Posted Monday 4:50 p.m. NORMAN, Okla. — University of Oklahoma President and former Yale Corporation trustee David Boren ’63 played host to more than a dozen centrists from both major political parties here this morning at a forum and press conference aimed at the “restoration of bipartisanship in the political arena.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s presence at the forum had some political analysts speculating that the event would be a chance for Bloomberg to flirt further with an independent run for the presidency. Although Bloomberg himself denied any plans to run, Boren said in an interview after the forum that he would personally support the mayor if he chose to throw his hat into the ring.

“Catalyst” was the buzzword of the day, as current and former senators and governors known for their centrist views urged politicians, the media and American citizens to work for a renewal of bipartisan cooperation in American politics.

“We’re hoping that the moderates have now made some noise, that the people that are in the center of American politics have now made some noise,” Boren said. “Let’s hope the candidates respond to that.”

Members of the press asked questions as Boren — who co-hosted the event with former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia — mediated between reporters and panel members, who included Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former Republican Maine Senator and Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, former Democratic Senator Gary Hart of Colorado and former Republican New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

Boren listed questions that participants — who gathered at the president’s house last night and hel a closed-door meeting in the hours before the press conference — would like to ask this season’s presidential candidates.

“If you listen to our statement, we’re asking for specifics,” the former Oklahoma governor and senator said. “What are your strategies for getting us to bipartisan consensus? Will you appoint a truly bipartisan cabinet? Will you set up working groups, and will the president of the United States sit with the congressional leaders of both parties and members of his own cabinet who are all joined together?”

The lack of such cooperation, panel members said, has led to the deterioration of the American political system.

David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, said in his 50 years in Washington politics, he has never seen a moment more dire than this one.

“This nation is at risk,” Abshire said. “I’ve never been at a time when we’ve lost our strategic freedom of action, our budgetary freedom of action, our financial freedom of action and our standing in the world simultaneously.”

Despite the sober nature of the issues discussed, the forum’s atmosphere was amiable, with Hagel, Boren and former Texas Democratic Governor Mark White trading barbs about their states’ college football teams. At one point, White quoted “Larry the Cable Guy” to illustrate a point.

“That’s what America wants — is to git ’er dun,” White said, drawing laughs from the audience.

Although the event was billed solely as an attempt to encourage a more bipartisan approach to politics, panel members occasionally ventured into policy prescriptions. Edward Perkins, ambassador to Australia during the Clinton administration, spoke in favor of increased financial support and expansion of State Department programs, and former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida suggested university graduates be evaluated on their knowledge of civic issues.

Boren told the News in an interview after the forum that he cannot say how long he and other panel members might wait to see signs of greater efforts toward bipartisanship before considering support for an independent presidential candidate. He suggested that someone considering an independent run with the financial resources of Bloomberg — who could conceivably invest a billion dollars of his personal wealth in his campaign and who financed his mayoral race with $73 million of his own money in 2001 — would not have to announce a decision until early March, when the nominations of the two major political parties are already all but locked up.

“Look, I’m not a candidate, number one,” Bloomberg said as a preface to his remarks in front of an audience that featured supporters waving “Bloomberg ‘08” signs. “I’m a former businessman, and I am a mayor.”

Outside the concert hall after the forum, Boren said he would rather see truly cooperative members of the major parties make a run for the White House rather than support a third-party candidate — Bloomberg or anyone else. He said he would never consider running as a vice-presidential candidate.

“Every indication I have is [Bloomberg] does not have a burning desire to run for president of the United States,” Boren said. “I really don’t think he’s the kind of person who plans to become a professional politician. I hope that the candidates of the two parties will rise to the occasion.”