The idea of Michael Bloomberg becoming the Democratic presidential nominee should be too absurd to even consider seriously. For one thing, he is a conservative who openly believes that the poor should be ruled over by the super-rich and is trying to buy the nomination outright. He has a history of saying monstrously offensive things about women and transgender people, and oversaw an infamous racist police regime that terrorized Black and Hispanic New Yorkers. If he did somehow manage to spend his way to the nomination, bypassing the democratic process, it would be such an outrage—and so demoralizing to the Democratic base—that it would guarantee Trump’s reelection. If the choice were between two sexist billionaires who hate the poor, how many young people would drag themselves to the polls to support “our side’s” billionaire? It would permanently disillusion an entire generation and vindicate every cynical theory of politics as a domain where money rules absolutely.
But, troublingly, Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy has not entirely been laughed out of the room. A number of prominent Democratic officials, liberal intellectuals, and celebrities have endorsed him, including San Francisco mayor London Breed, Illinois congressman Bobby Rush, Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo, TV’s Judge Judy, and singer John Mellencamp. Henry Louis Gates promoted Michael Bloomberg, and Evicted author Matthew Desmond effusively praised Bloomberg’s housing plan (without officially endorsing him). Some of this seems a little strange—why is a sociologist known for studying evictions boosting the guy responsible for the New York homelessness crisis? Why are dozens of liberal elected officials suddenly stumping for a Republican billionaire?
In the case of some elected officials, the answer seems to be simple bribery. Bloomberg “has supported 196 different cities with grants, technical assistance and education programs worth a combined $350 million” and “now, leaders in some of those cities are forming the spine of Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign.” The mayors have all “attended his prestigious boot camp at Harvard that gives the mayors access to ongoing strategic advice from Bloomberg-funded experts” and “more than half have received funding… worth a total of nearly $10 million.” Bloomberg has been good to them and promises to keep being good to them in the future; endorsing him will probably guarantee the cash keeps flowing. Bloomberg hands out bags of money, they come on board.
But, beyond people he outright bribes, Bloomberg has another potential source of support: Democratic elites who desperately want to stop Bernie Sanders from being the party’s nominee. With Joe Biden having collapsed in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg incapable of winning the votes of young people and African Americans, and Elizabeth Warren currently trailing Sanders, there are plenty looking for a last-minute candidate to stop the Sanders surge. As a Bloomberg adviser put it, “Mike may end up as the only thing standing between Bernie and the nomination.”
Bloomberg plans to “exploit the chaotic outcome of the Iowa caucuses” by doubling his spending on advertising, and his advisers have been making overtures to high-ranking Democrats. There are still many in the Democratic Party who insist you need to be a centrist to win, and Bloomberg portrays himself as the candidate who “would be acceptable to the moderate Republicans you have to have.” They may be prepared to use any means necessary to keep Sanders from being nominated, even using the superdelegate system to override the popular will. If they do so, the excuse they give will be is that stopping Trump is “too important” to be interfered with by mere democracy.
But the biggest boost to Bloomberg is his giant pile of money, which he has vowed to use to obtain the nomination for himself. He hasn’t ruled out spending $1 billion on the presidential race. In the first five weeks, he spent $200 million on advertising. He’s opening nearly 20 offices in Texas alone, and is even paying people money to say nice things about him online (so if you see someone praising Bloomberg, remember: There’s a good chance they were paid to do it). He has donated significant sums to the DNC, and has surrogates on the rules committee. The DNC recently changed the requirements to qualify for the debates in a way that now allows Bloomberg and his money pile to participate. (It used to be that you had to get a certain number of donors. Bloomberg, having no donors but himself, was ineligible. The donor requirement has now been scrapped.) It is unclear precisely what Bloomberg’s strategy is. But he would not be spending a billion dollars if he didn’t think it could somehow buy him the nomination.
The Definition of a Plutocrat
Bloomberg does not see anything wrong with trying to purchase the presidency for a billion dollars. When asked about whether this is fair, he has become annoyed, as if it is a stupid question. He says that his rivals “had a chance to go out and make a lot of money,” but simply chose not to, and says there is no difference between himself and the other candidates: “I’m doing exactly the same thing they’re doing, except that I am using my own money.” The others are “using somebody else’s money and those other people expect something from them,” because “nobody gives you money if they don’t expect something.” He says he doesn’t see the problem.
The problem, of course, is that this is plutocracy, rule by the rich. If I have little money, and have to work tirelessly to build a grassroots movement of supporters to buy a few ads, while you have a billion dollars and can simply buy 10 times as many ads without lifting a finger, I have no real chance to compete. (This is precisely how Bloomberg gets his way. He simply uses his money as a “bulldozer” to “drown out the opposition.”) When I followed Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign in Michigan, one thing that saddened me was that, just to keep his campaign afloat, he had to spend 40 hours a week just on making donor calls to ask for fairly small sums. That was all time he couldn’t spend out meeting people, which put him at a considerable disadvantage. Vast wealth inequality makes democracy impossible, because it just means the rich can bury the less rich, not with better ideas or more grassroots support, but just by having more money to blast their message out.
