President or private citizen? Bloomberg mulls over where he’d have biggest impact on climate and gun control

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is at a crossroads. He’s in the final stages of deciding whether to seek the Democratic nomination for president or continue to push his agenda as a businessman and philanthropist.

“It’s a much harder decision for Mike because he has a lot to give up. He’s built a global business, a multibillion dollar philanthropy and multiple initiatives around climate and guns. How many other candidates have those things to lose?” Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s top political adviser and former deputy mayor, told Yahoo News.

For almost anyone, even a long-shot bid for the presidency would have a greater impact on the wider world than whatever else they might do. But Bloomberg, who commands a powerful news organization and wealth estimated by Forbes at $45.1 billion, isn’t just anyone. He is a prominent voice in the fight for stricter gun laws and the leader of a movement enlisting business executives, elected officials and private citizens to fulfill America’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement — with or without the Trump administration’s support.

His foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, directs significant resources and funding to public health, government innovation and the environment, especially by encouraging local action on climate change and sustainability. For five years, Bloomberg has been U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy helping cities fight climate change. Running for president and leading the free world would require Bloomberg to step down from all of these positions.

When reached for comment, Bloomberg spokesperson Jason Schechter said, “Mike has proudly given over half a billion dollars in the last year to support key progressive causes from the environment to gun safety to education, and he’s backed the strongest candidates who will keep these issues front and center when in office.”

There’s no rush for Bloomberg to decide. Other candidates need to get out and raise money. That’s not his problem.

Back in 2016, Bloomberg considered running as an independent but decided against it, citing data that suggested he would likely split the Democratic vote and help Trump. That wouldn’t be a danger if he ran as a Democrat.

On “Meet the Press” last month, Bloomberg expressed interest in running for president and said he would decide by February.

“Timeline is beginning of the year — end of January, into February maybe. There’s no rush to do it. Everybody wants to know what you’re going to do. The bottom line is: I’m not sure yet,” he said.

As of Jan. 15, the Election Betting Odds website gave Bloomberg a fairly high chance of winning for someone who hasn’t declared his candidacy: 2.9 percent. But there’s also buzz around other prominent Democrats.

Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s failed Senate campaign against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz turned him into a star for Democrats across the country. Nostalgia for the Obama era has resulted in a surfeit of goodwill for former Vice President Joe Biden. And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders still holds tremendous influence over democratic socialists and younger Americans. Former Obama housing chief Julian Castro recently launched his campaign.

There’s been pushback against Bloomberg from those in the more radical wing of the Democratic Party, who argue that a centrist billionaire from Wall Street is out of touch with the recent burst in economic populism on both sides of the aisle. And there are Democrats who would like to see the U.S. elect its first female president.

These voters are rallying around politicians like California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose tough questions for Trump appointees at confirmation hearings have been applauded by the left. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has long been popular for her populist economic views, has launched an exploratory committee, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard recently joined the race. In addition, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced Tuesday that she is running for president.

Even failed presidential bids can be worth the effort if the candidate manages to reframe the national conversation or highlight overlooked, though important, issues. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 and Sanders in 2016 were able to push the Democratic Party in the directions they wanted despite failing to get its nomination.

But Bloomberg already has that sort of platform and the party already prioritizes the issues important to him. This makes him a more viable candidate, but it also means he doesn’t need to run for office to advance his ideas.

On the other hand, it’s not as if Bloomberg’s reentry into politics would bring his company, charity or nonprofits to a halt. They would carry on without him at the helm. Patricia Harris, who was the first deputy mayor of New York under Bloomberg, is currently the CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies. All things considered, Bloomberg has to weigh whether the time on the campaign trail will be worth it. Where will he have the greatest impact?

Bloomberg Philanthropies has partnered with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to help the country move away from coal toward clean energy more rapidly.

Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), has worked closely with Bloomberg to help elect climate champions at the state and national level and push innovative climate policies.

“Certainly, his shoes will be hard to fill and his support for these efforts would be missed. Having said that, having a climate champion campaigning for the president and even better having a climate champion in the White House would be a major boost to our efforts.”

So early in the process, this vote of confidence shouldn’t be read as an official endorsement. Pete Maysmith, the senior vice president for campaigns at LCV, said the organization will challenge all presidential candidates to prioritize climate action.

