Mayor Michael Bloomberg has squashed the notion of running for president this year, declaring that he will not seek the White House but might put his support behind another candidate who embraces bipartisan governing.

Apparently ending a dance of presidential speculation that began more than two years ago, the 66-year-old billionaire businessman said in an op-ed piece in Thursday’s New York Times that he will not launch his own bid but will work to “steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance.”

Bloomberg aides and associates had been assembling the framework for an independent campaign, and if he had decided to run, a $1 billion operation would have been ready to go. Instead, Bloomberg hinted that he may lend his wealth and weight to someone else.

“If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I’ll join others in helping that candidate win the White House,” he wrote.

A close Bloomberg associate told The Associated Press that the mayor had been wrestling with a decision until very recently, reaching a conclusion only in the last few days.

Several factors influenced him, according to the associate, who requested anonymity to discuss internal decisions. One of Bloomberg’s main reasons for staying out is that he believes the presidential race has the potential to become a centrist contest, primarily because of the rise of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, both of whom have championed bipartisanship.

Centrist leadership would have been Bloomberg’s chief selling point as a presidential candidate, and it was looking less likely that he would have been able to stand apart from the most likely major party candidates, the associate said.

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