On a surprisingly warm day in 2004, Mike Bloomberg, then the GOP mayor of New York City, took the stage at the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden to urge his fellow Republicans to nominate George W. Bush for another four years as president.
Across town, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) partied with the city’s top Democrats at what they called the “Mission Not Accomplished Masquerade Ball,” a jab at Bush’s unpopular war in Iraq.
“We’re telling the truth about those people over there,” Meeks told a CNN reporter at the event, referring to the Republican National Convention where the billionaire mayor spoke. “There’s no champagne and caviar over here.”
A year later, Meeks’ name was floated as a potential Democrat to run against Bloomberg. He didn’t end up running, but his supporters may have wished he did. Bloomberg trounced his Democratic opponent and went on to serve a legally dubious three terms, during which he donated millions to maintain Republican control of New York’s state Senate, escalated racist policing of Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and oversaw the most extensive rezoning in the city’s modern history, resulting in what critics called the “racialized displacement” of working-class minorities. Then, just before leaving office, Bloomberg attempted to sway the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor, putting his finger on the scale for former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, his chosen heir.
So it may be surprising that, when Meeks appeared on CNN earlier this month, it was to bash Bloomberg’s top rival for the Democratic presidential nomination for not showing enough fealty to the party. It was perhaps even more surprising when the congressman from Queens expressed his full-throated support for Bloomberg’s run, giving the billionaire, who registered as a Democrat in October 2018, one of his biggest endorsements to date.
“Sometimes, where a person spends their money tells you where they are,” Meeks said during a recent CNN interview, crediting Bloomberg with putting “his money where his mouth is” by donating millions to liberal causes.
Joe Raedle via Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during a rally in Oklahoma.
As the world’s eighth-richest man deploys his gargantuan fortune in a bid for the Democratic nod to take on President Donald Trump, Bloomberg seems to have persuaded many of his erstwhile foes in New York to openly embrace his candidacy, or, at the very least, hold their tongues.
In his own endorsement, Rep. Max Rose, a Staten Island Democrat who unseated a Republican in a high-profile 2018 race, called Bloomberg, who donated to his opponent, “even keeled and visionary” at a time when “partisanship and hyper-vitriol” had “overtaken Washington.”
Even after Bloomberg’s humiliating debut on the debate stage in Las Vegas earlier this month, he managed to pick up a new endorsement from Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat who represents the tony suburbs north of New York City.
‘A Track Record To Run On’
Others have stopped short of endorsing the former mayor, but praised his entry into the race.
“The more the merrier,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who once led the fight against stop and frisk, told the New York Daily News editorial board in November. “His entry into the race, from my standpoint, is a welcome development, because he’s got a track record to run on.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, told The New York Post he had a “very fine relationship” with Bloomberg.
“Joe Biden is not doing well. Michael Bloomberg, who I also know and have worked with, he has spent a fortune,” Cuomo said. “Money, still very important in this, as we just learned again.”
None of the three Democratic front-runners for the 2021 New York City mayoral race have exhibited any appetite for attacking Bloomberg.
Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, hewed the closest to Bloomberg, whom he endorsed in 2009 before entering public office. In November, Johnson lashed de Blasio for criticizing Bloomberg. When WNYC host Brian Lehrer probed Johnson this week for questions moderators should ask Bloomberg, the legislator framed queries on homelessness and criminal justice as issues that “predated his time as mayor” and urged listeners to keep the focus on Trump.
“Let’s keep our eye on the big prize, which is this autocratic, racist ― I would say, sociopathic ― president who is literally destroying our country and the world every single day,” Johnson said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, another top mayoral contender, offered Bloomberg forgiveness following a sit-down meeting in November.
“It’s important we learn from our past and move toward a more just future,” Adams, who once battled Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policies as a police captain, tweeted.
