For years whenever I heard mention of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg the only two things I thought of was "stop and frisk" and a guy who is stupendously wealthy. These are certainly two traits that would instantly disqualify him from any consideration by me of him as a potential presidential candidate.
When he announced that he was tossing his hat in the presidential rink, I said, "oh no," the guy's got no chance. He's another white, New York billionaire, with a dubious record, trying to buy his way onto the presidential stage at a time when Democrats lambaste the big money crowd and anyone with racial baggage. Besides, there already are a crop of seasoned name recognized Democratic contenders who have firmly staked out what had been a badly overcrowded field.
But Bloomberg beat the odds. And he didn't just do it by spreading lots of cash all over the landscape to get on the big stage. Tom Steyer, another billionaire, spread his money all over the place too. But it hasn't bought him much. Bloomberg's surge has come for two reasons.
He's actually got a track record to run on. Like any other politician, it's a mixed bag of accomplishment, and controversy. But it's a record, nonetheless. He can legitimately make the claim that he ran the nation's biggest and toughest city for more than a decade and got a lot of things done worth boasting about. Yes, he'll take shots for giving the company store to developers, and not doing a lot to increase affordable housing, and making dubious statements about Wall Street and redlining. However, that doesn't cancel out the many accomplishments he'll point too. Bloomberg doesn't have to look any further than Mayor Pete for a politician trying to barter his mayoral experience as a bargaining chip for the presidency. And South Bend is hardly New York City.
Then Bloomberg got an unexpected gift. That's the plummet of his moderate Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden. He was the man that legions of moderate Democrats and independents banked on to carry the day for the party against Trump. Biden was seen as a powerful counterweight to the scary leftism of Sanders and Warren. The assumption being that if either one begged the nomination this would guarantee four more years for Trump.
That's not a bad assumption. Polls that purport to show that Sanders will beat Trump in a head to head match mean nothing. The general election is the name of the game. And given the inherent fear, wariness, and uncertainty of an avowed socialist among a majority of Americans, the risk of a Sanders candidacy is too perilously great.
Still, Bloomberg couldn't hide behind his mountain of cash to assure Democrats that he could be a viable alternative to Biden and at the same time convince enough Blacks that he's not stop and frisk Bloomberg anymore.
He took a big step with the latter with what amounts to an apology tour for stop and frisk at Black churches and before packs of Black elected officials. There are lots of skeptics that his mea culpa is too little too late and that he is just doing this to salvage his reputation and boost his campaign. But he did it, and, if nothing else, it sends the right signal to law enforcement that stop and frisk, and racial profiling, are not legitimate crime fighting tools but harassment pure and simple.
The money binge he's gone on to sell his candidacy has been a boost in another way. He is spending lots of it to hector, harass, lambaste, and expose Trump's lies, hypocrisy, corruption and the stunning danger his rule poses. It's also bought him a platform to sell a comprehensive program he's cobbled together on education, jobs, public works, and housing.
He topped that with aa $70 billion economic pledge to boost Black America. Bloomberg is the first top Democratic presidential candidate who has made the stupendous gap between poor and working-class Blacks and just about everybody else in America a front burner issue. For decades Democrats and that included Obama have repeatedly tipped toed around this for fear of being ripped by the GOP as playing the race card and pandering to Blacks. This supposedly is a sure-fire way to lose white votes. Bloomberg's bold pronouncement of his version of a sort of Marshal Plan for Blacks marks a bold departure from the past Democratic script on Blacks.
Bloomberg has steadily risen in the polls because he is willing to take sound positions on the big-ticket issues and he manages to seem sincere in doing it. His willingness to relentlessly hammer Trump has been a huge plus. But his biggest plus is that if Biden or Buttigieg falter he will be then be looked to as the moderate candidate lots of Democrats believe is the only type of Democrat who can beat Trump. That's a label that money alone can't buy.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of What's Right and Wrong with the Electoral College (Middle Passage Press)
He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.