By SARA KUGLER
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Mayor Michael Bloomberg lived most of his life as a Democrat before switching to the GOP when he ran for mayor, yet he never really fit in with either party.
Now, Bloomberg has apparently shaken off those labels and found the one that suits him, announcing this week that he has become an independent because it is more in line with his beliefs and gives him freedom to promote his agenda for the city.
To understand his motivation for leaving the GOP, and what it could mean if the billionaire former CEO were to mount a self-financed bid for president - something he denies he wants to do - one must look at how Bloomberg has governed and what he believes.
As mayor, he has both raised taxes and cut them, he has fought with unions and won their support, he has supported the Iraq war along with gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control and stem cell research. There are Republicans and Democrats in the highest levels of his administration, and he has given money to candidates of all stripes.
Throughout his time in office, he has cast himself as the adult in a room full of squabbling children, taking great pride in promoting a pragmatic, no-nonsense style of leadership. More recently the mayor's aides and cheerleaders have been trumpeting this trait as the basis for a possible presidential campaign.
"He's a manager who sees himself as a problem solver, that there are technical and managerial solutions to problems and that politics shouldn't intrude on this," said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College.
Some observers try to box him in as a social moderate and fiscal conservative, but even that doesn't neatly contain all of his positions.
Despite the straight-talking image, Bloomberg has been hard to pin down on one of the most important issues of the presidential campaign: the Iraq war. During his first term, which began in 2002, he mostly avoided speaking out on international issues, but more than once he indicated he supported the decision to go to war.
In 2004, during a news conference with first lady Laura Bush in lower Manhattan, he came to her support on the topic of Iraq, suggesting that the invasion was justified by the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Don't forget that the war started not very many blocks from here," he said.
A year later, while Bloomberg was running for re-election in this overwhelmingly Democratic city and doing everything he could to distance himself from President Bush, he insisted the issue was about supporting the troops.
When asked at that time if he felt the president had lied to Americans about the reasons for going to war, Bloomberg said he didn't have any idea. At the time, he said, there appeared "a distinct possibility of weapons of mass destruction."
More recently, he has harshly criticized those who advocate pulling out of Iraq, siding with many Republicans who say it would hurt troop morale. He has also slammed the proposal put forth by Sen. Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate for president, to divide Iraq into three semiautonomous regions of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, saying it would result in "genocide."
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Bloomberg did not offer an Iraq plan but noted that the public "clearly wants to know how we're going to move forward and what's the resolution."
He has made a point to befriend both Democrats and Republicans, and he has crisscrossed party lines to lend his monetary support and endorsements for campaigns. Last year he helped Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill win her Senate seat and donated $44,600 to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign. He also contributed money to Bush.
Bloomberg has said the country's immigration policy is a disgrace and should be fixed, but he ridicules those who want to deport illegal immigrants, saying they are the backbone of the economy.
In the face of the city's highest budget surplus in its history, thanks to soaring tax revenues from Wall Street and real estate transactions, he has sternly warned there will be no wild splurging.
He has just proposed a package of tax cuts, but years ago he raised property taxes to help repair the city's tattered post-9/11 economy. Those rough days also saw city services pared down, with higher fines and fees for everything from marriage licenses to cigarettes.
He has railed against the National Rifle Association, raising the hackles of gun owners and conservatives with his second-term crusade about illegal guns.
During an interview last year on Fox News, Bloomberg was asked whether he was at odds with his own party. Back then, that meant the GOP.
"With which party?" Bloomberg shot back. "I'm not a partisan guy."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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