With sagging opinion polls leaving little doubt Michael Bloomberg's third and final term as New York mayor is going badly, the billionaire is splashing cash on a media campaign aimed at bolstering his popularity and his legacy.
Thursday's resignation of former publishing executive Cathie Black as school chancellor confirmed the mayor has work to do.
With Black's approval rating down to 17 percent in a recent NY1-Marist poll as many New Yorkers polled found her ill-qualified, the embattled friend of the mayor resigned after three months on the job.
The political embarrassment is the latest setback for a mayor who is fighting back with an unusual media campaign. Many TV viewers in New York might wonder whether Bloomberg is running for office again.
In one TV spot, Mayor Mike, shirt sleeves rolled up, is directing his staff like a man in charge, devising a plan to deal with education spending cuts and standing up to state lawmakers who are unfairly draining the city of funds.
Only there are no opponents running similar ads for rival campaigns, and the next mayoral election is more than two years away.
"He's in the middle of his final term. Legacy is on his mind," said political strategist Hank Sheinkopf.
Bloomberg's term ends when the next mayor is sworn in on January 1, 2014, and his future is a constant source of speculation. The political independent, 69, insists he will not run for president, but a quiet life of philanthropy seems a little tame for a self-made multibillionaire who spent $260 million of his own money on three runs for mayor.
CITY HALL, THEN WHAT?
Bloomberg spiced up the guessing game by creating Bloomberg View, a new commentary service of Bloomberg LP, the financial news and information company he founded that is a direct competitor to Thomson Reuters.
For now, though, his popularity is declining. A Quinnipiac University poll in March showed a 51 percent majority of New Yorkers polled disapproved of his performance, while an NY1-Marist poll two weeks later found 53 percent said the city was heading in the wrong direction.
"The real problem the mayor is suffering from is simply. third-term fatigue," Sheinkopf said, a view widely held by pollsters and analysts.
Whether his ad campaign can improve those poll numbers is a matter of greater dispute. A Bloomberg spokesman declined to comment on the ads.
"Given this isn't really a political season right now, it might not have much of an impact," said Jamie P. Chandler, a political science professor at New York's Hunter College.
"The only way to improve his image right now is to start doing some outreach to constituents and to have not only him but proxies talking about his accomplishments," Chandler said.
Diana Mutz, a professor at the University Pennsylvania's Annenburg School for Communication, said the absence of a campaign created "a nice quiet time to do it."
"Normally when you are running ads your opposition is running ads, too, and so often we don't see much of a big net shift because the ads are canceling each other out," Mutz said.
With the White House removed as an option, perhaps only a cabinet post or post leading a multilateral organization would satisfy someone of Bloomberg's ambition.
Bloomberg News could become his vehicle to influence a wider audience because of its global reach.
Bloomberg News Editor in Chief Matthew Winkler told The New York Times the editorials of Bloomberg View would reflect the values and beliefs of the mayor, a problem-solving centrist and longtime Democrat who turned Republican to run for mayor and then shed all party affiliation.
"Centrist passion is an oxymoron, kind of like chaste sex. You wonder if there is going to be enough heat for this commentary to be noticed in a world of just booming, booming commentary on the web," said Ken Doctor, a media analyst and former Knight Ridder executive.