In fact, Bloomberg has long practiced a politics of bribery. As mayor, when he “wanted to win over cocky state legislative leaders, he packed them aboard his private jet, headed for his Bermuda mansion and a friendly round of golf.” When he decided that he wanted to seek a third term in office, despite the law’s two-term limit, he donated $60 million to nonprofits, then his aides asked recipient organizations to push for changing the law. “It’s pretty hard to say no,” one leader said. After successfully getting the law changed, Bloomberg still spent another $109 million to secure his third term, which gave him the honor of having spent “more of his own money than any other individual in United States history in the pursuit of public office.” Bloomberg is frank in his belief that rules are for little people.
It’s especially remarkable that Bloomberg has chosen to seek the Democratic nomination, because he wasn’t actually a Democrat until right before starting this campaign, and ran for New York City mayor as a Republican. He supported war criminal George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. He set a record for donations to the New York Republican Party, and heaped “piles of cash at the feet of city and state Republican leaders.” In 2016, he spent $11.7 million helping Republican Pat Toomey keep his Senate seat, an election that Toomey won by less than two points and that helped Mitch McConnell maintain control of the Senate. He endorsed Scott Brown in his reelection campaign against Elizabeth Warren. Bloomberg “not only backed Republicans in competitive and pivotal races” but “has also sunk money into Republican primaries on behalf of McConnell allies” like Lindsey Graham and Thad Cochran. While Bloomberg’s donations have more recently leaned Democratic—an attempt to purchase political influence on his personal issues like gun control—his support for New York Republicans helped maintain the state senate’s decades-long Republican majority, with all of the reactionary policy that entailed, like delaying marriage equality. This is what plutocratic governance looks like: billionaires deciding which party will be in charge, in accordance with their whims and policy preferences.
The Bloomberg Record: Poverty & Inequality
“Some people say, well, taxes are regressive. But in this case, yes they are. That’s the good thing about them. I listen to people saying ‘oh we don’t want to tax the poor.’ Well, we want the poor to live longer… And that’s why you do want to do exactly what a lot of people say you don’t want to do.” — Michael Bloomberg
Bloomberg has never been shy about being a free-market conservative waging war on the poor, and the only reason it isn’t immediately obvious that he is right-wing is that so many Democrats have also been free-market conservatives waging war on the poor. Sure, his 2020 campaign has slapped together some hastily plagiarized literature pitching him as progressive, and he is publishing op-eds claiming that “fixing inequality is my priority.” After years of staunchly defending racist policing practices, he apologized for them the moment he began the campaign. But none of this should persuade anyone familiar with Bloomberg’s actual record.
Remember that Bloomberg himself says he is the type of conservative who believes in slashing the government to bits:
I actually am a conservative—more so than other conservatives in the sense that I think you could go and cut 2 or 3 percent out of the budget in every agency. We’ve done that 12 times…
Indeed, as New York City mayor, the billionaire mayor vowed to smash working people’s unions. He adopted an “aggressive approach to reforming the pension system” and made it his No. 1 legislative priority. He “threatened to withhold worker raises unless the municipal unions yielded on benefits.” Bloomberg vowed that nobody would get raises unless they accepted benefit cuts:
“Today, I will make this commitment: I will not sign a contract with salary increases unless they are accompanied by reforms in benefit packages that produce the savings we need…”
When transit workers went on strike after the transit authority’s attempted to raise the retirement age and substantially increase pension contributions, Bloomberg called them “selfish,” “greedy,” and “thuggish.” He even attacked the morality of the city’s firefighters. He eliminated the employee protection plan for the city’s 8,000 school bus drivers, leading to a strike. Bloomberg told public sector workers that “we have to find ways to do more with less” and would not pledge to end layoffs, even as the city spent millions on private consultants. Bloomberg said he wanted workers who appreciated that they should be grateful to the private sector for their salaries: “The unions I will get are the unions who understand that the private sector pays for the work of municipal employees.” (Bloomberg also spent $3 million backing right-wing Michigan governor Rick Snyder—remembered for the Flint Water Crisis and seizing power from Black-led cities—in part because Snyder “took on the unions.“)
Bloomberg has never shown himself to care much about workers’ rights. He once ordered that a low-level city employee making $27,000—supporting a wife and child—be fired after Bloomberg noticed Solitaire open on the man’s computer. Bloomberg forced the resignation of the director of the city’s first Arabic dual language school program after ludicrous allegations that she was a terrorist sympathizer. When Bloomberg found out that a New York City teacher had previously been a sex worker, he demanded she be fired, saying, “We’re just not going to have this woman in front of a class.” The teacher was suspended and ultimately had to resign.
