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Theodore Hamm Headshot

The Mayor vs. the President

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That New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie gave President Obama a warm embrace is not entirely surprising, given that the need for disaster relief usually trumps party loyalty. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example, Ray Nagin, the Democratic mayor of New Orleans, extended open arms to President George W. Bush. Such a pattern makes the decision by New York City's current mayor, the independent Michael Bloomberg, to discourage President Obama from visiting the Sandy-ravaged city all the more curious.

Bloomberg's official explanation was that everyone has "lots of things to do" in terms of clean-up, and that since Obama will be with Christie surveying the damage in New Jersey, that represented the region. The mayor assured us that he was not trying to "diss" the president, and that the city "would love to have him." Yet, in Bloomberg's view, somehow the president's visit would have gotten in the way of the pressing demands of the relief effort.

The more-plausible rationale behind Bloomberg's decision is that an Obama visit on the eve of the election would have provided a good photo-op for the president. After meeting with a prominent Romney supporter (Christie), Obama would have then be seen working closely with the figure who Thomas Friedman recently championed as the voice of independents (Bloomberg). And if Bloomberg were to help Obama win re-election, that could diminish his ability to wield his national clout over the next four years.

Friedman and others point to Bloomberg's stance on gun control as a clear sign of the mayor's independence and willingness to champion issues that both parties refuse to address. But even as the mayor has shown courage on that issue, time and again Bloomberg has demonstrated that his primary loyalty is to Wall Street. In the spring of 2010, the mayor led the charge in fighting Obama's attempt to regulate the derivatives market, and time and again he has defended Jamie Dimon and other CEOs from the criticisms of Occupy. While he remains a staunch ally of Tim Geithner, Bloomberg recently derided Elizabeth Warren for turning to socialism.

When the Stock Exchange reopened on Halloween morning, the mayor was there to ring the opening bell, showing that he knows the symbolic value of photo-ops. And Mayor Bloomberg is also aware that if he had toured the area and its flooded surroundings with President Obama, he would have comprised his ability to bargain as an independent working on Wall Street's behalf.

Update: Bloomberg's announcement on Thursday, November 1, that he would endorse President Obama came as a surprise to many observers, including me. Yet it's all the more reason why the mayor should have invited the president to survey the damage a day earlier. More than a photo-op, the president's visit would have helped bring national attention to hard-hit areas like Staten Island, where Bloomberg traveled yesterday afternoon. In any case, Bloomberg's nod suggests that Wall Street is siding with Obama. Not only is it better for the Street to be on the side of the likely winner, but now is not the time to back a party ideologically opposed to stimulus spending.