Thanks to the Democratic primary calendar, and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s late entry strategy, Democrats have just a couple of weeks before March 3rd and Super Tuesday to vet him.
There’s a good chance that based on the trajectory of the Sanders and Bloomberg campaigns, after Super Tuesday the race will turn into truly bi-polar contest between a billionaire and a democratic socialist, burning off the other candidates who all have something to recommend them.
Ironically, the vital due diligence before Super Tuesday that requires Bloomberg (who qualified for Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas) get a test drive has put the party’s African Americans in the driver’s seat. In 2016, the decision by 765,000 African American voters not to turn out and vote helped Trump flip several states that had gone for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Even though Bloomberg is not on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, there’s a hotly contested social media plebiscite over his 12-year tenure running New York City that has focused in on his ardent support of the NYPD’s race-based Stop & Frisk strategy.
Under that policy, from 2002 until well into Bloomberg’s third term the NYPD stopped and frisked several hundreds of thousands of innocent young men of color every year.
In 2013, the practice was ruled as a violation of the U.S. Constitution by a Federal judge.
For an untold number of young men of color, the quota driven encounter with law enforcement, exposed them to being assaulted by the police, arrested and incarcerated.
The collateral damage to their young lives included lost scholarships, jobs, housing and familial relationships on a scale that still has yet to be accurately reported or even comprehended by the power structure.
In an effort to head off the controversy, Mr. Bloomberg went to a black church in Brooklyn, just before the start of his campaign to make a high-profile apology in November.
As the New York Times reported, it was Benjamin Dixon, a progressive radio host and podcaster, who discovered and used social media to circulate the audio from Bloomberg addressing a 2015 Aspen Institute audience that re-opened the controversy.
In the former Mayor’s remarks, he said his race-based stop and frisk strategy was justified because “Ninety-five percent of you murders—murderers and murder victims –fit one M.O….You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”
Bloomberg addressed the 2015 remarks at the Houston kick off of “Mike for Black America” where he referenced stop and frisk as an “abuse of police practice” that he “defended” for “too long because I didn’t understand then the unintended pain it was causing to young black and brown families and their kids.”
Despite his controversial record in New York City, Bloomberg’s emergence as the leading moderate, icing out former Vice President Joe Biden, came on the wave of an unprecedented national TV ad buy which prominently features former President Barack Obama offering a testimonial to Bloomberg.
The Bloomberg/Obama embrace that’s in heavy rotation, was synchronized with endorsements for Bloomberg by over 100 prominent elected African American leaders across the country. This further undermined Biden’s last remaining campaign rationale, that he had a monopoly on the Democratic Party’s essential African American vote.
For close to twenty years, Mayor Bloomberg and his philanthropy have invested hundreds of millions of dollars cultivating and supporting non-profits that provided resources and a platform for local officials taking a stand against gun violence and climate change.
At the same time, Bloomberg campaign largesse, that has flowed to Republicans, also found its way to support scores of Democratic incumbents and electoral newcomers.
Already in the Bloomberg fold are some of the nation’s most prominent African American elected leaders including long time Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Closer to home, this rapidly growing list has come to include former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks.
Meeks told CNN that even though he “did not agree with his Stop & Frisk policy” and didn’t support him any of this three runs for Mayor, “he has put his money where his mouth is” on issues like fighting the gun lobby and the NRA.
Meeks went on to catalog Bloomberg’s financial support for public health campaigns and education reform as additional examples of Bloomberg’s philanthropy that made a difference for communities of color.
“We are a divided country that has a president who is an individual who is upsetting every norm,” he said. “We have to make sure we have the best person to defeat the President.”
But for life-long Newark community activist Larry Hamm, who is running against Sen. Cory Booker in the primary and is co-chair for Sen. Sanders campaign in New Jersey, the Bloomberg wave in the black community is strictly transactional and obscures what he sees as the former Mayor’s political vulnerabilities that makes him beatable
“Bloomberg is one of the richest men in the world, depending on the chart,” Hamm said during a phone interview. “He has foundations and been engaged in philanthropic efforts and I would imagine many of those black officials that have endorsed him either received money from him or are part of non-profits that have received money from him.”
He continued. “But I think they are going to be disappointed because quite frankly I don’t think Bloomberg is going to get the Democratic Party’s nomination.”
He says political pundits need to be wary of assuming that the cadre of Bloomberg’s prominent African American boosters is emblematic of grass roots support for the billionaire’s candidacy in the broader population of black Democratic voters.
“It really is the epitome of white privilege to think you can utter the words I am sorry, or I apologize and think the entire African American community will forgive you,” he said.
But for Hamm, it’s not just Bloomberg’s track record on policing that’s a non-starter, but the former Mayor’s support of Wall Street during the Great Recession from which he says so many New Jersey’s families still have yet to recover.
According to the Pew Research Center, African American households were the hardest hit by the foreclosure meltdown that was set off by widespread and well documented mortgage fraud by lenders who subsequently paid millions in fines for practices like robo-signing but were rarely criminally prosecuted.
“Bloomberg said that it was loans to black families that caused the crash in 08 when really black families were the victims of 2008 because so much of African American’s wealth was tied up in their homes” that they lost, he said. “This is a person who is totally disconnected from the reality of black life.”