World

Mike Bloomberg courts black voters, but past record as NYC mayor under scrutiny

Past comments made by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg about the controversial practices of stop-and-frisk policing and redlining are coming to the fore as he focuses on building relationships with black voters.

Opponents unearth past comments on policing and housing, which they say aren't reflective of Democratic Party

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks to supporters during his visit in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday. (Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via The Associated Press)

Past comments made by Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg about the controversial practices of stop-and-frisk policing and redlining are coming to the fore as he's in the midst of a two-day tour of the South that in part is focused on building relationships with black voters.

On Thursday, Bloomberg plans to launch his "Mike for Black America" platform in Houston with support of that city's black mayor, Sylvester Turner. Earlier in the week, Bloomberg secured the endorsement of a handful of black members of Congress.

During a stop in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Wednesday, the billionaire former New York City mayor told reporters: "We're going to do very well in the African American community."

"They need a good economy, they need better schools, they need more health care, they need jobs, and those are the kinds of things that I can bring to the table," he said.

Bloomberg is testing how voters will respond to his unconventional approach to securing the Democratic nomination to take on President Donald Trump, another wealthy New Yorker who he has not shied away from exchanging insults with on social media.

Bloomberg's operation has flooded the airwaves with ads and travelled to multiple states a day, opting to bypass the first four states in the race to focus on Super Tuesday states such as Tennessee, who head to the polls March 3.

Long record as NYC mayor

Bloomberg hasn't participated in any of the debates so far, and as he gains traction, rival campaigns are devouring his past work and comments to seize on anything that could hobble him.

This photo from June 17, 2012, toward the end of Bloomberg's tenure as mayor, shows protesters with signs during a silent march to end New York's stop-and-frisk policing policy. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

Bloomberg has apologized for his support for stop-and-frisk policing, which was found to disproportionately affect the black and Hispanic communities. The anti-crime tactic involves police officers stopping, questioning and searching pedestrians for weapons or contraband.

But in a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute, Bloomberg said that "95 per cent" of murders and murder victims are young male minorities and that "you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops." To combat crime, he said, "put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighbourhoods."

Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz noted that Bloomberg's rivals will have a long record to sift through to try to highlight unflattering moments of his career.

"There's so much content to be unearthed," she said. "He was the mayor of New York City for 12 years. That's a lot of talking."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has endorsed Bernie Sanders, attacked Bloomberg's record on the issue Thursday.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, running for the Democratic nomination, called the comments "extremely disturbing" and said all the candidates should disavow such "racist stereotypes."  

Campaign chair Michael Nutter acknowledged that Bloomberg may face more scrutiny over his record as mayor, but framed it as a byproduct of his strong record of getting things done.

"Executives often have much more of a record that can be analyzed, delved into and critiqued, versus a legislator," he said.

Bloomberg has apologized for his oversight of the stop-and-frisk program. But in Tennessee, he refused to directly apologize for the 2015 comments. In response to repeated questions, he said, "I don't think those words reflect how I led the most diverse city in the nation."

"I apologized for the practice and the pain that it caused," he said Wednesday. "It was five years ago. And, you know, it's just not the way that I think, and it doesn't reflect what I do every day."

Bloomberg has started running a TV ad with Obama speaking favourably of him.

Warren slams his redlining remarks

At the height of the 2008 economic collapse, Bloomberg said the elimination of a discriminatory housing practice known as redlining was responsible for instigating the meltdown.

The term redlining comes from the red lines those in the financial industry would draw on a map to denote areas deemed ineligible for credit, frequently based on race.

Bloomberg assists a supporter in taking a selfie in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

"It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone," Bloomberg said at a forum that was hosted by Georgetown University in September 2008. "Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighbourhoods and said, 'People in these neighbourhoods are poor, they're not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don't go into those areas."'

He continued: "And then Congress got involved — local elected officials, as well — and said, 'Oh that's not fair, these people should be able to get credit.' And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn't as good as you would like."

Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of the Greenlining Institute, a non-profit that works for racial and economic justice, said it was a misreading of the crisis.

"People of colour were sold trick loans with exploding interest rates designed to push them into foreclosure," she said. "Our communities of colour and low-income communities were the victims of the crash, not the cause."

The New Hampshire primary shows there’s a continued rift in the Democratic Party over whether to choose a left-leaning candidate like Bernie Sanders, or choose someone who’s more moderate. 1:59

Campaign spokesperson Stu Loeser said Bloomberg "attacked predatory lending" as mayor and, if elected president, has a plan to "help a million more black families buy a house, and counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis."

On Thursday, Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren criticized Bloomberg for suggesting the end of redlining caused the crash.

"Out-of-control greed by Wall Street and big banks, and the corruption that lets them control our government, caused the crash," she tweeted.

"I'm surprised that someone running for the Democratic nomination thinks the economy would be better off if we just let banks be more overtly racist," she said. "We need to confront the shameful legacy of discrimination, not lie about it like Mike Bloomberg."

With files from CBC News

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