In crusade against guns, Bloomberg finds platform beyond City Hall

NEW YORK—Just days after he publicly scolded President Barack Obama for not being more aggressive in his efforts to curb gun violence, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was “very encouraged” to see Obama pressing for new gun measures in the wake of last week’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut.

“His announcement is an important step in the right direction,” Bloomberg said in response to Obama announcing that he’s setting up a task force to come up with gun control proposals. “This country needs his leadership if we are going to reduce the daily bloodshed from gun violence that we have seen for far too long.”

But, the mayor added, Obama’s task force needs to “move quickly with its work.”

It was the latest example of the outspoken mayor holding the Obama administration’s feet to the fire on the hot-button issue of gun control—a subject that has been long close to the mayor’s heart.

In the days since last week’s shooting, Bloomberg has arguably become one of the key public faces of the tragedy as he bluntly urged the president and members of Congress to offer more than just “talk” in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting.

His aggressive posture comes as Bloomberg seeks to transition from being the lame duck mayor of the nation's largest city to a potentially more prominent role on the national political stage.

The 70-year-old billionaire media mogul, who is a registered Independent, has already sought to position himself as someone who can influence and shape public policy on the issues he cares about, including gun control, climate change and health care.

New York City has already been a laboratory for some of Bloomberg’s ideas throughout his three terms. Over the last decade, he’s implemented a smoking ban in New York’s restaurants, bars and parks, and pushed fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts—controversial ideas that have since been embraced by other cities around the country. More recently, Bloomberg sought to curb New York’s growing obesity epidemic by restricting the sizes of some sodas and other sugary drinks sold in the city.

"Bloomberg has been fearless in stepping out on big, controversial issues. I think he is on his way to becoming the most influential private citizen in the history of the country,” Mark McKinnon, a Texas-based political strategist who previously worked for George W. Bush, told Yahoo News.

McKinnon, who has worked with Bloomberg on a group called “No Labels,” which aims to promote nonpartisanship in politics, said the mayor’s influence extends “well beyond New York City, where he has proven what a determined mayor can get accomplished.”

But Bloomberg’s outspoken stance on guns in the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting could prove to be turning point in his efforts to move beyond City Hall.

Bloomberg co-founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2006 and launched a super PAC last fall that worked to unseat lawmakers who were against gun control. But since last week’s shooting, the mayor has been the gun control movement's most visible champion—willing to aggressively challenge lawmakers, as he’s put it, to "do the right thing.”

Just hours after Obama went before cameras last Friday to pledge “meaningful action” in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, Bloomberg issued a tough statement calling on the president to offer more than just “rhetoric.”

"Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action," the mayor said. "We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership—not from the White House and not from Congress."

Bloomberg followed up that statement with a litany of television appearances in recent days. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the mayor insisted curbing gun violence should be Obama’s “No. 1 agenda.”

“He’s president of the United States,” Bloomberg told NBC. “And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns.”

On Monday, Bloomberg held a news conference featuring family members of those killed in other mass shootings, including the deadly attack at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July, and the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

Addressing the group just one day after Obama spoke at a memorial service in Newtown, where he vowed to act, Bloomberg didn’t let up on the pressure, telling the group of Obama’s speech, “Words alone cannot heal our nation. Only action can do that.”

It’s unclear how influential Bloomberg is with Obama, whom he endorsed in the final weeks of the 2012 election. While Bloomberg said he had spoken with Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the president’s task force on gun violence, there was no indication he had spoken to the president.

Asked about his Obama endorsement on “Meet the Press,” Bloomberg didn’t backtrack.

“I said in my endorsement that I endorse Barack Obama because I think his views on issues like this are the right views,” Bloomberg said. “But the president has to translate those views into action. His job is not just to be well-meaning. His job is to perform and to protect the American public.”