McCain, who holds the Senate seat once filled by Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, said the town halls were inspired by an agreement forged between Goldwater and President Kennedy in the 1960s.
"One of the great regrets of the tragedy in Dallas was the campaign that we missed between Senator Barry Goldwater, my predecessor, and President Jack Kennedy," McCain told ABC News in an interview for "World News" last week.
"They had agreed . . . that they would travel around the country on the same plane and go to a town, and have a debate and discussion, and town hall meetings, and then go to another one. I think America missed a rare opportunity at that time. Look at what campaigns have deteriorated into, and I mean deteriorated: sound bites, gotchas, attack ads, 527s. So I think this may be trying to revive what I think most Americans would have approved of way back in the 1960s and they certainly want today."
The joint letter from Mayor Bloomberg and ABC News endorses that spirit: "We make this offer because we believe that town hall meetings further the American ideal of participatory democracy. As President Lincoln said in the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in Illinois, 'Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.' "
McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, reached out to David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, to discuss McCain's initial offer.
"We would recommend a format that is less structured and lengthier than the McCain campaign suggests," wrote Plouffe in an e-mail to reporters last week, saying that Obama would prefer to create an atmosphere of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which were marked by hour-long speeches and hour-long rebuttals.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, McCain recommitted to the idea of a town hall format.
"If there is some way to modify the details of it then I'll be glad to obviously discuss that," McCain said. "But I want a town hall meeting . . . I think [the American people] have an ample opportunity to hear long speeches."
McCain also said that he hoped he and Obama could arrive at the site of the first debate on the same airplane.
"I even suggested we travel to them together, on the same plane. Probably help out on energy savings. Given our expenses, I know my campaign would agree to it," McCain joked.
Federal Hall, the site proposed by ABC News and the City of New York, has hosted its share of historic moments.
George Washington took the oath of office at Federal Hall and the building, a national historic site, was home to the first Congress and Supreme Court when New York City served as the nation's first capital.
"We believe that a joint town hall meeting at Federal Hall in New York City," reads the letter released Sunday, "represents a unique opportunity to capture the interest of voters as the general election campaign kicks off."