Photo by Todd Maisel/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Police face protesters outside Madison Square Garden as then-President George W. Bush delivers his speech on the last day of the Republican National Convention in New York City.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, also a mayoral hopeful, campaigned for Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals during Bloomberg’s years as mayor. But in a statement to HuffPost, Stringer made no mention of the former mayor, instead emphasizing his support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“I have enthusiastically endorsed Elizabeth Warren as our best candidate to beat Donald Trump and deliver the bold, progressive change we need,” Stringer said. “The magic of the Warren campaign is that they are powered by low dollar contributions from working people. That is the future of the Democratic Party that we need.”
New York Attorney General Tish James, who in 2014 raised eyebrows for lashing Bloomberg in a fiery speech, did not respond to a request for comment. But even the barb she threw at a gathering of state leaders in Puerto Rico last November was muted.
“We’ll see if this country has an appetite for another billionaire,” she told Spectrum News.
Buying Silence As Progressive Critics Mount
Before Bloomberg burst into the 2020 race with an unprecedented bid to ― as one adviser put it ― “spend Trump out of office,” he built a sprawling network of influential charitable giving.
During his 12 years as mayor, Bloomberg gave away $2.8 billion that, as HuffPost previously reported, seemed to have convinced some of the mayor’s most vocal critics to fall in line with his administration. Bloomberg’s total spending on charitable and political pursuits has since topped $10 billion, according to a New York Times estimate.
That investment is already paying dividends for the former mayor’s late-entry campaign. By late February, Bloomberg raked in more than 100 endorsements from mayors, particularly those who benefited from his city-focused philanthropic initiatives.
Yet it’s the self-financed campaign war chest that boosted Bloomberg to the top tier of candidates even though his entry into the race was too late to barnstorm in early-voting states. Since the former mayor started campaigning in November, he has spent at least $400 million on ads. He hired so many operatives in states from Wisconsin to Connecticut that state and local campaigns are struggling to recruit staffers, The Intercept reported.
Still, as Bloomberg’s campaign looks to stymie the ascendance of the national Democratic Party’s left wing, a growing cadre of New York progressives is unleashing some of the fiercest criticism of the former mayor.
The highest-ranking among them: Bloomberg’s successor. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who in 2013 defeated Bloomberg’s heir apparent, endorsed Sanders and expressed open disgust for Bloomberg’s 2020 spending spree and his attempt to gloss over his conservative record in City Hall.
“There is a special narcissism to billionaires. They can’t see like the rest of us,” de Blasio tweeted on Wednesday night, roughly six months after ending his own failed presidential bid. “Here’s what actually happened, @MikeBloomberg: I called for an end to your broken policies, got elected + changed them. None of us needed to ‘learn’ what we already knew. The people had told us.”
The Bloomberg campaign declined to comment to HuffPost.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of the progressive wing’s most visible national figures, has also spoken out against Bloomberg, and so has Brad Lander, a councilman representing de Blasio’s Park Slope home district and a top candidate for comptroller next year.
This week, a group of 90 New Yorkers of color ― including state Sen. Julia Salazar, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and city Councilman Antonio Reynoso ― signed a letter imploring voters to reject Bloomberg.
Its amazing what happens when you can’t hide behind Billions of dollars and glossy ads.
Looks like the real @MikeBloomberg started coming through last night.
Sometimes sunlight truly is the best dissinfected.https://t.co/PdqTIle4Pv
— Jumaane Williams (@JumaaneWilliams) February 20, 2020
“No amount of half-baked apologies will repair the thousands of lives he ruined and generational trauma he caused,” Tiffany Cabán, the progressive public defender who nearly clinched the Democratic nod for last summer’s high-profile Queens district attorney race, told HuffPost in an email. “Bloomberg’s candidacy is a threat to democracy and a threat to Black and brown lives.”
For state Sen. Jessica Ramos, a progressive who ousted a conservative Democrat in 2018, Bloomberg’s bid for the nomination was even more personal. As a teenager growing up near Corona in central Queens, she said she was “stopped and frisked and humiliated with my friends.”
“I don’t think Bloomberg’s positions on, say, health or immigration or gun control, which are formidable, should erase his record on public education or criminal justice,” she said. “He’s a terrible human being.”
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