Bloomberg’s own company was sued by 72 women who claimed “the company discriminated against them by decreasing their pay, demoting them, and excluding them from other employment opportunities after they became pregnant,” with one senior executive allegedly remarking “I’m not having any pregnant bitches working for me.”
Bloomberg has always opposed traditional Democratic policies for improving the lives of working people. He said he is “not, and [has] never been in favor of raising the minimum wage” (giving the usual discredited talking point about job loss), and as mayor vowed to veto a living wage bill, comparing it to Soviet Communism and promising to fight it in court. Bloomberg is a believer in “trickle-down” economics, whereby helping the rich helps the poor:
The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills.
This is far from the only time that Bloomberg suggested inequality was good and the city needed to lure more rich people. If the city was divided into rich and poor, he said, it was “one group paying for services for the other,” meaning that the poor should be grateful for their benefactors. He called New York City a “luxury product,” and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?” and “If we could get every billionaire around the world to move here it would be a godsend that would create a much bigger income gap.”
Bloomberg’s New York was intensely friendly to rich developers. His city planning director, Standard Oil heir Amanda Burden, stated the administration’s aspirations: “What I have tried to do, and think I have done, is create value for these developers, every single day of my term.” Little-noticed zoning changes protected rich people’s neighborhoods from development and put poor neighborhoods up for grabs. Billionaires building luxury towers in New York City pay almost nothing in property taxes, and CityLab concluded of Bloomberg’s plan to lure as many billionaires as possible that “what Bloomberg saw as a way to provide for the welfare of New York looks more like one of the firmest expressions of inequality anywhere.” CityLab writes that “the property-tax burden has shifted from owners to renters, and from the wealthier to the poorer.” Under pressure, Bloomberg introduced a “market-based” solution for affordable housing, but it produced a pitifully small number of affordable units and “affordability” was often a joke, with units accessible only to those making more than the median income. Public housing was neglected, and “under Bloomberg, the city stopped checking for lead paint in public housing apartments, a disastrous decision that endangered thousands of children.” Kate Albright-Hanna describes the destructive effects of the Bloomberg philosophy for City & State New York, and warns what would happen to the country if Bloombergism were enacted on an even larger scale:
New York City is under siege, vanishing, empty or already dead as a result of the “Bloomberg Way”—the concept of the mayor as CEO, businesses as clients, citizens as consumers, and the city as a product that’s branded and marketed. Bloomberg’s corporate worldview drained the color out of New York City—a sterile, relentless kind of destruction that dehumanized its victims with the logic of the market… Bloomberg invited global investors to knock down old brick buildings and erect glassy, lifeless towers of secrecy that housed the wealth of foreign oligarchs and kleptocrats.
For a deeper look at the sad destruction of New York’s culture and heritage that the Bloomberg years produced, see Jeremiah Moss’ book and blog Vanishing New York (reviewed here). Moss documents block by block, building by building, the eroding fabric of New York City culture, as beloved diners, dives, and bakeries are turned into banks and luxury goods stores after their rent is hiked from the thousands to the tens of thousands. Perhaps the ultimate expression of Bloombergism is Hudson Yards, the lifeless complex of glass towers, an “ultra-capitalist Forbidden City” where the poor are invisible.
Unsurprisingly, Bloomberg’s tenure saw an explosion in both rent prices and homelessness. By the end of Bloomberg’s time, “half of renting households paid more than 30 percent of their income in rent and utilities.” Commercial rents soared too, and beloved mom ‘n’ pop stores that had been in the city for decades closed by the hundreds. (Moss’ blog is a heartbreaking catalog of these.) The St. Vincent’s Hospital was shuttered and turned into luxury condos, just one of nearly 20 hospital closures between 2000 and 2013.
At the end, nearly one of every three children in the city resided in poverty, and the “record-high shelter population includes more than 22,000 homeless children.” The New York City Coalition For The Homeless has been absolutely scathing, noting that “the number of homeless people in NYC has soared to all-time record highs under Bloomberg; and the number of poor New Yorkers has also risen and remains at alarming levels.”
Bloomberg’s administration required homeless people to prove to shelters that they had no other options. In fact, he was critical of the very notion of a “right to shelter,” and said that shelters might be clogged with rich people taking advantage of the system: “You can arrive in your private jet at Kennedy Airport, take a private limousine and go straight to the shelter system and walk in the door and we’ve got to give you shelter.” (Because lots of oligarchs in limos are trying to check in to the New York City homeless shelters.) As the Coalition for the Homeless noted, “he sought to repeal longstanding court orders obligating the City to provide emergency shelter for homeless children and adults,”and “urged New Yorkers to overturn these fundamental legal protections for homeless people, saying: ‘New York City taxpayers have just gotta go to call their representatives in Albany and say, ‘We ain’t gonna do this anymore.’’”
… chose to cut off homeless families from priority access to public housing apartments and Section 8 vouchers – permanent housing resources that had successfully helped move tens of thousands of homeless kids and families from shelters to stable housing under three previous mayoral administrations. They then replaced those programs with short-term subsidies that became a revolving door back to homelessness for thousands of families.
