Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination is just weeks old and the impact of his bid have already revealed flaws in the DNC’s candidate curation process.
As our native son Senator Cory Booker has pointed out, the field has already skewed more male, whiter and wealthier with the exit of Senator Kamala Harris.
The DNC’s heavy reliance on polling and fundraising advantages someone like Bloomberg, with nearly unlimited resources.
And while it is true that there’s much to recommend Mr. Bloomberg, particularly during the perilous reign of President Trump, there are several drawbacks to the former Mayor of New York’s candidacy and a potential Bloomberg presidency.
There are also examples of costly mismanagement of critical municipal contracts on Mr. Bloomberg’s watch as mayor, which run counter to the image of him as a consummate manager. These will most likely not find their way into the presidential debate but the consequences of them were felt long after he left office.
My observations are based on more than a decade of covering Mr. Bloomberg as Mayor for WNYC and on paying close attention to his ongoing philanthropy and strategic campaigns around public health, climate change and gun control since.
- THE WEALTH FACTOR-If ever there were a two-edge sword it is the global scale of Mr. Bloomberg’s $55-billion-dollar fortune that has grown tenfold since the early 2000s.
On one hand, it’s the vast scale of his wealth that permits him to blow off the campaign cash from the gun lobby or fossil fuel industry yet it also permits him to be imperiously dismissive of people whose world view he disagrees with.
For a sense of what I mean, compare and contrast the governing styles of a former Governor Dick Codey, a self-made pol who came up via the rubber chicken circuit, with that of our former Governor Jon Corzine who descended into politics from the top of Goldman Sachs C-suite wealth pyramid.
Mr. Codey built his brand and loyalties over decades of service and thousands of interactions where he helped constituents and other politicians find solutions to their problems. Mr. Corzine got his fealty by tithing to the existing Democratic county vassals, even the corrupt ones.
In the case of Mr. Bloomberg, the insulating power of his wealth permitted him to impose his will and upend New York City’s term limits law that voters approved in 1993 and 1996. And in the process, he enlisted the help of a majority of the City Council and former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who all voted to enable his undemocratic power grab.
- ‘I DID IT-SO CAN YOU’-If you spend any time with Mr. Bloomberg, you get a clear sense that core to his world view is a deep and abiding faith in the transformative power of American capitalism. Thanks to his authentic self-made man narrative, he truly believes that with enough hard work and determination anybody can build a fortune.
This ‘if I did it-so can you’ mentality betrays a lack of empathy and understanding for the tens of millions of Americans that the Federal Reserve tells us would have a hard time coming up with $400 to cover an out of the blue emergency.
- STOP AND FRISK– Mr. Bloomberg’s disconnect from the circumstances of Americans not like him most clearly manifested itself in his enthusiastic endorsement of the racist and unconstitutional stop and frisk strategy that had the NYPD targeting hundreds of thousands of young men of color that 95 percent of the time did not result in an arrest.
Ultimately, the practice not only caused deep alienation between the NYPD and communities of color, but also gave rise to a potent police accountability movement which helped Bill de Blasio win the mayoralty.
Over Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure the city paid out over $1 billion to settle claims related to police misconduct that often originated from overly aggressive law enforcement. And while proponents of the controversial strategy warned that ending it would produce lawless anarchy, homicides continued their historic decline as the NYPD cut back dramatically on the practice.
The former Mayor, as part of his roll out of his presidential campaign, has apologized for his endorsement of the practice.
- THE PEROT EFFECT- A Trump versus Bloomberg 2020 face-off would be a comic book subway series between the phony racist billionaire with crass manners, and the legit button-downed billionaire who really does give to charity.
Such a race would surely increase the odds of a third party bid that would likely have a Perot effect on the General Election results, denying either major party candidate a significant enough margin of victory to be able to lay claim to a mandate.
- US & GLOBAL TAX SYSTEM MINTING BILLIONAIRES AND INEQUALITY- If it comes down to the battle of the billionaires, we will be dodging confronting the role the current US and international tax system plays in spawning them and the obscene wealth concentration that’s turned the planet into a 21st century feudal realm.
To his credit, fellow billionaire and presidential contender Tom Steyer seems more clued in on the underlying immorality of late stage vulture capitalism than is Mr. Bloomberg, who has been a consistent cheerleader for Wall Street.
As Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg refused to disclose what he paid in federal taxes and, just as the New York press enabled Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, they never challenged the Mayor, one of the richest men in the world, to be fully transparent.
