By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is swinging his support behind Treasurer Gina Raimondo as she prepares to run for governor, three years after the big-city billionaire backed incumbent Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Bloomberg will host a fundraiser for Raimondo this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at his townhouse in Manhattan, aides to both politicians confirmed Monday in response to inquiries from WPRI.com. The treasurer will travel to New York on Wednesday and return Thursday night.
“Gina is one of the most impressive public officials in America today in the mayor’s opinion,” Howard Wolfson, a senior counsel to Bloomberg and deputy mayor, told WPRI.com. “She has done a phenomenal job and she will do an even better job as governor.”
“We have followed her performance from New York, especially around the issue of pension reform,” he said. “She is a serious, committed, policy-driven public official. You only have to meet her once to know how impressive she is. He really thinks she’s a superstar.”
In a statement to WPRI.com, Raimondo said: “As I’ve said many times, I am seriously considering running for governor and will make that decision this year. I am humbled by the support of Mayor Bloomberg and by everyone here in Rhode Island that has been encouraging me to run.”
Raimondo had $1.7 million in her campaign war chest as of March 31, far more than any other Rhode Island politician. “We need the resources to run a great campaign and this fundraiser hosted by Mayor Bloomberg is a great help in the process,” she said.
The decision by Bloomberg, a three-term independent now in his final year as mayor, to harvest campaign cash for Raimondo is a blow to Governor Chafee, who was Bloomberg’s fellow independent until last month, when Chafee joined the Democratic Party with President Obama’s blessing.
Wolfson, who was a top strategist on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, acknowledged Governor Chafee and the mayor haven’t always seen eye to eye.
“Look, I think there’s some things that the governor has done that we haven’t been pleased with, especially around the issue of education,” he said. “But in many respects this is really an affirmation of Gina Raimondo. We get opportunities to meet with public officials from all 50 states, and she really, really is in a class by herself.”
Bloomberg actively supported Chafee’s bid for governor, traveling to Rhode Island twice in the final months of the 2010 campaign to burnish the former U.S. senator’s credentials as a post-partisan and pragmatic candidate. “Like me, Linc has a strong commitment to being independent,” the mayor said at the time.
Chafee repaid the compliment, calling Bloomberg “a great man and a great leader,” and used his endorsement in a campaign TV ad. As governor he later traveled to New York to meet with “my fellow independent” Bloomberg and discuss the economy.
Now, however, Chafee is a Democrat – and he’s facing a potentially tough primary against Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras next year to win the party’s nomination. Despite that, Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger brushed off Bloomberg’s decision.
“Obviously the treasurer believes that she has sufficient time to travel out of state and raise money,” Hunsinger told WPRI.com. “The governor, however, is focused on things that matter to Rhode Islanders and doing the business of being governor.” She noted that the revised state budget is set to be unveiled Tuesday.
Asked whether Chafee is disappointed that Bloomberg is helping his rival, Hunsinger replied: “He’s not playing politics right now. He’s focused on doing the work of the people.”
Taveras, too, can claim a Bloomberg connection.
In March, Providence beat out 304 other cities to win a $5 million grand-prize awarded by Bloomberg’s foundation for the most innovative municipal policy ideas, with a plan to record low-income children’s conversations and use the data to boost their vocabularies. Taveras traveled to New York to receive the award and appeared on “CBS This Morning” with Bloomberg to discuss Providence’s big win.
Taveras has “come up with something that … addresses one of the fundamental problems: too many of our kids are coming from families where they don’t have exposure to broad vocabularies, to literature, and that’s going to hurt them all their lives unless you do something about it,” Bloomberg said on CBS.
“And rather than ring his hands and say, ‘Yes, this is a big problem,’ he and his staff have come up with an innovative idea which we think will work, which is also transferrable to other places,” Bloomberg said. “That was one of the requirements to win the challenge – he had to have a great idea but it also had to be applicable elsewhere.”
Bloomberg donated $1,000 last fall to two candidates for General Assembly: Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, and former Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith, who lost her comeback bid, according to R.I. Board of Elections filings. His daughter, Emma Bloomberg, donated $1,000 to Raimondo last August. Bloomberg also gave $160,500 to an outside education-reform group that spent on legislative races.