Former City Council chair Christine Quinn was blunt: “In a time of prosperity, he took aggressive steps from a policy perspective to hurt the homeless.” Bloomberg’s idea of a solution to homelessness was giving them one-way bus tickets to get them out of the city. Today, Bloomberg insists that inequality is a top priority, but before his sudden transformation into a Democrat, Bloomberg said of inequality that “that’s not a measure of something we should be ashamed of.” (Recall he specifically wanted billionaires to move to New York to increase the “income gap.”)
Asked about all this, Bloomberg alternated between pretending it wasn’t true and admitting he didn’t give a shit. “Nobody’s sleeping on the streets,” he said, though even if they were, he believed the shortage of housing was a “good sign.” The Coalition for the Homeless says that, confronted with the problem he had caused, “the mayor and his aides responded with evasions, distortions, and a refusal to accept responsibility.” He had the audacity to “claim credit for the same legal right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers that he has fought aggressively to repeal!”
The human reality of this situation was documented well in a New York Times profile of an 11-year-old Black girl named Dasani, constantly bouncing from bed to bed in the city. The Times described how Bloomberg’s vision of a New York for billionaires had treated girls like Dasani as nonentities:
In the shadows of [Bloomberg’s “new gilded age”] it is Dasani’s population who have been left behind… With the economy growing in 2004, the Bloomberg administration adopted sweeping new policies intended to push the homeless to become more self-reliant. They would no longer get priority access to public housing and other programs, but would receive short-term help with rent. Poor people would be empowered, the mayor argued, and homelessness would decline. But the opposite happened. As rents steadily rose and low-income wages stagnated, chronically poor families like Dasani’s found themselves stuck in a shelter system with fewer exits. Families are now languishing there longer than ever — a development that Mr. Bloomberg explained by saying shelters offered “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.”
Asked to comment on Dasani’s story, Bloomberg said, “That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not.” (God apparently being the one making New York City housing policy these days.) Asked whether he was concerned about the poor, he reiterated his usual line about how everything depends on benevolent businessmen like him, and then gave the classic billionaire’s line about how because there is air conditioning people should shut up and stop complaining that the rent is too high:
“When we grew up we didn’t have air-conditioning. Air-conditioning in the schools, the subways. Are you crazy? Now, by most of the world’s standards, you ain’t poor.”
Bloomberg’s approach to poor people is that he knows what is best for them, and that their job is to shut up and do what he says. He has even said that regressive taxes are good (regressiveness is “the good thing about them”), because taxing the poor more makes them behave. Has called for fingerprinting public housing residents and food stamp recipients (making New York one of the only places in the country to do this). One could see this same mentality in his signature proposal, the “big soda” ban; big sodas are unhealthy, but Bloomberg thought more about how to control poor people’s decisions than how to improve their material conditions. In defending taxing the poor for their own good, he said he didn’t want to “pander to these people.”
Bloomberg reserved his sympathy for bankers. As mayor, he gave Goldman Sachs more than a billion dollars in tax breaks to build a headquarters in New York. Later he said Occupy Wall Street was unfairly targeting financial industry workers who were “struggling to get by.” After all, he said, “This is our industry. We’d appreciate it if someone recognized that this is our tax base.” He was scathing about the Obama administration’s effort to regulate banks after the financial crisis, calling fines “outrageous” and suggesting that Wall Street insiders, rather than Congress, should be writing the laws, and has supported cutting the corporate tax rate. He called raising taxes on the rich “about as dumb a policy as I can think of,” making his usual case that rich people give us everything, describing Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax as “mean.” Bloomberg can be comically out of touch with working people; when the city was crippled by a blizzard he suggested residents use the free time to take in a Broadway show.
Bloomberg also established an insidious patronage system, whereby he would “slash funding in the city’s budget [then] backfill those cuts with anonymous donations.” This allowed him to boast of being a cost-cutter, but also made organizations completely depend on his largesse, meaning that the moment he personally decided to take funding away, it was gone, and forcing them to stay on his good side. (Remember, when billionaires give away money, it has nothing to do with generosity and should not be seen as virtuous, because it costs them nothing. If I give away $50, it is more meaningful than Michael Bloomberg giving away $50 million.) By making more and more organizations dependent on him, Bloomberg took decision-making out of the democratic sphere and turned it over to himself. This is clientelism, a system built on financial quid-pro-quos, and naturally “the mayor and his top deputies… pressed social service, arts and neighborhood groups that receive donations from Mr. Bloomberg to express support for his third-term bid by testifying during public hearing.” (A useful and comprehensive article on the Bloomberg Way in the International Socialist Review also explains how Bloomberg’s “philanthropy” offers solutions to problems he himself creates, such as funding organizations that help men with drug convictions get jobs while escalating drug arrests. It shows how Bloomberg’s wealth is dependent on making sure the financial sector never stops growing.)
