NEW YORK—Michael Bloomberg remains cagey about whether he’ll someday run for president. But the outgoing New York City mayor received a notable show of support on Thursday from one of the country’s biggest political donors who has spent tens of millions of dollars in the past to elect presidential candidates.
T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire energy mogul from Texas, joined Bloomberg at a press conference outside New York’s City Hall to unveil the city’s first natural-gas-powered food truck and to talk about clean energy efforts—an issue both he and the mayor are passionate about.
Speaking to a large group of reporters and political types on a frigid February morning, both men showered each other with compliments. Bloomberg praised Pickens as “one of the great Americans” in business and someone who has emerged as a “powerful voice” for clean energy efforts.
“I used to read about T. Boone Pickens in the paper, and I never thought I’d know him on a first-name basis,” Bloomberg said.
A few seconds later, Pickens returned the compliment, telling Bloomberg, “Mayor, if you were in Washington today, we’d be a hell of a lot better off than where we are.”
Bloomberg beamed, as several people applauded.
Pickens has been a longtime backer of Republican parties and candidates, including former President George W. Bush. In 2004, Pickens was one of the early contributors to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a shadowy political group that spent millions on television ads attacking then-Sen. John Kerry’s White House bid. In 2008, Pickens was a prominent supporter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s bid for the GOP nomination.
But during the ’08 campaign, Pickens reinvented himself as a green energy activist, directing more of his wealth toward promoting alternative energy like wind. In a surprising turn, Pickens later worked with Kerry on a climate-change bill in Washington that included subsidies for natural-gas-powered vehicles—one of Pickens’ pet issues.
On Thursday, Bloomberg implied the men had grown close over their belief that the country needs to rely less on oil and more on natural gas and other clean energy. Together, they toured the Neapolitan Express, a new food truck that serves pizza from its 900-degree electric oven, which is fully powered by compressed natural gas. The truck, the first of its kind in New York, was funded in part with investment from Clean Energy Fuels Corp., one of Pickens’ companies.
“Every slice comes with a breath of fresh air,” Bloomberg said at one point, reading from a prepared statement. He paused and then ad-libbed, "Uh, who wrote that I have no idea, but somebody on our staff is very creative and clever and should work for WPP,” the London-based advertising conglomerate.
After the press conference, Pickens ignored a question about whether he would support a Bloomberg bid for the White House. Instead, he and the mayor walked back inside City Hall together, deep in conversation.