Image: Michael Bloomberg
Seth Wenig  /  AP file
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
updated 9/23/2008 3:44:27 PM ET 2008-09-23T19:44:27

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has suddenly managed to make speculation about his future look like a tug of war — stay four more years and guard the city against financial ruin or leave now and do the same for the nation.

In recent days there have been pleas for the billionaire businessman to go in opposite directions. One has him changing New York's term-limits law to run again and stay in office as the fallout from the financial crisis threatens the city. The other envisions him going to Washington to head the Treasury Department in the next presidential administration, become an economic czar or sit on an oversight committee to supervise the Bush administration's bailout plan.

"I seem to be very popular," Bloomberg said Monday. "What did I do?"

He already knows the answer, because it is a game he has mastered — playing coy.

Possible White House run?
For two years, the former CEO batted his eyelashes and said, essentially, "Who me?" when asked questions about possibly running for the White House. He and his aides perfected the game by occasionally dumping fuel on the fire — like changing his party registration from Republican to independent — all the while insisting that a presidential run was not part of his plan.

Behind the scenes, he was assembling a blueprint to get on every state ballot and spending millions on national polling to gauge his chances — which he eventually decided earlier this year were too much of a long shot.

But the result was that he won national attention and a stage on which to promote his agenda on issues like gun control, education and climate change. He also managed to get himself mentioned on a few long lists of potential running mates for both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, which helped him stay in the spotlight for a little while longer before it faded when the veepstakes turned serious.

After a quiet few weeks this summer, the buzz is back, in two very different scenarios.

Questions deflected
On a national level, he is being mentioned as a candidate for various types of economic jobs. He is said to be uniquely qualified because of his expertise in founding and running his multibillion-dollar financial information company, Bloomberg LP, and his record on managing the city's budget over the years. The Harvard Business School alum also got his start on Wall Street.

McCain on Monday called for a bipartisan oversight board to supervise the $700 billion bailout plan being crafted by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, saying it should be led by Warren Buffett and involve Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Others have suggested Bloomberg should be the next Treasury secretary or take a new position as financial czar, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and local leaders and officials.

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Asked about those possibilities Monday, Bloomberg did what he does best — deflect but not deny. He said he believes elected officials have the duty to serve out the terms they are given by the voters, "and not go look for something else to do during the term." His ends at the close of 2009.

"Now that doesn't mean if somebody called, and you could really make a difference, you wouldn't think about it — of course you would," he said. "But I do not have any interest in any job other than the one I'm doing."

He completely ignored the actual question, which was about whether he thinks his expertise would be better used in Washington immediately or in New York City for another term.

Four more years?
Seeking four more years as mayor would be quite a reversal for Bloomberg, whose first-ever veto when he took office in 2002 was to reject a City Council bill that sought to extend terms for some lawmakers.

At the time, he said the proposed law was wrong because it amounted to changing the rules for personal political gain. Fast forward to last spring, when he quietly polled to take the temperature of the voters, who had twice supported term limits in the 1990s.

In recent weeks he has been gradually softening his statements about term limits, saying now that an argument could be made for retaining experienced leaders at a time of financial crisis.

The calls for him to stay included Monday's editorial in the New York Daily News, which noted the city faces unknown economic troubles down the road, and said that Bloomberg should have the chance to run again because he "knows what he's doing."

But it also demanded that Bloomberg be upfront about what he wants: "His coyness must end."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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