The current global tax system, the former mayor has mastered, has the earth’s governments competing with each other to offer capital the lowest taxes and most secrecy.
This race to the bottom has serious macro-economic consequences as countries scramble to confront climate change and rising sea levels even as they sink deeper and deeper into debt.
“Last year 26 people owned the same [amount of wealth] as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity,” reported Oxfam International in 2018. According to the anti-poverty charity, in the decade since Wall Street’s pillaging of Main Street that induced the Great Recession, “the fortunes of the richest have risen dramatically” with the number of billionaires doubling.
- WALL STREET CHAMPION-In nominating Mr. Bloomberg Democrats would be elevating a man who has made his massive fortune at the nexus of global finance, news and information.
It’s been in this epoch of global capitalism when Bloomberg prospered most that we saw the finance sector betray Main Street in a pattern and practice mortgage back security fraud that largely went unprosecuted yet dispossessed tens of millions of Americans.
Thanks, in no small measure to the millions the finance industry bestows on politicians and their parties, our government is captive to these interests. Rewarding Wall Street by choosing one of their biggest champions would affirm the notion that the accumulation of vast wealth is the be all and end all of human endeavor.
As we learned with President Trump, when you elect a president you are also uplifting their posse. And for Mr. Bloomberg his first loyalty has always been to Wall Street to whom he owes so much.
In 2011, as the debate over the issues raised by Occupy Wall Street were dominating the news, Mr. Bloomberg used his platform as Mayor to try and shift the blame for the mortgage meltdown, not on Wall Street, but onto Congress.
“I hear your complaints. Some of them are totally unfounded,” he told a breakfast gathering. “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”
- WHEN THE PRESS IS OWNED HOW FREE IS IT? One negative impact of the Bloomberg candidacy has already manifested itself with the decision by Bloomberg News to go soft on their coverage, not just of their company’s founder but the entire Democratic primary field.
Variety reported on an internal memo from the company’s top news executive that offered guidance for how Bloomberg News would cover the 2020 race.
“We will describe who is winning and who is losing,” wrote John Micklethwait, editor in chief of Bloomberg’s news operations. “We will look at policies and their consequences. We will carry polls, we will interview candidates and we will track their campaigns, including Mike’s. We have already assigned a reporter to follow his campaign (just as we did when Mike was in City Hall). And in the stories we write on the presidential contest, we will make clear that our owner is now a candidate” and “we will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries.”
This begs the question how the first-class news media outlet will be guided if their boss goes all the way.
As the owner of one of the world’s largest news media organizations, in a time of brutal news media consolidation and cost cutting, Mr. Bloomberg has assembled a brilliant team of journalists.
Case in point, Timothy O’Brien, who was one of the few reporters to challenge Donald Trump’s billionaire puffery in his seminal work “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald.” Between O’Brien’s reporting and that done by my Village Voice colleague, the late Wayne Barrett, for whom O’Brien did research, Americans were forewarned about the Donald. Mr. O’Brien is now serving as a top Bloomberg campaign adviser.
- Viva La Huelga (Not)-If the Democratic Party nominated Mr. Bloomberg, they would be selecting a candidate with at best a very mixed record when it comes to organized labor at a time when the movement is in the midst of a major revival.
The Democratic Party’s past romance with global free trade under President Clinton came at the expense to the nation’s manufacturing base and cost union households dearly for two generations. That neo-liberal mind set gave Donald Trump a way into winning states in the rust belt that had voted twice for President Obama but in 2016 didn’t buy what former Secretary of State Clinton was selling.
As recounted by reporter John Surico, in a vintage piece recently reprinted by AlterNet, Mr. Bloomberg came into office as Mayor following Mayor Giuliani, who left office with City Hall-union relations at a low ebb and long expired labor contracts.
In 2002 Mr. Bloomberg managed to end the city/union standoff by offering labor the opportunity to raise rank and file wages and preserve their benefits in exchange for cost savings realized through productivity gains.
But by 2006, those inaugural contracts were expiring, and Mr. Bloomberg took a more adversarial ‘my way or the highway’ stance insisting that the public workforce had been sheltered from the economic rigors of the private sector which he felt embodied efficiency and accountability.
As the 2008 Wall Street enabled meltdown devastated Main Street, the nation’s pensions and tax revenues, Mr. Bloomberg’s instinct was to extract as much as he could from the public workforce.
