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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Exasperation of the Democratic Billionaire

Real-estate and newspaper mogul Mortimer Zuckerman voted for Obama but began seeing trouble as soon as the stimulus went into the pockets of municipal unions.

'It's as if he doesn't like people," says real-estate mogul and New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman of the president of the United States. Barack Obama doesn't seem to care for individuals, elaborates Mr. Zuckerman, though the president enjoys addressing millions of them on television.

The Boston Properties CEO is trying to understand why Mr. Obama has made little effort to build relationships on Capitol Hill or negotiate a bipartisan economic plan. A longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, Mr. Zuckerman wrote in these pages two months ago that the entire business community was "pleading for some kind of adult supervision" in Washington and "desperate for strong leadership." Writing soon after the historic downgrade of U.S. Treasury debt by Standard & Poor's, he wrote, "I long for a triple-A president to run a triple-A country."

His words struck a chord. When I visit Mr. Zuckerman this week in his midtown Manhattan office, he reports that three people approached him at dinner the previous evening to discuss his August op-ed. Among business executives who supported Barack Obama in 2008, he says, "there is enormously widespread anxiety over the political leadership of the country." Mr. Zuckerman reports that among Democrats, "The sense is that the policies of this government have failed. . . . What they say about [Mr. Obama] when he's not in the room, so to speak, is astonishing."

We are sitting on the 18th floor of a skyscraper the day after protesters have marched on the homes of other Manhattan billionaires. It may seem odd that most of the targeted rich people had nothing to do with creating the financial crisis. But as Mr. Zuckerman ponders the Occupy Wall Street movement, he concludes that "the door to it was opened by the Obama administration, going after the 'millionaires and billionaires' as if everybody is a millionaire and a billionaire and they didn't earn it. . . . To fan that flame of populist anger I think is very divisive and very dangerous for this country."

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