Mike Bloomberg's Primary Run Is an Insult to Black Voters - Rolling Stone
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Enter Mike Bloomberg, Exit Black Voters

The former mayor’s legacy is disqualifying for the Democratic Party’s most essential constituency

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is considering a run for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is considering a run for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Donald Trump marched out his same cast of sycophants last week to make the case that black voters — particularly the men — have a friend in the president with the white-nationalist policies. It’s a tired routine, but it remains fascinating that Trump and his party expend so much energy not merely insulting the intelligence of black voters but also by blocking their access to the ballot. Through their fear and sinister behavior, it appears Republicans understand the value of black and Hispanic electorates better than do the Democrats.

This time, however, the “Black Voices for Trump” rally went largely unheard. It was still being drowned out, by both the ongoing impeachment inquiry and the entry of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg into the still-crowded Democratic presidential fray — less than 90 days before the Iowa caucuses. He filed the paperwork Friday to meet Alabama’s early deadline to appear on the state’s Super Tuesday ballot. Arkansas will also be voting on Super Tuesday, and the New York Times reported that Bloomberg flew there on Tuesday morning to formally enter that primary.

Bloomberg, an actual multibillionaire far wealthier than the president, joined fellow cash-burners Tom Steyer and John Delaney in the primary. Perhaps that will be enough to calm the rich men who are predicting that either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders will come for their money through taxes. Perhaps then, they’d only be stupendously wealthy as opposed to absurdly so. 

That we even have to entertain such concerns shows why it is pointless to lecture the Bloombergs of the world about spending their money on voter turnout or other actions that would actually help Democrats win a general election. When it comes to defeating an aspiring authoritarian in Trump, they believe that they alone can do it. 

This is a contagious mindset that goes beyond rich white men. Both Bain Capital managing director Deval Patrick, a former Massachusetts governor, and Obama attorney general Eric Holder are black and suddenly hinting at their own bids for the White House. But Bloomberg is likely the most serious threat to fellow centrists such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg (rather than Warren or Sanders. His insistence on getting in may be more of a comment on the centrists than the liberals.) Most prominently, though, Bloomberg’s entry is a middle finger to black voters, sending a message that, at a time when their voices are sounding out as loud or louder than any in the party, they may not be fit to choose their nominee. It’s paternalism articulated through primary politics.

Black voters have driven the agenda during the primary campaign in ways we have not seen in prior campaigns. “Hope and change” may not be dead, but merely hoping for change is. 

Democratic presidential hopefuls were once reticent to do more than be spotted at black landmarks and perform perfunctory gestures like eating soul food in Harlem. Now, thanks to the black electorate’s demands, they must embrace nuanced or even radical solutions on issues like criminal justice reform and income inequality — and they can’t be considered serious unless they have some sort of proposal to address both. (Whether all of the proposals are serious is another question.)

Upon the release of the Black Census Project, a massive survey of the black population, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza made clear the danger of ignoring black voters.

“Candidates and their campaigns are comfortable talking at black people, but few want to talk to us,” Garza added in a Times op-ed after the report’s release in May. “This limits our ability to influence their decisions and policies. And it’s a bad strategy at a time when black people, black women in particular, form the base of the Democratic Party, are its most loyal voters, and mobilize other people to go to the polls.”

Democrats may be the only major party in history that that has refused to understand the complexity of the electorate most loyal to them and most essential to their victories. Unsurprisingly, it has taken black candidates like Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, who, despite failing to win their respective gubernatorial races, provided lessons for the national party to build upon. Is it better to go after Trump voters who thought it was cool to vote for the childish, white-nationalist charlatan? Or do they mobilize and turn out voters who have shown, despite their disappointment with white moderation within the Democratic Party, to consistently keep the party afloat? 

This is why I don’t argue against the Democrats having this many different candidates. It has given black voters a chance to show America why they are not monolithic, all thinking the same. However, their diversity does not mean that they cannot be collectively insulted, and Bloomberg is doing just that. His intent is irrelevant; his past actions and refusal to take account for them is enough.

Bloomberg’s support and expansion of “stop-and-frisk” alone is disqualifying. He took a policing tactic that had only begun to receive some notoriety and metastasized it. Stops increased exponentially under Bloomberg, going from 97,000 in 2002 to more than 500,000 in 2006 and 700,000 in 2011. And the federal judge who declared stop-and-frisk unconstitutional in 2013 found nearly 90 percent of the people stopped hadn’t done anything illegal.

Stop-and-frisk is not merely a symbol of the everyday overpolicing that black and Latino people endure. It’s bad governance. This is a practice that was supposedly essential to the strategy that Bloomberg and NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly employed to keep the city safe. And it didn’t even do that: A 2018 Equal Justice Initiative report showed that the city’s abandonment of the tactic bore no influence on the crime rate. It kept falling.

It is infuriating that despite the evidence, police keep overpolicing. Thanks to viral videos, two prominent cases are in the news as Bloomberg starts his run. The Bay Area Rapid Transit police have apologized to a black man who was handcuffed last week for eating a sandwich on a train platform. And on Monday, a crowd protested NYPD officers accosting a Hispanic woman for selling churros inside a Brooklyn subway station. 

Someone should ask Bloomberg about those incidents, as they both embody the “broken windows” philosophy that animates stop-and-frisk, the faulty notion that stopping the most minor of crimes helps discourage more serious ones. He was defending stop-and-frisk as late as January, when he falsely attributed New York City’s declining murder rate to stop-and-frisk, when he said that “we certainly did not pick somebody by race.” He is misrepresenting the truth, willfully or not. NYPD officers disproportionately stopped black and Latino New Yorkers — 83 percent of the stops from 2004 to 2012, per ProPublica — despite their comprising about only half of the city’s population. 

Yet this is the savior that some would present to the Democratic electorate. Bloomberg’s entry prompted conservatives like Times columnist Bret Stephens, imagining himself a bellwether of liberal choices, to excitedly declare that Democrats should let Bloomberg “save them from themselves.” He added that the former New York City mayor’s candidacy is “a gift to Democrats, the country, and the world. Sneer at it at your peril.”

I don’t know what peril sneering at Bloomberg would bring upon me, unless it caused a cop to stop and frisk me. It is easy to see why Stephens and the rest of the right-wingers can only imagine a fellow conservative defeating Trump, because that is the world they want. And it may happen. Who is to say, when the new guy in the race is worth more than $50 billion?

Black folks may vote for Bloomberg were he to be nominated, if only to dodge another four years of Trump. I wouldn’t put it past the Wall Street oligarchs to be counting upon this, a forced compromise that will eject a charlatan wrecking their profits with trade wars and install someone who will be more friendly to them — but who will largely leave the most vital Democratic constituencies in the cold, possibly with their hands up and getting searched. 

This all may be a moot point. Democrats will only win the White House, or the Senate, when they can properly protect voters of color from suppression and give those voters reasons to choose them. That seems like too tall a task for a party hanging its hopes on the likes of Bloomberg. If defeating Trump really is his goal, then his cause is likely lost.

And who says that Bloomberg could even handle a challenge as urgent and massive as Trump? He’s the stop-and-frisk guy, forever. When the president jumps a turnstile, Mike, that’s when we’ll call you.

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