In 2011, he wrote a New York Times op-ed piece in which he pushed back on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s effort to eliminate public unions, while at the same time maintaining that public unions needed to lower their expectations in alignment with the private sector, which the billionaire believed should always be the government’s shining guide star.
“Across the country, taxpayers are providing pensions, benefits and job security protections for public workers that almost no one in the private sector enjoys,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote. “Taxpayers simply cannot afford to continue paying these costs, which are growing at rates far outpacing inflation. Yes, public sector workers need a secure retirement. And yes, taxpayers need top-quality police officers, teachers and firefighters. It’s the job of government to balance those competing needs. But for a variety of reasons, the scale has been increasingly tipping away from taxpayers.”
- CITYTIME-Ironically, while Mr. Bloomberg was stiffing the unions, he permitted the city taxpayers to get ripped off by private sector consultants who were working on a 21st century upgrade of the city’s timekeeping system.
The project, shorthanded as CityTime, was one of the largest municipal criminal contract frauds in American history. Under Mr. Bloomberg, the contract ballooned from $63 million where it had started out in the Giuliani years, to more than $700 million.
By 2011, in no small part thanks to the whistleblowing by members of the city’s public unions, Federal prosecutors charged that at least $600 million of what the city had forked over was “tainted.”
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time, did not sugarcoat his description of the CityTime scandal when he faced reporters.
“The crimes alleged in today’s superseding indictment are truly jaw dropping,” said Mr. Bharara. “They reveal one of the most elaborate and massive schemes to defraud the city ever charged.”
The prime contractor was the defense contractor Scientific Applications International Corporation. The city’s contract database noted SAIC had been the subject of “multiple investigations by the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Justice, NASA and the General Services Administration.”
That same year, as I reported for WNYC , the Bloomberg administration, faced with a $600 budget gap, announced plans to lay off a thousand workers and end the city’s commitment to thousands of kids who had been promised college scholarships for keeping a B average.
And CityTime was not a one off. This Bloomberg blind spot for corporate consultants was costly.
- 911 CONTRACT FIASCO-Mr. Bloomberg’s administration got ensnared in another massive taxpayer rip off with private contractors who were responsible for a badly needed post 9/11 upgrade of its 911 emergency call system which had failed the city well before Sept. 11, 2001 and the 2003 blackout.
That contract was years behind schedule and a $1 billion over budget. Throughout the development of the project the Bloomberg administration dismissed the concerns raised by fire department unions that documented widespread problems with the system including the regular routing of fire apparatus to cell towers, or to wrong addresses, instead of to working fires.
In the aftermath of the Bloomberg administration botched response to the December 2010 blizzard, which was compounded by widespread 911 system problems, it commissioned an independent report.
The independent consultant found that despite years of development, the city’s 911 system remained flawed because the NYPD, FDNY, EMS, and Office of Emergency Management were not effectively integrated. “New York City needs a unified strategic plan and agreement,” stated the report from Winbourne Consulting LLC.
“Currently, the NYPD and FDNY have developed their 911 surge response independently although a critical incident typically requires a coordinated response,” the report stated.
Additionally, the findings raised concerns that all of the city’s emergency agencies had different geofiles and geographic information systems, which could hurt the city’s ability to respond to emergencies in the most effective way.
This wasn’t the first time the lack of coordination between emergency agencies had been faulted. It was identified as a contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of life suffered by the FDNY in the September 11 attacks and Mr. Bloomberg came into office pledging to revamp the 911 system.
Yet, problems persisted well into Mayor de Blasio’s tenure. In 2014, the City Council convened hearings after several high-profile 911 miscues including a four minute delay to an Upper West Side crash that killed a 4-year-old.
The de Blasio administration conducted a 90-day technical review of the system plagued by hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns and years of delay.
“The City’s comprehensive review revealed a number of root causes for repeated program challenges and delays, including overreliance on external consultants and lack of communication among and input from stakeholder agencies,” according to the official press statement outlining the report’s findings.
Here’s the previous column on the pro-Bloomberg 2020 case.
- Barack Obama
- Bill Clinton
- Bill de Blasio
- Cory Booker
- Dick Codey
- Donald Trump
- Hillary Clinton
- Joe Biden
- Jon Corzine
- Kamala Harris
- Mike Bloomberg
- OxFam International
- Preet Bharara
- Ross Perot
- Rudy Giuliani
- Stop and Frisk
- Timothy O'Brien
- Tom Steyer
- Wall Street
- Wayne Barrett
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