“He’s shown he’s serious about fighting the climate crisis, from supporting local efforts to transition to clean energy to working with us to retake a pro-environment majority in the House of Representatives,” Maysmith told Yahoo News. “We’ll be working to make sure all the 2020 candidates prioritize the climate crisis and have bold plans for action.”

Mark Rom, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, said there’s no doubt Bloomberg would be able to make a bigger impact if he were president, especially if he had a Democratic Congress.

“That would really advance his goals for the environment. The question is can he be elected president? And would the campaign for presidency divert his environmental focus for the next 18 months? That would, I think, hurt his environmental causes,” Rom said.

Whereas Trump embraces the NRA, Bloomberg is the founder and principal funder of Everytown for Gun Safety, a lobbying group that combines two groups advocating for stricter gun control: Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Bloomberg uses his current platform and deep pockets to amplify their message. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for instance, Bloomberg announced he would match every donation to Everytown.

Related: Michael Bloomberg through the years:

Michael Bloomberg through the years
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Michael Bloomberg through the years
344913 02: Bloomberg L.P. founder and CEO Michael Bloomberg poses for a portrait November 2, 1998 in the training room at his offices in New York City. (Photo by Chris Casaburi/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg samples a slice of life at Francesco's Pizzeria on Third Ave. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. (Photo by Linda Rosier/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg talks to passersby while campaigning at Broadway and W. 225th St. (Photo by David Handschuh/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2001: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg exchanges high-fives with 7-year-old Matthew DePoalo while campaigning on Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
388464 18: Michael Bloomberg of Bloomberg News Service hosts a party before attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, April 28, 2001 in Washington DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Newsmakers)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Michael Bloomberg, Republican candidate for New York mayor, speaks to the press in Brooklyn, New York, 26 September 2001. Bloomberg handsomely won the 25 September New York mayoral primary election to be the official Republican party candidate to replace New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on January 1 next year, according to exit polls. AFP PHOTO Doug KANTER (Photo credit should read DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 26: Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg meets with the Daily News editorial board. (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg leaves the polling booth at PS 6 in Manhattan, NY. (Photo by Jennifer S. Altman/WireImage)
399131 02: Michael Bloomberg, the108th Mayor of the City of New York, gives his inaugural address January 1, 2002 at City Hall in New York City. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Mayor Michael Bloomberg chats with diners at the International House of Pancakes at 135th St. and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. in Harlem, where he picked up the endorsement of the Rev. Calvin Butts. (Photo by Craig Warga/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C), and former New York Stock Exchange President William Johnston (R) listens to New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso (R) on the bell podium before Bloomberg rang the opening bell to begin trading 02 January, 2002. AFP PHOTO Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
399944 03: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the swearing in of over 300 probationary firefighters January 22, 2002 at the Fire Academy on Randalls Island in New York City. The new class is the second to enter the academy since the World Trade Center attack, when the department lost 343 firefighters. The probationary firefighters will begin physical training and classroom instruction before being sent out to firehouses around the city., (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 30: Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes his first State of the City address in the City Council chamber at City Hall. (Photo by Linda Rosier/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg cuts the ribbon to begin the opening of fall's Fashion Week in Bryant Park in Manhattan, NY. (Photo by Jennifer S. Altman/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 09: Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands amidst fire officials during funeral of Fire Lt. Kevin Pfeifer at St. Margaret's Church in Middle Village, Queens. Pfeifer, 42, who worked with Engine Co. 33 in lower Manhattan, was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Bloomberg, attending his first firefighter funeral since taking office last month, eulogized the fallen hero and praised the bravery of all the firefighters who responded to the attacks. (Photo by Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
401921 01: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the unveiling of a fifty-foot high stainless steel tree by artist Roxy Paine March 5, 2002 in New York City's Central Park. The tree is one of five public artworks on display in Central Park sponsored by the Whitney Museum of American Art. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg(L) and Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) look at memorial banners and posters in front of St. Paul's Chapel 09 April 2002 in New York City, before visiting ground zero at the site of the World Trade Center attacks. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Kathy WILLENS (Photo credit should read KATHY WILLENS/AFP/Getty Images)
