Yesterday, in a press release, Mike Bloomberg said his switch of party allegiance from Republican to none-of-the-above was about “bring[ing] my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead our city.” This afternoon, in a press conference — after torturing reporters with a prolonged exaltation of the 311 system — the mayor claimed the switch was because he’d suddenly become aware of nasty partisanship in Washington, and that becoming a free agent allows him to speak his mind.
True, Bloomberg hasn’t governed according to any ideology other than pragmatic capitalism, and, true, he certainly hasn’t been Ed Koch. But the mayor hasn’t been shy about voicing his opinions, even in those bad old days when he was a Republican. His switch is about maximizing his time in the spotlight, either to test the waters for a presidential run (the cynical view) or to emphasize the important issues that craven pols avoid (Bloomberg’s stated agenda). But this maneuver has nothing to do with political philosophy or courage. There have been plenty of moments when changing affiliations would have shown real guts — in 2003, before the Republican convention came to town (as one of my smartest predecessors, Michael Tomasky, suggested then), or when the disaster of the war in Iraq had become plainly apparent, or when congressional Republicans were stiffing us on homeland-security money. But switching now? Call it what it is: expediency, just like it was in 2000 when Bloomberg went from lifelong Democrat to Republican to help his chances of winning the mayor’s race. Bloomberg can make a valuable contribution to the 2008 presidential contest, whether he’s actually in it or not. But he’s got to start by being what he claims to be: honest. —Chris Smith