I am sure you can guess what Michael Bloomberg’s education policy was like. He’s a strong believer in testing and charters and believes school is about preparing children for the job market. He has been a major contributor to “school choice” initiatives around the country. As mayor, he seized control over the schools, let private charters use city school buildings, and pushed for school closures. He tried to cut $170 million from early childhood education and after-school programs. He says he believes in doubling class sizes and halving the number of teachers (which is bananas). “Everybody I know in my generation went to classes of 40 or more. And education by some people’s argument was as good then as it is today,” he explained. Bloomberg went to war with teachers unions, who he compared to the NRA, and teacher morale was dismal. Bloomberg controversially appointed publishing executive Cathie Black to be school chancellor, a charter school advocate and union opponent who irritated educators and soon had to resign after jokingly suggesting that the solution to school overcrowding was birth control.
Bloomberg’s governing philosophy is very clear: He is one of these “run it like a business” types, which means a focus on maximizing “growth” and “development” even if doing that requires mass layoffs and pushing poor people out of the city. (“Running like a business” does not actually mean efficient and careful; the Bloomberg years saw the largest contractor fraud scheme in the history of the city, with half a billion dollars in waste). His goal for New York was to market it as a product to the super-rich around the world, not to govern it in the interest of its working class. Unsurprisingly, this meant mass evictions, staggering rent increases, billion-dollar luxury “pencil” towers, “poor doors.” This is the New York of taxi driver suicides, homeless 11-year-olds, and beloved diners turned into Chase banks. And this is the America we could expect if Michael Bloomberg were to obtain the power he thirsts for.
The Police State
Michael Bloomberg’s NYPD became infamous for an authoritarian approach that saw hassling young Black men as an important part of everyday crime control. The most controversial Bloomberg-era policy was Stop and Frisk, which ultimately reached nearly 700,000 stops per year. At certain points, 90 percent of those stopped were nonwhite, and the vast majority were innocent of any wrongdoing. Bloomberg himself always insisted the program was not racist, but said that “when it comes to policing, political correctness is deadly.” He was caught on tape in Aspen specifically saying that police needed to be focused on young male minorities. (While Bloomberg did not deem Stop and Frisk racist, he did think it was “racist” for Bill de Blasio to have his Black family in campaign ads.)
The effect of this was a racialized police state. Young Black and Hispanic people in Bloomberg’s New York were constantly under suspicion because Bloomberg believed they were all potential criminals. As Edward Wyckoff Williams described life for Black residents: “innocent of crime, guilty of no infraction, they are harassed, placed against walls, handcuffed, sometimes released… but never respected.” The New York Times documented the impact of this on the lives of young people like Tyquon Brehon:
By his count, before his 18th birthday, he had been unjustifiably stopped by the police more than 60 times. On several occasions, merely because he asked why he had been stopped, he was handcuffed, placed in a cell and detained for hours before being released without charges. These experiences were scarring; Mr. Brehon did whatever he could to avoid the police, often feeling as if he were a prisoner in his home.
This op-ed by Nicholas Peart gave a first-person account of how life under stop-and-frisk felt:
After the third incident I worried when police cars drove by; I was afraid I would be stopped and searched or that something worse would happen. I dress better if I go downtown. I don’t hang out with friends outside my neighborhood in Harlem as much as I used to. Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head. For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.
Every justification that Bloomberg gave for Stop and Frisk turned out to be a myth. It didn’t keep New Yorkers safe, it wasn’t race-neutral. It was simply terrorism against racial minorities, the enforcement of a racial social order at gunpoint. Bloomberg viciously attacked anyone who questioned the program, though, even invoking the specter of 9/11 to warn of what police reform could lead to. When a judge found the program unconstitutional, he blasted her as “some woman who knows nothing about policing” who was endangering New Yorkers.
While he was mayor, from “2002 to 2012, the New York Police Department made about 440,000 arrests for marijuana possession alone.” And, of course, Black people are arrested “on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of whites… with Latino people arrested at five times the rate of whites.” Bloomberg was and is a true believer in the war on drugs. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it,” he said, declaring that the legalization of pot was “one of the stupider things that’s happening in our country.” He repeats this language frequently, also calling it “the stupidest thing anyone has ever done.” “We’ve got to fight that,” he said just last year. (Bernie Sanders has promised to legalize marijuana across the country.)
Then there was the spying on Muslims. Bloomberg’s NYPD “worked with CIA agents to create a “Demographics Unit” that explicitly monitors the city’s 800,000-strong Muslim community by spying on mosques, bookstores, and student organizations.” The police department even went “so far as to monitor some kids in its own youth soccer league because their team was sponsored by the Arab American Association of New York.” The NYPD produced a secret report “profiling mosques, Islamic schools and Muslim-owned businesses and restaurants,” which the AP obtained and concluded was made despite “no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior” and was simply a “guide to Newark’s Muslims.” Bloomberg, naturally, lied about the whole thing, saying it wasn’t about religion when internal records showed clearly that it was.
