Obama hugs North Point Marina owner Donna Vanzant as he tours the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, New Jersey, on October 31. (Reuters)
Washington, Nov. 2: Hurricane Sandy has brought a political windfall for Barack Obama with storm-battered New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsing the US President for re-election in Tuesday’s close contest.
Bloomberg’s endorsement comes close on the heels of praise for the Democratic President from one of his fiercest critics, Republican Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, another state severely hit by this week’s superstorm.
Christie, who has often crossed accepted limits of political correctness in his criticism of the Democratic presidential campaign during this election season, surprised everyone after Obama was hands-on in supervising relief to hurricane victims. He said “the President has been all over this and he deserves great credit”.
Another fierce critic of Obama, Virginia’s governor Robert McDonnell, joined the chorus of praise for the President’s handling of the hurricane when he said: “The election is going to come, but it says a lot about the President, and it makes me feel good to be an American that people have had the right focus.”
McDonnell, in addition to being governor of Viriginia, a state that is critical to any winning candidate on November 6, is also chairperson of the Republican Governors’ Association. He said the federal government’s response to the hurricane was “incredibly fast and we are very grateful”.
Virginia has been affected by Sandy, but not as severely as New York and New Jersey. However, McDonnell said Obama was “direct and personal” in his response in the wake of the natural disaster.
As the scale of the calamity unfolded earlier this week, Obama organised a conference call with governors and mayors from 14 affected states, including the national capital of Washington which does not have the status of a state and is the equivalent of a union territory in India.
What impressed his foes during Obama’s personal engagement with the affected states was that the President cut through Washington’s notorious red tape and told the governors and mayors that they “can call the White House directly themselves” if they needed his help.
Of all the endorsements for re-election that Obama has received so far, the most far-reaching in its impact will be that of Mayor Bloomberg for several reasons. Bloomberg was first elected as New York’s mayor in 2001 on a Republican ticket.
Among the 10 richest Americans, he left the Republican Party five years ago as it lurched to the Right and then won his third mayoral term as an independent.
In the last presidential election Bloomberg did not endorse any candidate although both Obama and John McCain sought his support. For that reason, his decision yesterday will be widely seen as a response to Obama’s handling of the hurricane.
Bloomberg’s method of endorsing Obama was as unique as his political legacy in the Big Apple. Instead of making a speech or issuing a press release — the common forms of endorsing a candidate — Bloomberg simply wrote an article about the President’s record in the news service that was founded by him and goes by his name. The mayor owns 88 per cent of Bloomberg LP, a financial services data conglomerate.
In that article, Bloomberg said Obama is a leader on climate change and went on to suggest that the environment was a contributor to Hurricane Sandy and the damage that it brought to the New York area.
“Over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year,” Bloomberg wrote in praise of Obama.
He echoed the familiar complaints about shifting positions by the Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, which have given the impression that Romney will say or do anything merely to win next week’s election.
“I believe Mitt Romney is a good and decent manů In the past he has also taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care. But he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the health care model he signed into law in Massachusetts,” Bloomberg wrote in criticism of Romney.
The President impressed potential voters by cancelling all his personal appearances on the campaign trail and concentrating solely on hurricane relief. In doing so, he came across as presidential and selfless in the face of suffering by his people.
In this presidential effort, Romney, naturally, had no role to play as someone with no position in government either at the state or federal level. When Romney tried to organise some relief events, it appeared that he was merely trying to be a poor copy of the President.
To Romney’s misfortune he had made comments last year which suggested that he would shut down the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and make relief efforts for natural and other disasters a state subject.
Fema is now at the heart of hurricane relief and is drawing praise unlike during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As a consequence, Romney has been forced to change his position and clarify that he would not scrap the agency if elected next week.