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NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Addresses Group of 200 Near Boca

June 20, 2008

By Mark Hollis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Jun. 20–WEST BOCA — Addressing one of the most vital constituencies of the 2008 presidential race-Jewish voters-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday called on South Florida Jews to help extinguish a “whisper campaign” linking presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to Islam.

Bloomberg, who has been mentioned as a potential running mate to either Obama or Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, told an audience of about 200 Jewish residents at the South Palm Beach County Jewish Federation campus that they have an “obligation” to help quell rumors that Obama is a Muslim.

“Let’s call those rumors what they are: lies,” he said.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, said the concerns about the faith of Obama, who is Christian, are “cloaked in concern for Israel” but in actuality are about partisan politics.

“Israel is just being used as a pawn, which is not that surprising, since some people are willing to stoop to any level to win an election,” he added. “We cannot be pawns of that process…This is wedge politics at its worst.”

The support of Jewish voters in South Florida, no longer a sure Democratic constituency, may be crucial to determining whether swing states like Florida back Obama or McCain.

The Jewish community here is one of the largest populations of Jewish voters in America and it’s politically divided, says Rabbi David Steinhardt, the chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. Steinhardt said “the local Jewish community seems to be split” between the candidates, with younger Jews tending to favor Obama and older ones backing McCain.

Steinhardt also praised Bloomberg for his statements about the email campaign against Obama. “People have seen these things with half-truths, innuendo and mis-truths, and it’s of concern in the community,” he said. “It’s a very important thing to address.”

Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, acknowledged the uncertainty among area Jews about the 2008 race. He repeatedly praised both Obama and McCain in nearly equal doses. He said he hasn’t decided which will get his vote and endorsement. He also said he doesn’t expect either of them to tap him as a vice presidential running mate and signaled that he wouldn’t want the No. 2 job in the White House anyway.

Answering an audience member’s question, he said he hasn’t “worked for anybody for 27 years” and considers himself, at 65, “a little old to start at this point.”

Bloomberg, the former Wall Street financier who owns a large financial news services company also said he wouldn’t really want to work in an administration as a Cabinet secretary or diplomat because it’s the president who calls the shots. “Nobody’s going to call somebody they can’t control,” Bloomberg said. “that’s just the real world.”

Bloomberg opened his remarks by urging both major party presidential candidates, and other Americans, to continue speaking forcefully for “unwavering” and “unshakeable” U.S. support for Israel.

“It will be up to the next president to help convince the Palestinians to renounce violence and negotiate a lasting peace, and that has to be a top priority from the get-go for the next president,” Bloomberg said. “We cannot, under any circumstances, walk away from America’s commitment.”

The billionaire businessman and second term mayor repeatedly noted that he has 559 days in office remaining. But he gave little hint of what’s next other than more work as a philanthropist.

He also unleashed a few jabs at Washington, including criticism of Congress for failing to end the shrill political debate over immigration. “This country is engaged in what I call mass suicide,” Bloomberg said. “We are destroying our future, what we want to leave for our children. We need to bring immigrants into this country, from every country around the world and every type of skill and language. This is what creates the excitement of America.”

Bloomberg was asked about his position on offshore oil drilling. He said he favors “responsible” drilling, which he later explained is drilling that the U.S. government has some control over and said it shouldn’t be done until more attempts are made to reduce America’s dependence on oil.

Mark Hollis can be reached at mhollis@sun-sentinel.com or 561-228-5512.

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Copyright (c) 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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