Mayor Bloomberg is traveling to Missouri this week, where he'll speak to hundreds of influential African-American leaders in a presidential swing state just 48 hours before they hear from the three leading Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Mr. Bloomberg, who has been making a habit of showing up at events that play host to presidential contenders, will address more than 300 of the National Urban League's top leaders in St. Louis Wednesday at the organization's annual conference. Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are all scheduled to participate in a 2008 presidential forum at the conference on Friday morning.
"I think it's a way for him to stick his toe in the water," the Reverend Al Sharpton told The New York Sun yesterday when informed about Mr. Bloomberg's speech.
Rev. Sharpton, who ran for president in 2004 and is speaking at the St. Louis conference on Thursday, said if Mr. Bloomberg runs it will "give black voters an option." He said he was "in love" with the idea of giving voters more choices.
"I'm not saying that I would endorse him, but I am saying that he would be a credible national independent candidate for African Americans," Rev. Sharpton said.
For Mr. Bloomberg, the event is an opportunity to create alliances with important African-American leaders from across the country and build on the relationships he has created in New York, where he has been successful in dialing back tension between City Hall and the African-American community. In 2005, Mr. Bloomberg won re-election with roughly half of the black vote — unheard of for a Republican in recent decades.
Now that Mr. Bloomberg has dropped his Republican Party affiliation and become an independent, political analysts say he will have a far better shot of winning the support of black voters if he chooses to launch a national campaign.
The director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, Ronald Walters, said the venue is a good one for Mr. Bloomberg because it gives him a chance to increase his name recognition with black voters outside New York.
"It will be a good test for him because there's a lot of competition for the black vote this time around," Mr. Walters said. "This is his chance."
He said if Mr. Bloomberg didn't show he would be in the "same boat" as the Republicans, all but one of whom passed up invitations to speak in Detroit earlier this month at a convention hosted by the NAACP. Mr. Bloomberg is fond of telling a story about how his father, a bookkeeper, used to write checks to the NAACP for $25 even when he was making only $11,000 a year.
A political science professor at the University of Virginia, Larry Sabato, said that while Mr. Bloomberg may be officially speaking to the Urban League as the head of the country's biggest city, the event "conveniently serves a second purpose" by helping him lay a foundation for a possible campaign.
"If he runs, the only possible way for him to win is for him to crack into the minority vote," Mr. Sabato said. "You just simply can't cede 90% of it the Democrat and then have Republicans and Bloomberg split the white vote."
A spokesman for the National Urban League, Ricky Clemons, said Mr. Bloomberg would technically not be participating in the conference because he is delivering his speech just before the event starts. But the home page of the league's Web site includes a headshot of Mr. Bloomberg alongside shots of Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, and Mr. Edwards under the headline "2007 National Urban League Conference."
The event comes as Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are battling it out for support from African-American voters nationwide. While Mr. Obama is trying to make history by becoming the first black president, some recent polls have shown Mrs. Clinton pulling slightly ahead among black voters.
The conference takes place about a month after Mr. Bloomberg spoke at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., another regular stop-off for presidential contenders. At that appearance, Mr. Bloomberg, who publicly insists that he's not running, made headlines for criticizing the state of the 2008 presidential race and for saying candidates "pandered" during the televised debates.
Traveling to Missouri could be viewed as a strategic electoral move. According to published reports, the state has voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1900, with the exception of 1956, when it voted for Adlai Stevenson.
Mr. Bloomberg's office declined to comment yesterday, but a spokesman for the mayor has publicly said that he will be taking about education at the National Urban League event. Mr. Clemons said one of Mr. Bloomberg's deputy mayors, Dennis Walcott, a former head of the New York Urban League, helped bring Mr. Bloomberg and the National Urban League together.