In his first major public appearance since leaving office, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke Friday to a packed crowd at the Sarasota Opera House in an event organized by the Ringling College Library Association.
The former mayor, who is known for his independent political bent and for being a political outsider, laid criticism on both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as the press corps in a lecture that spanned the gamut of contemporary political controversies and hot topics.
The event’s moderator, Sarasota native and former CBS news anchor Sharyl Attkisson, was also making her debut public appearance after leaving the post for which she was best known.
The Riverview High School graduate sparked media uproar two weeks ago when she announced she was leaving the network due to liberal bias and perceived corporate influence.
Attkisson interviewed Bloomberg for more than hour, touching on a series of controversial topics, including, among many others — the Benghazi terrorist attack, the debate over common core education standards, raising the minimum wage, the 2012 presidential election, congressional gridlock and the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
Bloomberg even addressed the controversial “soda ban,” he implemented in New York City, prohibiting the sale of large soft drinks.
Bloomberg’s responses to those politically charged subjects reflected his independent political leanings, which break from the political orthodoxy of politicians subscribing to a party platform.
“I’m not a big government guy or a little government guy — I’m a practical government guy,” Bloomberg said.
The former mayor, for example, explained that his endorsement of President Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election was due to Romney’s decision to change his position on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion to appeal to the more conservative factions of his party.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry I disappointed you,’” Bloomberg said, recalling meeting Romney several months after his endorsement of Obama.
But on other issues, such as raising the minimum wage and national defense, Bloomberg’s answers fell more closely in line with Republicans.
On the minimum wage hike proposed by President Obama, Bloomberg said the move would spur private companies to higher fewer workers. A better solution, Bloomberg claimed, would be to provide a payroll tax credit for those “struggling to make ends meet.”
Bloomberg, who managed the recovery and defense of New York City in the months immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also sounded a more hawkish note on national defense.
“There’s an awful lot of bad people out there, and we need to keep up our guard,” Bloomberg said. “The most important thing we can teach our kids is not to let their guard down.”
When asked if he was going to run for president in 2016, Bloomberg promptly replied, “No."
Bloomberg, whose political affiliations have spanned the full spectrum from Democratic to Republican and independent, said his reluctance to toe the traditional political party lines rules out his presidential prospects due to the appetites of the press to “give the people what they want” by appealing to the far right and far left political extremes.
“The press is just merciless … George W. Bush got elected and re-elected because people thought he was genuine,” Bloomberg said. “Genuine, honest people — that’s what most people want. But that’s not what the press wants.”
When asked if, despite all the perceived dysfunction and gridlock in Washington, he still had faith in the American system of government, Bloomberg replied: “It’s hardly perfect, but when people vote with their feet around the world, they still come to America.”
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