How Operation Bloomberg Kept Obama Out of the Race

Would Obama have helped Thompson? A Times expose explains how it never happened

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    He's a crafty one.

    Bill Thompson didn't have Michael Bloomberg's big bucks, his renown or any real help aside from his own political muscle, but he made the mayoral race awfully close. Imagine if he had someone like, oh, President Barack Obama, backing him up.

    Early on, Bloomberg saw to it that the president wouldn't come to Thompson's aid -- not in the unequivocal sense, anyway, reports The New York Times . Sure, Obama offered a limp endorsement a few weeks before Election Day. But he didn't stand by Thompson, hands pumping, warming up the crowd like he did for Jon Corzine several times, including a few days before the vote, in New Jersey. And he didn't partner in campaign rallies with Thompson like he did with Creigh Deeds in Virginia.  

    Would it have helped? We don't know. It seems, however, that while Obama and Bloomberg don’t share the same party line, they do share a tacit understanding that they each wield a lot of influence. And given their mutual respect for one another, they won't butt into races where one or the other is competing. Bloomberg didn't weigh in on the presidential race (except for having a cozy breakfast at a New York diner that screamed photo-op, of course).

    And he asked Obama not to meddle in the mayoral race. Quid pro quo.

    Wary of pressure for Obama to campaign for Thompson, since he was doing the same across the river for Corzine, Bloomberg's aides recruited Geoffrey Canada, chief executive of the Harlem Children's Zone, to call Obama's senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, and ask her to to ask him, more or less, to not choose sides in the mayoral race, according to an amazing Times analysis of the behind the scenes wrangling that propeled Bloomberg to a third term.  Bloomberg has personally given $600,000 to the Harlem Children's Zone.

    "He didn't pick sides in your race. Don't pick sides in his," a close adviser to the mayor told the Times by way of describing the Bloomberg campaign's pitch to the White House.

    According to the Times' analysis, the removal of Obama from any involvement in the campaign underscored a staunch effort employed by Bloomberg's people all along to root out any potential roadblocks to the mayor winning his third term.

    Remember Anthony Weiner? Bloomberg's campaign muscled him out of the race early. And you know all the powerful Democrats that backed Thompson from the beginning?

    Oh, that's right. There weren't any. And it was all by design.

    Bloomberg aides knew it was going to be a rough going immediately after the mayor won his proposal to extend term limits last fall. The mayor's top political expert, Kevin Sheekey, urged the mayor to warn off potential challengers as soon as possible and to hire a fearless attack dog, later revealed to be Howard Wolfson, to spearhead the communications operation.

    Sheekey and Bradley Tusk, who had worked for Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Lehman Brothers, devised a plan – key endorsements, massive advertising roll-outs and a huge campaign staff – that would make running against Bloomberg seem like a futile endeavor, reports the Times.

    And, indeed, that's what it turned out to be. Bloomberg wasn't running a campaign on what he would do if he won. He was running based on the idea that he already had.

    "It was selling inevitability," a campaign adviser told the Times.

    In reality, Bloomberg's re-election was far from inevitable. The reality of how close it was, unfortunately, came out on Election Day. It was too late to do anything about it. Prior to last night, pollsters and politicos had been worrying about surveys that indicated New Yorkers were frustrated with Bloomberg extending term limits, worried about the economy and hungry for change, reports the Times. Outside campaign rooms, however, Bloomberg was always polished, calm and flippantly told voters that if they didn't want him to be in office for a third term, they shouldn't elect him.

    It wasn't long before the attack on Weiner moved into full gear, however. Concerned about the congressman's potential pull among middle-class New Yorkers, the Bloomberg campaign unleashed a flurry of negative campaign ads slamming his record. Although Weiner was never one to bow down to Bloomberg in the city where everyone else knelt down at his feet, it eventually became too much and he backed out of the race.

    Tusk and Wolfson celebrated at Peter Luger's over a steak, reports the Times.