When an officer, Adrian Schoolcraft, tried to blow the whistle on the NYPD’s abuse of power in 2010, alleging that they were conducting meritless arrests and fudging crime reports to achieve phony incident reductions, the NYPD reacted by “attacking Schoolcraft’s credibility, refusing to pay him, and serving him with administrative charges.” Schoolcraft was then forcibly thrown into a psychiatric institution. The Bloomberg administration refused “to release any internal reports on the matter, saying the records are sealed by court order—although the city’s own lawyers asked for the order.” Bloomberg declined to “publicly discus[s] why Officer Schoolcraft was thrown into a psychiatric ward,” but Schoolcraft’s allegations were vindicated.
Bloomberg bragged that all policies contributed to the city’s crime reductions. Criminologists disagree: Reduction in Stop and Frisk did not cause increases in crime. But also, Bloomberg only cared about certain kinds of crime, namely street crime. Wage theft, for instance, was routine in Bloomberg’s New York. A 2008 study by the New York City Community and Labor Advisory Board found that “more than 50 percent of low-wage worker… had been illegally shortchanged by their employer the previous workweek.” The violations “range from minimum wage and overtime violations to unpaid extra work” and “victims lost an average of 15 percent of their total income.” Corporate criminals were no concern of Bloomberg’s.
Bloomberg’s NYPD also became infamous for the casual brutality it inflicted on protesters. Predictably, he hated Occupy Wall Street, saying they were trying to “take away jobs” of the rich people who paid for public services. He insisted the banks were not to blame for the financial crisis, which was the fault of Congress for trying to give poor people mortgages. After initially promising the protesters could remain in Zuccotti Park indefinitely, he set the cops on them. Swooping in at 1:00 a.m., the NYPD destroyed Occupiers’ possessions (including 3000 library books) and seeking “to block any and all press from covering [the] eviction.”
Bloomberg’s army was even more vicious toward protesters at the 2004 Republican convention, where mass arrests were so aggressive that they resulted in an $18 million civil rights settlement with the city. Innocent bystanders were rounded up by the dozen and thrown in cells with no charges. Democracy Now interviewed some of the passersby thrown into jail, who described a “Guantanamo on the Hudson.” Here is what Veepa Majumutar said:
I was walking on the sidewalk. I didn’t even know that there were police and the march was going on. And all of a sudden the street basically just gets cordoned off and we cannot move. … And then they just started putting handcuffs on people. They didn’t tell us, please leave otherwise we’ll arrest you. They gave us no warning… We thought we would basically get out in a couple of hours if we had done nothing. But here we are 12 hours later… They ridicule us if we start to complain. And the condition[s] here are atrocious. You have to see them to believe it. It’s dirty. It’s smelly. It’s filthy. We don’t have a blanket… We are sitting on the floor. There’s dirt on the floor. There’s oil on the floor. There’s chemicals around us. It’s smelling bad. I could go on and on…. We are like a hundred people in a very small room…. it’s almost like rats in a hole… And there is not enough space for everybody to lie down because we have to sit so close together. It’s cramped… [N]obody gave them even a blanket, nobody gave them even a plastic bag to cover themselves with.
I have not examined Bloomberg’s 2020 criminal justice platform (his stated policies are largely irrelevant, both because they will be whatever Democrats want to hear and because he will never be elected), but I expect he presents himself as some sort of sincere criminal justice reformer. Indeed, just a few days ago he changed his tune on marijuana. But Bloomberg does not even seem to think about the effects his policies have on people of color. His signature issue these days, the one that earns him points with liberals, is gun control. But strict gun control can lead to greater overpolicing of communities of color (Bloomberg championed a law that “imposed a three-and-a-half-year mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession”) and it’s frightening that Bloomberg has previously specifically stated that his agenda is to get guns out of the hands of “male minorities.”
Anyone contemplating putting Michael Bloomberg in charge of the most powerful military in the world, and the vast U.S. surveillance state, should remember what he did the last time he had an “army.” It involved cracking down on dissidents, terrorizing the Black population, and surveilling Muslims for being Muslims. Times columnist Charles Blow, who has had his own personal acquaintance with stop-and-frisk policies, made it clear that Bloomberg’s history of racist policing practices was an absolute barrier to his being considered as a presidential candidate:
Let me plant the stake now: No black person—or Hispanic person or ally of people of color—should ever even consider voting for Michael Bloomberg in the primary. His expansion of the notoriously racist stop-and-frisk program in New York, which swept up millions of innocent New Yorkers, primarily young black and Hispanic men, is a complete and nonnegotiable deal killer.
This alone should settle it. Michael Bloomberg should never be considered for a moment by any Democrat.
He Is Just An Outright Misogynist
But there’s more. One reason Michael Bloomberg cannot conceivably be nominated is that most Democrats are women, and Bloomberg has made it extremely clear over the years that he holds retrograde views about women and objectifies them constantly.
