President Barack Obama may be courting Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This is politics on the highest level -- and the courtship makes one wonder what the participants have in mind. It’s not entirely clear who’s romancing whom.
There was a Friday trip to Martha’s Vineyard to play golf with the President. And also Bloomberg has been invited in recent weeks to have breakfast with Vice President Biden and a talk with the Treasury Secretary.
Political analysts have been pondering the significance of all this. Hank Sheinkopf, an old hand at reading political tea leaves, told me:
"If you’re thinking about running for re-election, as the President and his people are, you don’t want a billionaire running around loose. So you offer him a top job to get him out of the way.
"New York City is in better financial shape than many other cities -- and, if Bloomberg would take a job like being Obama’s economic czar, why not use him?"
A White House spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that the President seeks out voices beyond the Beltway "holding discussions with the nation’s mayors and governors and hearing from the American people directly."
The Chicago politicians who are Obama’s closest advisers don’t like the idea of a man with lots of cash ($18 billion) out there on the political horizon. "Bloomberg isn’t going away and the Chicago people know it," says Sheinkopf, "Also, Bloomberg knows how to deal with financial people around the globe. It wouldn’t hurt to get him on the team.
Back in the 1990s Robert Rubin served as President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary. He was credited, the BBC noted in 1999, "with being one of the main architects of an American economic miracle, delivering sustained growth, near full-employment and bullish stock markets while avoiding inflationary pressures."
Could Bloomberg have a similar role in the Obama administration, which has been floundering as it seeks an economic policy that works?
Bloomberg’s people are not saying much. Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, who acted as Bloomberg’s attack dog in the 2009 campaign, had a simple explanation for the recent contacts between Obama and Bloomberg: "When the President asks you to play golf, you play golf."
But did Obama suggest any political games as they swatted golf balls around the course?
At 68, the mayor seems to have the energy and ambition of a much younger man. If actuarial tables mean anything, he might still have many years of active service ahead of him. His mother is 101 years old and longevity runs in the family.
Bloomberg denies his conversations with the President involved any talk about an Obama campaign for reelection. "We did not talk about 2012 and anybody running and certainly not me. I have 1,218 days left in this job, and I plan to serve every one out. And I’m looking forward to every one of them," the New York Times reported him as saying.
Nonetheless, political sources say, Bloomberg has considered running as an independent for president in 2012. He certainly has the money to finance it.
Politics, it’s been said, makes strange bedfellows. Does that apply to the Obama-Bloomberg relationship? It may or may not be a courtship, but it's certainly political.