Michael Bloomberg would be the worst candidate the Democrats could possibly nominate in 2020—unless they cross-endorse Donald Trump.
The former New York mayor, who has begun preparations to run in the later primaries next year, has a grossly undeserved reputation as a “moderate.” His core ideology is plutocratic, that government’s primary purpose is to help the rich get richer—like making New York City a “luxury brand” where global oligarchs want to buy $100 million condominiums—and that anyone who gets in the way should be suppressed. That he supports gun control and acknowledges that global warming is reality are just a veneer of MAC Ruby Woo lipstick on a porcine politics of racism and contempt for working people.
He’s not just morally wrong, he’d be politically disastrous. Michael Bloomberg would be the worst candidate the Democrats could run if they want to reach working-class people.
For me, the most defining moment of his 12-year tenure was in early 2013, when he broke a strike by about 8,000 school-bus drivers and matrons. These buses, run by private contractors, transport mainly disabled children, and since the late 1970s, the city had had a deal with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 that if it switched contractors, workers for the old one would get rehired at the same pay and benefits, in order of seniority. Bloomberg claimed that was illegal and refused to negotiate a new contract. He was willing to let disabled and autistic kids go without bus service longer than the workers could survive on $90 a week strike pay, so they conceded after a month.
That meant the matrons faced getting busted down from $11-$16 an hour with benefits to minimum wage, then $7.25. Bloomberg celebrated that by crowing that “the special interests have never had less power than they do today.”
Michael Bloomberg would be the worst candidate the Democrats could run if they want to reach black and Latino people.
He was not as loudmouthed as Rudolph Giuliani, but his policing policies relied on a racist statistical fallacy—that because most street-crime suspects are black and Latino men, that justifies treating all black and Latino men as potential criminals. Of the 685,000 people questioned at his stop-and-frisk policy’s peak of 2011, 87% were black or Latino. Less than one-eighth of those stops resulted in an arrest—and most of those were for marijuana possession.
Future Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer, testified at a federal court hearing in 2013 that in 2010, Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, had told him the stop-and-frisk policy focused on blacks and Latinos “to instill fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police.” Kelly denied saying that line, which was really just a Trump-crude phrasing of the Bloomberg administration’s attitude that crime would return to crack-era levels unless you keep certain kinds of people clamped down.
Michael Bloomberg would be the worst candidate the Democrats could run if they want to reach people who care about civil liberties and the right to protest. When the Republican National Convention was held in the city in 2004, more than 1,800 demonstrators and bystanders were arrested in indiscriminate mass roundups, such as corralling people legally marching on the sidewalk into orange plastic nets, and jailed until the end of the convention. When Occupy Wall Street was evicted in 2011, at least seven reporters covering it were arrested.
Hudson Yards is the other epitome of Bloomberg’s vision: an upscale shopping mall and luxury-housing complex financed by $6 billion in public subsidies to a politically connected developer, now being finished using nonunion labor. Its inhabitants call it “Little Dubai,” apparently without irony.
Why would anyone consider him a Democratic savior? The multimillionaire donor class wants to thwart the nefarious wealth-redistribution schemes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They are beginning to think Joseph Biden isn’t up to the task, and want someone more responsible than Trump to manage the country on behalf of the 1%. Bloomberg, motivated by ego and mission, thinks he could be the one.
For these people, taxing the rich to pay for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal might be worse than another four years of Trump. That means they want to condemn tens of millions of Americans to health care denied by a web of deductibles and narrow networks. And that whatever they do to avert climate disaster will likely be inadequate, and ignore the Green New Deal principles that the massive transition needed must create good jobs and protect the workers hurt by the changes.
Since the 1980s, the Democrats’ centrist wing’s record on labor issues has ranged from token to destructive. Electorally, it’s relied on a coalition of educated liberals with ethnic and sexual constituency groups for whom the Republicans are too bigoted. That coalition wasn’t enough in 2016, as many people repulsed by the Clinton wing’s record on economic inequality stayed home, and a few bit when the con man said he’d bring their jobs back.
To beat Trump, Democratic candidates should tattoo “You’re supposed to be the party of working people” on the back of their writing hands. That doesn’t mean abandoning issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia to appease some stereotypical Midwestern beergut redneck who voted for Trump in 2016. It means having a real pro-labor agenda instead of just expecting unions to phone-bank for them every four years. American working people come in all sexes, colors, and orientations, and their fortunes have been worsening for forty years.
Uniting them is a more moral and pragmatic goal than some imagined “bipartisanship.” The last thing the United States needs is a presidential election between two racist billionaires.