Bloomberg Move Generates Stir

WASHINGTON -- The announcement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent was made after nearly two years in which his aides had laid the groundwork for a potential independent run for president.

They collected technical data on the requirements to put Bloomberg on the ballot in 50 states either as a third party or as an independent candidate.

Bloomberg went to Washington for a round of meetings with opinion leaders and traveled the country giving political speeches, including two this week in California.

And Bloomberg told associates that he was closely studying the 1992 presidential campaign of Ross Perot, the wealthy Texan and friend who drew 19 percent of the vote as an independent, to figure out how much a race in 2008 would cost.

For all that, Bloomberg told a packed news conference on Wednesday that he did not plan to run for president and intended to serve out his second term as mayor.

"My intention is to be mayor for the next 925 days and 10 or 11 hours," he said. "I've got the greatest job in the world, and I'm going to keep doing it."

Still, Bloomberg proceeded to use a news conference to give a critique on national politics. It was a fitting end to a week when he appeared on the cover of Time magazine and gave two speeches in California offering a pointed indictment of partisan politics in Washington, contrasting it with how he runs New York.

Indeed, his aides said that he had not intended for the news of his registration switch, which he initiated last Wednesday by signing a document with the New York City Board of Elections, to become public until he had returned from California, but he was hardly upset at the swell of attention it drew him.

The aides said there was division in his camp about whether he should run for president. Kevin Sheekey, who was the architect behind Bloomberg's unlikely mayoral bid in 2001, urged him to run for president over steaks and drinks at a dinner to celebrate his re-election in 2005. Others argued that it was an impossible task and a waste of Bloomberg's reputation and resources.

Bloomberg was described as conflicted about a national run, intrigued by the possibility of winning the presidency but telling friends that he would not run unless he was certain that he could win. And he did not want to go down in history as a spoiler who contributed to the defeat of a Democrat like U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, he has told friends.

"He will not run to be a spoiler," said Ester Fuchs, a special adviser to Bloomberg in his first term who remains close to the administration.

Even if Bloomberg in the end does not run, he is now assured of a platform to speak out on national issues and the country's political climate, a stage that would fortify him as he enters what is normally the lame-duck portion of his term.

Aides involved with other campaigns said they could see a long-shot situation in which Bloomberg might enter the fray, particularly if the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates emerge as nominees after long and bloody primaries.