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Mayor Bloomberg says he knows how he'll be voting in next month's presidential election. But he's not telling -- yet.
For the mayor, a successful bid to back a winning candidate has the potential to make him look like a kingmaker with a powerful political future despite his waning days in elective office.
Some analysts question whether a Bloomberg endorsement would be a curse or a blessing for either candidate — or for the mayor himself.
Earlier this year, some corners of the political blogosphere were abuzz with speculation about the possible benefits of a public boost from the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent.
Republican Sen. John McCain met with Bloomberg to argue the case for a Mitt Romney presidency, and days later, Romney himself met with the mayor. At about the same time, Vice President Joe Biden joined him for a game of golf.
Some suggested that the businessman mayor's connections to Wall Street's moneyed elite could deliver a wealthy donor base to the right candidate. Others argued his reputation as a pragmatic-minded moderate with a disdain for partisan paralysis could help deliver undecided voters. Bloomberg's deep pockets — Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at $25 billion — mean that he himself could be a valuable supporter in the age of the unfettered super PAC.
But thus far, the mayor who has so often sought the national spotlight has taken the same route as he did in 2008, when he said he was keeping his decision to himself out of prudence.
"The mayor has to work with whomever wins," Bloomberg said Thursday. "I know exactly who I'm going to vote for, but will have to decide, as we get closer, whether I will give an endorsement. ... I want to think long and hard about it."
Public backing for a losing candidate could damage the city's standing in the federal budget process and its ability to successfully lobby on national issues. Also, if Bloomberg was to take the side of the Republicans and publicly promote a Romney presidency, it could hurt him at home in his work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the heavily Democratic New York City Council, suggested Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherrill.
But for the candidates, Sherrill argued, a nod from Bloomberg — known for progressive views on social issues and a business-oriented take on fiscal policy — could help sway both undecided voters and those who aren't too attached to their pick.
"He legitimizes either one of them," Sherrill said — either by helping Romney cement a swing toward the center or by giving a respected entrepreneur's seal of approval to the state of the economy under Obama.
Fordham University politics professor Joseph Mercurio disagrees. Public praise from the mayor could ultimately hurt a candidate precisely because of the mayor's refusal to tow a party line, he said.
"The truth is he'd probably be a negative for either one of them," said the political media consultant, a Democrat who isn't working on the presidential race. "He'd wind up endorsing somebody, and then you'd have all the baggage of the things he would do after that. He would invariably say something about issues or make a comment that's not in sync with your voters."
Such an endorsement could be especially problematic for Romney, Mercurio said. The former Massachusetts governor, himself a multimillionaire, has been working to overcome perceptions that his wealth and business world alliances have left him out of touch and unable to connect with voters. Media coverage associating him with one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country could be a hindrance, Mercurio argued.
Still, Bloomberg — once seen as a possible third-party presidential candidate — has seemed to use the possibility of an endorsement as a lure for both men. In the months before he said he'd decided how to cast his vote, he signaled that either Obama or Romney might win his favor with action on the mayor's priority issues.
Given his comments on the two, it seems possible that his support for the candidate of his choice is somewhat lukewarm. He has accused Obama of unfairly seeking to raise taxes on only the rich, and said the Republicans are "divorced from reality" in their bid to extend the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts.
And Bloomberg has been openly disdainful of both when it comes to gun control. His advocacy group has launched a national ad campaign calling on them to issue a plan on how they would address firearm violence.
"They've been cowed by the NRA," he said this month. "They're deliberately avoiding it and I think it's a disgrace."
Despite publicly pondering a late-campaign endorsement, for now, Bloomberg is keeping his distance from both men.
While many of his constituents stayed in to watch the first Obama-Romney debate, the mayor stepped out, and spent the night at a Carnegie Hall gala.