Aides to Mayor Bloomberg gathered the press spokesmen for all of the city's agencies together earlier this year and told them to emphasize the mayor's independence, accountability, and other qualities that at least one source in attendance characterized as "presidential."
Sitting at tables of eight for a breakfast meeting at Gracie Mansion, more than 100 press officers dined on pancakes and fresh fruit while a deputy mayor for administration, Edward Skyler; the mayor's chief spokesman, Stuart Loeser, and the communications director, James Anderson, outlined the city's message to the public.
Mr. Bloomberg has four qualities, or "pillars," that agencies should promote: independence, accountability, innovative use of technology, and long-term fiscal stability, Mr. Anderson said, sources who attended the meeting told The New York Sun. Press officers were encouraged to weave one of the "pillars" into public statements for the rest of Mr. Bloomberg's term.
Mr. Loeser said yesterday the gathering was a "communications team meeting" to discuss how to disseminate the administration's central messages. The meeting was more widely attended than previous sessions, which happen about once a year, because this time City Hall intergovernmental officers were invited, he said.
Some sources who attended the meeting say that this year it sounded like Mr. Bloomberg's close aides were focusing more on the mayor's personal traits and message than in the past.
A political consultant, Gerald Skurnik, said Mr. Bloomberg's "people want to put the best forward image on him even if he remotely is considering a run for president."
Mr. Bloomberg has denied he is going to become a presidential candidate, but at least one adviser, the deputy mayor of intergovernmental affairs, Kevin Sheekey, has said he is encouraging the mayor to make an independent bid.
Another political consultant, Joseph Mercurio, said the meeting suggested that aides to Mr. Bloomberg were preparing for a presidential or gubernatorial bid, or polishing his image for a public role in philanthropy.
"Lots of people around him are creating opportunity for that to happen," Mr. Mercurio said. "Their rigor is not just smart daily operating procedure, it's also guided by other forces, like running for president."
"He's concerned about his legacy or he's running for president, or both," a political consultant, Henry Sheinkopf, said.
The audience at Gracie Mansion was asked at one point to write down adjectives they would use to describe Mr. Bloomberg, and some members in attendance were called on to tell the crowd their choices, sources said.
The press officers were also instructed that they should issue press releases and host events on Wednesdays and Fridays because Mr. Bloomberg doesn't generally make announcements on those days, sources said.
"It appeared to the casual observer that this was not just about the message in New York City for the next two years, it was about the mayor himself," one source said.
The officers were also instructed how to emphasize positive aspects of negative stories, such as mentioning the city's growth in real-estate development in a story about a larger number of construction worker deaths in a year, sources said.
Mr. Loeser denied this claim, saying that the speakers discussed the Scaffold Safety Task Force's announcements as an example of "addressing a public concern, not making a negative story positive."
"The meeting was about using press offices and press officers to advance the city's policy and legislative agendas," Mr. Loeser said. "It's Public Relations 101 to have people who speak for different units of a big organization and usually only communicate by phone or e-mail get together in person every so often to discuss common challenges and messages."
Mr. Bloomberg has playfully denied questions about future political plans for the last several months.
At the same time he has built a Web site that emphasizes his involvement with national issues like poverty, healthcare, and education.
Then, following a Time magazine cover article that he shared with the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Bloomberg withdrew from the Republican Party. Some observers said it was a move that would help pave the way to an independent or third-party presidential run.
A front-page news article in Sunday's Washington Post reported that about three in 10 voters call themselves independents, and said that independents are "poised to play the role of political power broker in 2008." A Post survey conducted with Harvard University and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation "found frustration with political combat in Washington and widespread skepticism toward the major parties ó perhaps enough to provide the spark for an independent candidacy by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg," the Post reported, adding that "seventy-seven percent of independents said they would seriously consider an independent presidential candidate, and a majority said they would consider supporting Bloomberg."
The mayor has traveled extensively to promote his coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and to lobby against legislation in Washington, D.C., that he said hampers efforts to stop the flow of illegally acquired guns.
Almost exactly a year ago, published reports cited Mr. Bloomberg as saying, "Absolutely not," to a question about whether he would seek the presidency. Then, without skipping a beat, he said: "And anybody who's running will say exactly that," according to the reports.