403191 02: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta (R) look on as a U.S. flag that once flew over Ground Zero is raised during a ceremony at City Hall Plaza April 1, 2002 in New York City. The flag was immortalized in a photograph by Thomas Franklin of three firefighters raising it amid the rubble of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 28: Mayor Michael Bloomberg addresses the Republican State Convention at the Sheraton New York Hotel on Seventh Ave. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 14: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts Dominic Gorie (L) and Frank Culbertson (R) present an American flag to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) in honor of Flag Day June 14, 2002 in New York City. The flag was found at Ground Zero, the location of the World Trade Center in New York, and was flown into space in December 2001 aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Endeavor. Culbertson was onboard the International Space Station September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks occurred in the U.S. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 4: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets a Nathan's Famous hot dog after Takeru Kobayashi won Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island July 4, 2002 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Kobayashi, who won last year, set a new world record by eating 50 1/2 hot dogs in twelve minutes. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2nd R) speaks with an aide while announcing a new emergency notification system at a news conference overlooking Ground Zero on May 10, 2011 in New York City. Bloomberg, who was joined by politicians, federal officials and the heads of mobile phone companies, spoke of the system that will alert what to do in case of emergency to anyone with an 'enabled' mobile device within range of a cell phone tower. Part of a law passed by Congress five years ago, the service is scheduled to be available in New York City and Washington, D.C. by the end of the year and is expected in the rest of the country by mid-2012. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) speaks at a press conference as construction continues at the World Trade Center site on September 7, 2011 in New York City. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will feature two reflecting pools on the footprints of the twin towers. The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: (L-R) Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel participate in a forum about education in big cities at the Katzen Arts Center on the campus of American University March 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. Calling their municipalities 'city-states,' the mayors suppored the idea of individual school districts being able to compete with states for the $4.35 billion 'Race to the Top' grant program created by President Barack Obama. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) rings the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on the first day of opening since Hurricane Sandy October 31, 2012 in New York City. The storm has claimed several dozen lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the U.S. east coast, including New York City, with widespread power outages and significant flooding in parts of lower Manhattan and elsewhere. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds a large cup as he speaks to the media about the health impacts of sugar at Lucky's restaurant, which voluntarily adopted the large sugary drink ban, March 12, 2013 in New York City. A state judge on Monday blocked Bloomberg's ban on oversized sugary drinks but the Mayor plans to appeal the decision. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 06: New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio speaks with outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall on November 6, 2013 in New York City. It was the first meeting between the two since de Blasio's election victory the day before. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a press conference with United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan (not seen), unveiling a Hurricane Sandy Recovery Report on August 19, 2013 in the Greenpoint neighborhood of the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. The report calls for strengthening the region's electrical grid, reinforcing coastline and protecting gas supplies. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Shannon Watts, a stay-at-home mom and former communications executive, originally founded Moms Demand Action as a Facebook group a day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Having worked with Mike now for over six years, I cannot express enough what his leadership has meant in the philanthropic space, particularly for the gun safety movement,” Watts told Yahoo News. “I would always encourage a gun safety champion of Mike’s caliber to run for president, but at the same time we would definitely feel his absence if he were to leave philanthropy.”

Watts said the gun safety movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bloomberg for his support, skills and ability to work across the aisle.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to Mike. But whatever he decides, I know that he’ll be a force in the private sector or in government,” she said.

Former President Barack Obama strongly believed in gun control but was unable to get a bill passed, even after the Sandy Hook shooting. He called the legislative failure to adopt even modest gun limitations “probably the most disappointing moment I’ve had with Congress.”

Rom said Bloomberg can spend his money and time however he wants right now and deliver the exact message he wants. He said Trump may have changed the presidential norms in many ways, but there would still more institutional constraints on the president than on a private citizen.

“More power and more constraints is kind of the paradox of presidential leadership,” he said.

History shows that some presidents have been largely ineffective — especially with an adversarial Congress — and did not accomplish much despite the prestige and power of the office. There are also private citizens like Microsoft founder Bill Gates who have made large contributions to American democracy and global health — advances that would have been hard to achieve through governmental channels. Unlike a president, who needs Congress to appropriate funds for their projects, Gates and Bloomberg can more or less direct money exactly as they want. “Congress may have goals that are different than Bloomberg’s goals,” Rom says, adding: “That’s a constraint” — one that a self-made billionaire trying to save the world might not want to live with.


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