-year-old me­dia mogul him­self — with an $18 bil­lion for­tune, the 13th rich­est per­son in the United States — he de­nies that he has any plans to run. But, as we all know, the de­nials of politi­cians are never carved in stone.

Per­son­ally, I had never found him a very at­trac­tive fig­ure. For a start, I’m not sure a bil­lion­aire can pos­si­bly un­der­stand the plight of the com­mon man. This im­pres­sion was re­in­forced for me a few years ago when some­one who had reg­u­lar deal­ings with him de­scribed Bloomberg as “lack­ing the em­pa­thy gene”. Not ideal for a Pres­i­dent.

I had also been vaguely aware of news­pa­per sto­ries about his al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment of some of his fe­male em­ploy­ees. These may well have been com­pletely un­fair and cer­tainly Bloomberg him­self de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, but any kind of neg­a­tive cov­er­age is not ex­actly go­ing to shift an al­ready es­tab­lished, neg­a­tive view.

So, all in all, Michael Rubens Bloomberg was not my cup of tea. But, fol­low­ing a re­cent stay in Man­hat­tan — my first in many years — I have re­vised my opin­ion of the man.

I met up with my old high-school chum Jeremy, a jour­nal­ist who now works as an edi­tor at Bloomberg News. He re­lated two sur­pris­ingly pos­i­tive anec­dotes about his bil­lion­aire boss.

Firstly, Jeremy re­cently wrote some ar­ti­cles about dis­si­dent Cuban jour­nal­ist Nor­mando Gon­za­lez’s years of abuse and im­pris­on­ment by the Cuban gov­ern­ment. When the Cuban authorities threat­ened to close Bloomberg’s Havana of­fice if they pub­lished any more ar­ti­cles about Gon­za­lez, Bloomberg told them to “get lost”. He would run the sto­ries even if they shut it down. Which they did.

On an­other oc­ca­sion, Jeremy was some­what anx­ious when asked to re­view a snobby Man­hat­tan restau­rant which he dis­liked, be­cause he was aware that Bloomberg some­times ate there and was friendly with the owner.

Nev­er­the­less, he grit­ted his teeth and wrote an hon­est, crit­i­cal re­view. On the morn­ing it ap­peared, Jeremy’s phone rang. It was Bloomberg. Uh-oh. But he was call­ing to say that he’d en­joyed the slat­ing. “Ap­par­ently they al­ways fawn over him at that restau­rant,” said Jeremy, “and he can’t stand it.”

So, not such a bad fel­low. But a can­di­date for the White House? Well, let’s think about it. The US is in the thick of a mon­u­men­tal fis­cal cri­sis. Surely the coun­try needs a Pres­i­dent who is good with money. These tough fi­nan­cial times call for a hard-nosed busi­ness­man like Bloomberg, not an ide­al­ist like Obama.

And there’s some­thing else. Al­though he was ini­tially a Demo­crat and then a Repub­li­can, since 2007 Bloomberg has been an In­de­pen­dent. He’s po­lit­i­cally un­af­fil­i­ated. Af­ter the re­cent spec­ta­cle of the tooth-and­claw battle be­tween the Democrats and the Repub­li­cans to reach agree­ment over the “debt ceil­ing”, it could be re­fresh­ing to have a non-par­ti­san leader in power.

If Bloomberg does run for the pres­i­dency, it will be to his ad­van­tage that he’s seen to have just the right de­gree of Jewish­ness. He was brought up near Bos­ton in a kosher home, but didn’t raise his own daugh­ters re­li­giously. He puts in an oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ance at his Re­form synagogue but lives a largely sec­u­lar life.

He is a sup­porter of Is­rael and of Jewish causes but once re­marked that, while he was happy to be a Jew, it didn’t make him bet­ter or worse than any­one else: “You are what you are”. He rarely dis­cusses his faith.

In other words, he’s com­fort­ably as­sim­i­lated. And he per­son­i­fies the Amer­i­can dream — the or­di­nary Joe, grand­son of im­mi­grants, who be­came a suc­cess­ful, self-made man.

He can be in­spi­ra­tional, too. “We’ve shown the world that New York can never be de­feated”, he de­clared in re­la­tion to the 9/11 at­tacks, “be­cause of its dy­namic and di­verse pop­u­la­tion and be­cause it em­bod­ies the spirit of en­ter­prise and the love of lib­erty.”

Whether or not he has the mak­ings of a Pres­i­dent, there is a lot to ad­mire about Michael Bloomberg. Just don’t fawn over him. He doesn’t like it. Mon­ica Porter’s lat­est book is ‘Long Lost: The Story of the News­pa­per Col­umn that Started the Re­union In­dus­try’.

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