What was Mike Bloomberg thinking?
In a wide-ranging and unfiltered interview with New York Magazine’s Chris Smith, New York Mayor Bloomberg charged that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to succeed him, is running a “racist” campaign. He also criticised de Blasio for using his family — he’s white, his wife is black and they have two mixed-race children — to make a race-based appeal to voters.
Here’s the exchange:
Then there’s Bill de Blasio, who’s become the Democratic front-runner. He has in some ways been running a class-warfare campaign —
Class-warfare and racist.
I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist. It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.
This is bizarre for several reasons. A key reason is that it’s a political gift to de Blasio, who has been getting tremendous traction with Democratic primary voters by painting himself as the anti-Bloomberg. Now he gets to spend the last four days of the primary campaign defending himself against Bloomberg’s baseless charge of racism.
Bloomberg also helped de Blasio by declaring that The New York Times was right to endorse Council Speaker Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary. Though Bloomberg and Quinn are politically aligned, he’s previously avoided explicitly endorsing her, probably because his endorsement actually hurts in the Democratic primary. Now she has it, to her detriment.
And then he echoed Mitt Romney, saying de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” message is wrong because “this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for services for the other.”
Buried deep in this statement, Bloomberg has a valid point: New York City depends heavily on its tax base of rich bankers and businesspeople to finance a generous welfare state, and it should enact policies that grow that tax base. But framing the city’s wealth divide in makers vs. takers terms only makes de Blasio’s message more appealing to the large majority of the electorate that does not consist of high-paid bankers.
When I finished reading this long interview — which includes a defence of basically every unpopular thing Bloomberg has ever done, from appointing Cathie Black as schools chancellor to trying to build a football stadium on the west side of Manhattan — what I most wondered is why Bloomberg agreed to give the interview at all. It’s a trainwreck, bad for his legacy and bad for his preferred candidates to succeed him. Why didn’t he just keep his mouth shut?
I think the answer is that Bloomberg is angry. He thinks he’s been a great mayor — perhaps the best mayor in New York City’s history. And he’s had to spend a year watching the field of candidates to succeed him lambaste his record — a field he sees as so mediocre that he reportedly tried to invite every high-profile potential candidate you would think of, plus some you wouldn’t, like ex-Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
It’s degrading. He wanted to stand up for himself. So he vented. I hope it made him feel better. But it’s not going to get him the successor he wants.
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