By Lucas Ritchie-Shatz
On November 24th, 2019, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his run for presidency. Contrary to his opponents, most of whom had announced in early 2019, Bloomberg announced just days after he filed to register for primaries in states with November 2019 cutoffs like Alabama and Arkansas. At a time when many Democratic hopefuls like Beto O’Rourke and Kirsten Gillibrand were already throwing in the towel, Bloomberg’s late announcement came as a surprise to many. However, with Bloomberg purchasing $10 million dollar Super Bowl ads, it appears he’s using his $57 billion net worth to try and remedy his campaign’s late start.
Bloomberg is a familiar name to New Yorkers, many of whom fondly remember his career as mayor between 2002-2013. He is largely credited with helping to rebuild New York City after the devastating attacks of 9/11, lowering crime rates, and helping the economy to recover from the 2008 recession. He was also responsible for introducing new laws promoting health and wellness as well as retooling the New York City school system, bringing in new chancellors and creating space for charter schools. However, polls on his legacy for the city show mixed feelings, with 52% labelling his 12 years as mayor as “fair or poor” and 46% labelling them as “excellent or good”. Bloomberg’s critics often characterize him as too concerned with helping the rich and developing the city economically as opposed to combating increasing wealth inequality and the troubled school system. He also got into hot water for a few scandals during his career, including a 2011 corruption scandal surrounding poor contracting of work on the Deutsche Bank Building, frequent workplace sexism, as well as his expansion of the stop-and-frisk program.
Stop-and-frisk was a program that allowed police officers to stop, search, and question any person they suspected of criminal activity. Legally, the officers were supposed to have reasonable belief that the suspect was involved with a crime. However, in practice, the policy overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino men, with little evidence of criminal action. Black and Latino people were targeted 9 times more than white people, despite white people being twice as likely to be found with a gun. The policy was largely a response to the CompStat police management system, which incentivized arrests in crime-heavy neighborhoods. During Bloomberg’s time as mayor, there were over 5 million recorded stops.
While at the time, Bloomberg reasoned that this policy would prevent violent crimes, only 14 out of 10,000 stops turned up a gun, and only 1,200 out of every 10,000 resulted in a fine, arrest, or seizure of an illegal weapon. Multiple lawsuits against stop-and-frisk were filed, and in 2013, a judge ruled that it amounted to racial profiling. Bloomberg appealed, but current mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to the judge’s court-ordered reforms, requiring officers to wear body cameras and be trained in de-escalating conflict and recognizing their own bias. Bloomberg defended the program as recently as January of last year, but finally apologized for it at a black church in Brooklyn in November, which raises questions for some if the apology was only an attempt to smooth the way for his campaign.
However, voters’ concerns about Bloomberg stretch not only to his political record, but to his financial one. While some say Bloomberg’s head-turning net worth makes him incorruptible since he does not have the financial concern of accepting bribes or donations from lobbyists, others say that his own political spending is more of a concern. He frequently funded non-profit organizations who boosted his political agenda and paid them off if they began to oppose him or his policies. “Top Democrats were known to tease black ministers who got only $25,000 for their churches, when peers who’d held out longer received $50,000—the deal was that these ministers didn’t have to support him, but if they wanted the checks to keep coming, they needed to stay neutral,” wrote The Atlantic. He also used his money to essentially bankroll the city when need be, paying for things such as new waste equipment or paid leave for city workers out of his own pocket. He won’t even be participating in any of the Democratic debates, since the debates have funding and donor requirements, and Bloomberg is funding his entire campaign out of his own pocket.
Indeed, it seems like Bloomberg is bypassing many of the usual benchmarks that candidates must follow and coasting purely on reputation and funding. He is one of only three other potentials who skipped an interview with the New York Times editorial review board, the others being Julian Castro (who has since dropped out and endorsed Warren), and single-digit-polling Tulsi Gabbard. “After scheduling an endorsement interview in December, the Bloomberg campaign reached out to inform the deputy editorial page editor that Mr. Bloomberg would no longer be able to participate in the interview on the date they had chosen, explaining that he did not yet have positions on enough issues,” said Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy. In addition, he has opted out of competing in the first four voting states, with his name first appearing on ballots on Super Tuesday, March 3rd. This decision will make it hard for Bloomberg to acquire the amount of delegates required to secure the nomination.
But has Bloomberg actually developed “positions on enough issues” yet? Currently he is polling nationally at 5-6%, running on a platform that will sound familiar to those with knowledge of his previous mayoral campaigns, pitching himself as a moderate with positions similar to Joe Biden. However, with such a saturated Democratic field, it is hard to distinguish his policies from other candidates. He is pushing a business and economy focused campaign, though he also has positions on other issues that aren’t pushing any barriers either, like banning assault weapons and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Especially for Democratic voters that don’t pay attention until the beginning of the primaries, Bloomberg, for his billions in spending, has yet to stand out from the crowd.