The damage caused by Hurricane Irene was mercifully minimal. Six years on from Hurricane Katrina, America’s leaders – national and local – were determined there would be no repeat of the disaster which claimed 2,000 lives. By this morning just 30 people were reported dead. Politicians from President Obama to New Jersey governor Chris Christie and New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg could also feel relieved that they made it through a major political test.
None more so than Mayor Bloomberg. Natural disasters can make or break a political career, and Bloomberg’s presidential-style response to the hurricane – holding four nationally televised press conferences in 24 hours – has once again prompted suggestions that New York’s richest man might consider a run for president.
Bloomberg toyed with the idea of running for the top job in 2008, but the popularity of Obama and the relative moderation of Republican candidate John McCain squeezed out whatever space there may have been for a third-party candidate. Things might be different in 2012. Although Bloomberg has been adamant that he won’t run, it already looks like an easier field. Obama’s popularity rating is hovering around 40 per cent while the two leading republican challengers, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, are both pandering to the anti-science, Tea Party set, which is far to the right of the average voter.
Whether he decides to run or not – and the odds are certainly against – spending a weekend looking serious in front of the cameras certainly hasn’t done any harm. Watch out this week for the “clear up” photo call, with the mayor literally rolling his sleeves up and surveying the storm damage.
Bloomberg knows only too well how bad it can be for a political career when one fails to look like the man in charge. During last winter’s “snowmageddon”, Bloomberg was criticised for staying out of town. He was determined to make amends this time.
Mayor Bloomberg’s message was clear. “What we have to do is assume the worst, prepare for that, and hope for the best,” he said from City Hall. At a press conference on Saturday night, as the edge of the hurricane was beating down on the city, Bloomberg’s authoritative approach was irrefutable. Standing in an open-collared shirt, flanked by the heads of the city’s police, fire and emergency departments, he reassured sceptical residents, “we will get through this next 24 hours, I assure you, the city has taken exhaustive steps to prepare for whatever comes our way.”