I cringed, literally, when Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, my home for the past twenty-nine years, announced his run for President of the United States. I lived through his three terms in office, from 2002 to 2013, and reject what he is telling the American people about his sterling record as he dives into this last-minute campaign.
Bloomberg’s record around race and racism, in particular, is hard to abide—especially his enthusiastic support, throughout his mayoral tenure, of stopping and frisking New Yorkers. The overwhelming majority of those frisked were men of color, mostly black and Latinx, people who look like me. When repeatedly challenged on the policy during those years, Bloomberg was dismissive, even defiant, as he helped to perpetuate the prison-industrial complex.
It’s also hard to get past Bloomberg’s support for massive development projects across the five boroughs of New York City, augmenting the speed of gentrification and displacement of many lower-income people.
I have watched my beloved borough of Brooklyn go from being a dynamic enclave of working and middle-class people of all colors and cultures and persuasions, to having huge pockets of privilege, sporting bike lanes and Paris-like sidewalk cafes, and pricing out people who have lived there for generations.
Bloomberg, seventy-seven, is one of the richest individuals on the planet.
And then there’s the ongoing crisis in public school education, which Bloomberg, as mayor, attempted to fix by pushing for more charter schools; a Brookings Institution analysis found that the number of charter schools in New York City exploded from just twenty-two in 2003 to 159 in the 2012-13 school year.
Bloomberg, seventy-seven, is one of the richest individuals on the planet, having amassed a fortune of $54 billion through his financial news company. As if to rub in the point, he launched his presidential campaign with a series of ad buys at an estimated cost of $34 million.
He brands himself a fixer of problems, a doer, a change agent.
No, not even close.
What Bloomberg represents is how blind the wealthy become due to their privilege. There was no uglier example than when he decided, toward the end of his second and presumably final term, to leverage various kinds of support to change the city charter to allow him to serve a third term. It was messy, it was messianic, it was an incredible abuse of power that could even be described as Trumpian. But Bloomberg got his wish, as boot-lickers to the wealthy fell in line; and after he won election, the city went back to allowing just two terms for all elected officials.
My issue is not with Bloomberg’s wealth. We cannot control where, or into what kind of resources, we are born. But we can control our sense of humanity.
Consider Bobby Kennedy, who hailed from political royalty and vast amounts of family wealth. But, in the last years of his life, Kennedy evolved from a spoiled bully to a man with a sense of compassion and empathy for all people.
Bloomberg has been, when convenient, a Democrat, then a Republican, then an Independent, and is now a Democrat again. He knows, or his people know, that with black votes weighing heavily, come primary season in a matter of weeks, he must make amends for stop and frisk—and fast.
So Bloomberg did what countless politicians have done. He showed up at a large black church with a hugely popular black preacher, in a very black section of Brooklyn, to apologize.
But only the most gullible person would think Mike Bloomberg had suddenly recognized the error of his ways. No, it was pure political opportunism, political grandstanding, political make-believe.
Bloomberg has taken some positions I support—his persistent calls for sensible gun laws, for example. He has also been a shrewd businessman and generous philanthropist. But America could use more leaders who come from the people, who emerge from the grassroots like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
What we need are leaders who are truly in touch with the people. From what I have observed these many years, that would not be Mike Bloomberg. Not even close.