Michael Bloomberg

The most interesting parlor game in New York City right now is guessing what Mayor Michael Bloomberg will do after his term ends on Dec. 31 and he leaves city hall after 12 lively years as Hizzoner.

Will Mike Bloomberg return to run Bloomberg L.P., the media and information company that he founded in the early 1980s and nurtured into a journalism juggernaut? (Nah – been there, done that). Will he continue to give much of his estimated twenty-seven-billion-dollar fortune away to worthy charitable causes (Natch). Will he remain active in public life and keep pressing social causes that he fervently believes in? (Bet on it).

Will Bloomberg -- as many people (including this reporter) think he will -- try to buy the New York Times Co.?

Lots of people believe that it would be good for the Times newspaper and its parent, New York City, the media industry – and the man himself.

Let’s take the last point first. Why would it be good for Mayor Mike? To be blunt, he will need a job – or, more to the point, a challenge worthy of his mammoth intellect, ambition and ego. The challenge of turning around the Times – while his fingerprints on it – would satisfy his restlessness. Come on. Can’t you just see Bloomberg, a la Citizen Kane, puckishly tell an interviewer, “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.” 

You see, I have a theory about Bloomberg. He is an adrenaline junkie, meaning he is a poster child for Type A personalities and he needs to be engaged in serious work. He’s also a celebrity magnet, who invariably surrounds himself with important (and self-important) people from the worlds of business and politics. 

I know a little but about Bloomberg. I worked happily for his company as a journalist from 1993 to 1999, back when he rolled up his sleeves and joined his menagerie of scribes, salespeople and computer geeks on a common floor. 

It was a heady time, filled with grand chances taken (a radio station, WBBR, which gave rise to a television channel), lots of hard work and more fun than I’ve ever had in any job. Everyone drank Mike’s Kool-Aid and followed his lead. Outsiders carped that Bloomberg was a “sweatshop” but they missed the point. The mantra actually was “work hard, play hard,” and everyone did, to the max.

I got to observe Bloomberg in many kinds of situations and came away – I resigned from his company to join a fledgling web site as a media correspondent – thinking he was the most audacious and brilliant person I had ever worked for. And I still feel that way.

Bloomberg would be a boon to the Times because he would probably make progress in solving the thorny business problems that the company has had for several years, namely its inability to monetize the single most prestigious brand in all of the media. 

You say, no way – it can’t be done. As Ken Auletta recently wrote in the New Yorker: Bloomberg “makes plain his contempt for the New York Times, the media property friends say he covets but most likely cannot own…”

Hmmm. Well, just ask the mayoral candidates he trumped in his first election in 2001 how Bloomberg handles long odds of success or put the point to the media magnates that he sprinted past, like cones on a highway, as his company exploded in size and influence.

These are extraordinary times in the newspaper industry, what with John Henry gobbling up the Boston Globe and Jeff Bezos devouring the Washington Post. The trend of zillionaires taking over newspapers is in full flower. It makes sense that it will continue – and it makes sense to me that Mike Bloomberg would leap aboard the moving train and acquire the New York Times.

Of all the times I watched Bloomberg at work in the 1990s, one episode strikes me today as being poignant and instructive in understanding his extraordinary legacy. One of my tasks in those days was to interview visiting celebrities for what we called the Bloomberg Forum, a video series that represented dandy content for the sprawling Bloomberg Terminal, Mike’s billion-dollar baby.

One afternoon, Alan Simpson, who was retiring from the U.S. Senate to teach at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, came to the office, and I dutifully talked with him before the cameras.

Anyway, Sen. Simpson was explaining his sense of excitement and trepidation at taking on a new challenge. Bloomberg explained to Simpson, as I again stood and listened, that he himself believed in re-inventing himself every 15 years or so. At that point, Mike had been running the Bloomberg Company for roughly 16 years. After about a decade and a half as a trader at Salomon Brothers and then as a media mogul, it was clear he was itching to re-invent himself. Not long after, he hurtled himself into city politics.

Now, he must again re-invent himself. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll find a position that enables him to use the lessons he learned he learned about money and power on Wall Street, at Bloomberg L.P. and in Gracie Mansion. Maybe, just maybe, that calling is running the New York Times.