In a surprise announcement, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday that Hurricane Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign, and he announced that he was endorsing President Obama.
Enlarge This Image
Damon Winter/The New York Times
President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York in 2008.
Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent in his third term leading New York City, has been sharply critical of both Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the president’s Republican rival, saying that both men have failed to candidly confront the problems afflicting the nation. But he said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the best candidate to tackle the global climate change that the mayor believes contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage.
“The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of next Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote in an op-ed article for Bloomberg View.
“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
Mr. Bloomberg’s announcement is another indication that Hurricane Sandy has influenced the presidential campaign. The storm, and the destruction it left in its wake, has dominated news coverage, transfixing the nation and prompting the candidates to halt their campaigning briefly.
More than that, it appears to have given a new level of urgency to a central issue in the presidential campaign: the appropriate size and role of government.
As the Federal Emergency Management Agency began undertaking relief efforts across the Northeast, Mr. Romney found himself in the tough position of having to clarify a statement he made last year in which he appeared to back giving the states a larger share of the federal government’s role in disaster response.
But Mr. Bloomberg’s endorsement was largely unexpected. For months, the Obama and Romney campaigns have sought the mayor’s endorsement, in large part because they believe he could influence independent voters around the country.
Mr. Bloomberg has steadfastly withheld his support, largely because he had grown frustrated with the tone and substance of the presidential campaign – recently deriding as “gibberish” the answers that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney gave during a debate to a question about an assault weapons ban. He has expressed disappointment with Mr. Obama’s performance over the past few years, and concern about what he has described as Mr. Romney’s shifts in views over time.
In announcing his endorsement, Mr. Bloomberg listed the various steps Mr. Obama had taken over the last four years to confront the issue of climate change, including pushing regulations that seek to curtail emissions from cars and power plants. But the mayor cited other reasons for endorsing Mr. Obama, including the president’s support for abortion rights and for same-sex couples, two high-priority issues for the mayor.
At the same time, Mr. Bloomberg said he might have endorsed Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, except for the fact that the Republican had abandoned positions he once publicly held.
“In the past he has taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care – but he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the very health care model he signed into law in Massachusetts,” the mayor said of Mr. Romney.
Even in his endorsement, the mayor continued to express criticism of the president. He said that Mr. Obama had fallen short of his 2008 campaign promise to be a problem-solver and consensus builder, noting that he “devoted little time” to creating a coalition of centrist in Washington who could find common ground on important issues like illegal guns, immigration, tax reform and deficit reduction.
“Rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice,” Mr. Bloomberg said of Mr. Obama, “he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.”
The endorsement is the latest effort by Mr. Bloomberg to affect the national political debate as he nears the twilight of his tenure in City Hall.
Last month, the mayor announced that he was creating his own “super PAC” to support candidates from either party, as well as independents, who he believed are devoted to his brand of nonideological problem solving, and who supported same-sex marriage, tougher gun laws or school reform. A billionaire, Mr. Bloomberg said he would spend from $10 million to $15 million of his money in highly competitive state, local and Congressional races.