Bloomberg is one of Donald Trump’s social peers, but he also shares Trump’s record of crassly sexist commentary. In fact, there’s even video of Trump and Bloomberg ogling women together at a hot dog contest, with Bloomberg commenting on their appearance. Gawker rounded up some lowlights of Bloomberg’s publicly sexist comments:
- Democratic city councilwoman Christine Quinn reported that at a party, “Bloomberg gestured toward a woman in a very tight floor-length gown standing nearby and said, “Look at the ass on her.’”
- “The Royal family—what a bunch of misfits—a gay, an architect, that horsey faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad.”
- “If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s.”
- “Kill it!” Bloomberg allegedly said to one of his employees when she informed him she was pregnant.
- “What, is the guy dumb and blind? What the hell is he marrying you for?” Bloomberg replied upon hearing an employee was engaged, suggesting the woman’s father must have paid her fiancé to marry her.
- “I’d do her” Bloomberg admitted saying in regard to an employee. When asked about it, said he thought “do” meant be friends with.
- “Keep him happy with a good [oral sex],” he is alleged to have told a female employee regarding her boyfriend.
- “I’d do that piece of meat.” When Bloomberg was asked about this, he replied that he “didn’t recall” using the specific term “meat.”
- “If you want to know if somebody is a good salesman, give them the job of going to the Midwest and picking a town and selling to that town the concept that some man wearing a dress should be in a locker room with their daughter,” Bloomberg said about transgender people.
- In a deposition, Bloomberg even testified that he wouldn’t believe a rape allegation unless there was an “unimpeachable third party witness.”
- Councilmember Quinn said that he offered “unsolicited commentary on her choice of flats over high heels or waiting too long to dye her hair.”
17 women have filed lawsuits over the years against Bloomberg’s company, alleging a “notoriously sexist and hostile work environment” with Bloomberg himself having personally “encouraged this type of sexist and sexually charged behavior.” According to court records, Bloomberg “would gawk at women and say about their legs, ‘I like that,’” and “defended his attitude by saying it keeps him young.” The list of sexist and crass comments goes on and on, and it’s all just gross.
ABC News covered the long history of allegations:
“If you should notice his penetrating stare upon yourself, Bloomberg would just smirk,” another former employee said, according to court records. “The atmosphere [at Bloomberg LP] was toxic and harassing,” [the attorney representing the women] told ABC News, reflecting back on the dozen or so witness interviews she conducted in the mid-1990s with former Bloomberg employees.
Of course, now that he is running for president, Bloomberg’s campaign issued a statement saying some of his remarks were “disrespectful.” And of course, being willing to spend a billion dollars on your campaign means having plenty of money to make potential accusers go away, either through threatening to have an army of lawyers swoop in or offering a comfortable sum of hush-up money. (Here I am speaking purely hypothetically about what someone with billions of dollars could do, and not alleging that Michael Bloomberg has done this. I certainly do not want Current Affairs to be the next media outlet destroyed by a vindictive billionaire.) But the Democratic Party should have a firm line here, and a sudden “apology of convenience” after decade upon decade of misbehavior should carry no weight whatsoever.
Taking On Trump
So, considering that he is a sexist oligarch who has spent his life undermining democratic values, why would any Democrat even consider voting for Michael Bloomberg? The case for him is that we should set aside all of the above, suspend every political principle and standard of morality we hold, for one simple reason: He is a “pragmatic” choice to take on Trump. The New York Times reported that some Democrats were being “drawn to Mr. Bloomberg because they believed his fortune would give Democrats the best chance to beat President Trump in the fall.” I must therefore attend briefly to this argument, because anyone who buys it will not be swayed by my catalog of Michael Bloomberg’s foul deeds.
Now, first, I am not even sure that given his record, it is self-evident that Bloomberg is better than Trump. He seems even more ruthlessly effective than Trump at using his money as a form of absolute power. Bloomberg might believe that climate change is real, which is a critically important difference, but he’s also revealed himself to be an aspiring dictator who will bribe elected officials into doing as he pleases.
But the idea of Bloomberg as an effective candidate against Trump is an error. It rests on the idea that to beat a rich asshole, we just need an even richer asshole, one who is kind of a mirror image of Trump. (Instead of Mar-a-Lago, Bloomberg has a giant gaudy house in Bermuda.) Unfortunately, Bloomberg is just Trump without charisma or a narrative, Trump but with a far more obvious contempt for poor people. (Trump would obviously bring a Big Gulp to every rally, taunting Bloomberg as he slurped it.) He has the worst bits of liberalism (nanny state mentality that wants to take away your guns and drinks) with all the ugliest bits of conservatism (rabidly pro-Wall Street mentality, warmongering).
