Mayor Suggests Openness to Federal Post

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The New York Sun

WASHINGTON — Mayor Bloomberg is signaling he is open to taking on a senior federal post to help the government implement its unprecedented bailout of the financial markets.

The mayor, in an appearance yesterday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was asked about a recommendation by the billionaire investor Warren Buffett that Mr. Bloomberg be tapped to head a new agency charged with buying up bad assets that are now dragging down the nation’s top financial firms.

Mr. Bloomberg cited his commitment to New York City, but he left the door distinctly ajar. “Well, number one, I’d do anything that the country asked me to do, but I do have a job in New York,” he said. “I’ve committed myself to the voters and the taxpayers and the citizens of New York to do the best job I can, and we’re going to go through some very tough times.”

He added: “If the government asked me to help, I’d be happy to give my advice, and I’ve tried to stay in contact with both the presidential candidates, talked to both of them every couple of weeks, and give them my views.”

Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, has not made his recommendation public but apparently mentioned it to the interim moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tom Brokaw, who asked Mr. Bloomberg about it. A spokesman for Berkshire could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Lawmakers have proposed a new agency to buy up the “illiquid assets” at the center of the government’s $700 billion bailout plan, but Bush administration officials have said they prefer to run the program out of the Treasury Department rather than create a new bureaucracy. The idea for a new agency, backed by Democratic leaders in Congress, has been compared to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which the government established in 1989 to deal with the fallout of the savings and loan crisis.

Before Mr. Bloomberg appeared, Mr. Brokaw asked the Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, about Mr. Buffett’s idea, reporting that the famed investor had proposed the mayor as the kind of “nonpartisan tsar” who could steer a new agency from one presidential administration to the next.

Mr. Paulson did not address the Bloomberg possibility in responding, but he argued that having the Treasury Department, rather than a separate entity, buy up the mortgage assets was the most efficient way of running the program in a situation where speed is critical. “I think what we need to do is have authority to move very quickly to purchase these assets, these illiquid assets from banks,” the secretary said. “And the plan we have, I think, is, is one that will work and will help us stabilize the market to get through this period.”

For future administrations, he added, “there will be flexibility to run this any way they would like to run it, but what we need to do is have something that will work, and work quickly.”

The suggestion by Mr. Buffett is the latest in a long line of possible federal positions floated for the mayor, who flirted with a run for the presidency and was occasionally mentioned as a vice presidential pick for either Senator Obama or Senator McCain. The speculation also has included Treasury secretary in the next administration or president of the World Bank.

Mr. Bloomberg founded his eponymous company, Bloomberg LP, in 1981 after he was fired from the investment firm Salomon Brothers. He built the financial information company into a press giant, and his net worth is now estimated at $20 billion.

Whether that success makes him the best candidate to run a government agency charged with buying and selling troubled mortgages is an open question, an economist at the University of Maryland School of Business, Peter Morici, said.

“We’re talking about banker’s work, and he’s a media mogul,” Mr. Morici said.

Also in the NBC interview yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg dodged a question about whether he would seek to overturn term limits in the city and run for re-election. Instead of answering directly, he joked that he wanted to be moderator of “Meet the Press,” a post the Mr. Brokaw is filling temporarily after the sudden death of Tim Russert earlier this year.

He also declined to offer a hint about which candidate he might endorse for the White House, suggesting that he would wait until closer to Election Day to make his decision.

The New York Sun

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