New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement last week that he was becoming an independent stoked speculation that he could launch a third-party presidential run. As such, he could be the most formidable Jewish presidential contender ever. The billionaire who parlayed his Bloomberg business media empire to becoming mayor of the United States' largest city on Tuesday announced that he was leaving the Republican party. "I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city," Bloomberg said.
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Bloomberg, a former Democrat, had only assumed membership in the GOP in order to run for mayor in 2001. He has presided over a popular administration known for taking decidedly un-Republican stances: he is now leading a large crackdown on illegal guns and pressing sweeping anti-air pollution regulations.
His decision to leave his adopted party, though, stirred up much more talk about whether he was clearing the way for a third-party run than for his independent political positions. Though he denied he was paving the way for a presidential run, New York Times covered the announcement by saying that it was made after nearly two years of groundwork laid by aides for an independent bid. Earlier in the week, Time magazine put him on the cover and spent scores of words talking up a run. Political blogs and analysts have been poring over the possibility for the last several days.
But in addition to the substantial challenges any third-party candidate faces, Bloomberg also has his non-Christian heritage to contend with.
A proud donor to Jewish causes such as Hadassah Hospital and New York City's Jewish Museum, when the question of running for president comes up, he's quipped that a "short, Jewish, divorced billionaire" isn't very electable.
Bloomberg wouldn't even be assured of getting the Jewish vote, according to Matt Dorf, a Democratic political strategist who works closely with the Jewish community.
"If there's one thing that the Jewish community has shown, it's the views not the Jews," he said, pointing to the unsuccessful bids of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. "They don't vote for people just because they're Jewish."
Similarly, Dorf said Bloomberg's religion shouldn't be a decisive issue for the general public, the majority of whom, he pointed out, voted for a presidential ticket with the name Lieberman on it (as vice president) in 2000.
And, he said, "If there is this redneck anti-Semitic vote that people fear, it's not going to be in a state that Bloomberg could win in anyway."
Ken Goldstein, the Mosse visiting professor of political sciences at the Hebrew University, said that he thought Bloomberg would draw some Jewish voters away from their traditional allegiance with the Democratic party, but that it would be an influence at the margins.
"But the margins don't matter yet for Bloomberg" because he hasn't even declared himself a candidate, Goldstein said.
For all his obstacles, though, Goldstein did think Bloomberg could be a serious competitor. "He's the mayor of New York and a billionaire. That gets him to the starting gate. There's been few Jewish politicians that have been able to get to the starting gate."