Michael Bloomberg’s “electability” against Trump is one of the most dangerous illusions in politics. In fact, all his run would do is destroy the Democratic Party completely. Many in the party would see him as a wholly illegitimate nominee who had subverted democratic institutions and bought the election. They would be repulsed by his record. And they would hardly be interested in doing a single thing to help one horrible Republican billionaire oust another horrible Republican billionaire. Turnout would collapse, because the Democratic Party would be running someone who does not share the values of Democratic Party voters. Who would rally under the “Tax The Poor” banner? The guy who would fire you for playing a computer game at work or for having been a sex worker? Who is going to lift a finger to help this guy? Not only is he unelectable, he’s probably the least electable candidate in the entire field.
This Man Should Be Ridiculed And Despised
“I have earned my place in heaven.” — Michael Bloomberg
This is only the beginning. I have not even touched Bloomberg’s horrifying foreign policy views. In a recent New York Times questionnaire, he endorsed using sanctions to create regime change and using U.S. military force to defend oil supplies. He called the assassination of Qassim Suleimani both “legal” and “justifiable,” said he would take “no option is off the table” regarding Iran, would end diplomacy with North Korea, and would keep American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. He is one of those who believes that terrorists “hate our freedoms,” he defended Israel’s bombings of Palestinian schools and hospitals, helped launder the reputation of murderous Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman, and supported the Iraq War (and doesn’t regret it).
Racist, sexist, transphobic, anti-union, pro-War on Drugs, hawkish, authoritarian, plutocratic, and in favor of taxing the poor: Michael Bloomberg offends every single “Democratic” value. I am sure he is attempting a rapid pivot at this very moment, hoping his hundreds of millions can bury his record and “rebrand” him as a moderate progressive. But there is no reason to believe a thing he says—or a thing he pays people to say.
Bloomberg has shown a far more terrifying form of clientelism even than Donald Trump. If someone opposes him, he simply uses his money to overpower them. Because Bloomberg’s wealth is virtually infinite (even the billion dollars he will spend this year will not diminish his net worth at all, since it’s just the money his money makes), if a newspaper reporter tries to expose him, he can just buy the newspaper and shut them down. If a nonprofit group complains about him, he can just give them a pile of money to shut them up. The reason this is a kind of dictatorship is that people need money, so it’s very hard to turn it down when it’s offered. How can a struggling city turn down Michael Bloomberg’s checks? Yet if they take them, they have to do what he says. The Michael Bloomberg pitch is that because of his money, he is not beholden to anyone. But leaders should be beholden—only a dictator is beholden to no one. When Bloomberg says that nobody owns him, it’s because he owns you.
I have already seen people around me suddenly and mysteriously turn into Bloomberg supporters, and I sometimes feel like being in the Ionesco play Rhinoceros, in which people unexpectedly become rhinoceroses overnight. I have already spoken to people I never would have expected to see supporting Bloomberg, who have taken jobs with his campaign out of need. As Bloomberg bribes more and more people, I fear that resistance to him will break down, former critics suddenly going oddly quiet. It’s an alarming prospect.
The fact that Michael Bloomberg has more money than Donald Trump is actually a good reason not to let him anywhere near the presidency, because it would mean he would have a kind of absolute power to shape political policy—if a legislator opposed him, he could easily give a hundred million dollars to their opponent. If someone tried to sue him, he could bring a hundred million dollar legal team against them. Do not think Michael Bloomberg would not do this, because this is exactly what Michael Bloomberg has been doing. He simply bought a change in the law when he wanted an illegal extra term, now that he’s out of office he wants to see the old term limits restored because it was a “one-time thing,” and of course he called the idea of extending terms for city council members an “absolute disgrace.” (rules are for everyone else). The entire theory of his presidential run is that you can just use money to buy power.
A Bloomberg nomination would signal the end of what’s left of our country’s democratic politics. The bitterness his nomination would cause among young people would be immeasurable. The thousands of people who knocked doors in the Iowa snow to try to push Bernie over the top would be enraged to see a billionaire skip the contest because he has too much money to need to bother. Many would probably give up permanently on electoral politics, convinced that our efforts don’t matter, because ultimately we live in a plutocracy. And they would not be wrong. Nominating Bloomberg would be one of the darkest days in the history of democracy.
Any Democrat supporting Bloomberg should be ashamed of themselves, and should be confronted with the serious question of how they can possibly support someone like this. If Michael Bloomberg offers you money, do not take it. If people you know speak positively about Michael Bloomberg, confront them with his record. Michael Bloomberg should not be discussed seriously as a Democratic presidential contender. He should be a laughingstock. He is a delusional man squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on an ego trip. We should be disgusted at his choice to fritter away money that could do so much good on trying to subvert the democratic process and seize more of what isn’t his. It is an outrage that someone who shares no democratic values can be made a contender merely because, as Michael Moore so eloquently put it recently, “he has a billion fucking dollars.” The case is closed.
Correction: This article originally quoted a paraphrase of a Bloomberg quote about taxing the poor as a direct quote. I have replaced the paraphrase with the quote itself.