It’s still early, but two leading Democrats rolled out the heavy artillery today against Michael Bloomberg — usually reserved for Republicans. Both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and primary competitor Elizabeth Warren accused Bloomberg of racism over two separate issues springboarded off of some eeeenteresting oppo-research eruptions.
The former NYC mayor tried yesterday to “move past a controversy” over his earlier implementation of “stop and frisk” policies, with his eponymous news organization offering a helpful The Boss Wants To Explain feature:
Michael Bloomberg sought Wednesday to move past a controversy about comments he made in 2015 that crime in minority communities justified stop-and-frisk policing when he was New York mayor. He predicted black voters will still support him.
“Those words don’t reflect the way that I’ve governed, or the way that I run my company or the way that I live,” Bloomberg told reporters after a campaign stop Wednesday in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He said he was re-elected twice in one of the most diverse U.S. cities. “I think we’re going to do very well in the African-American community.” …
Hours after the audio was posted on Twitter, his campaign held a conference call with the Black Economic Alliance, which garnered an apology from Bloomberg, and a meeting with 20 African-American faith leaders who backed him.
On Wednesday, his campaign announced endorsements by three members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Representative Gregory Meeks of New York, who was named a co-chairman of Bloomberg’s Black America National Leadership Council; Representative Lucy McBath of Georgia, who became a gun-control activist after her 17 year-old son was shot and killed in 2012; and Representative Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Just as an aside, let’s not forget that Bloomberg News is still taking its marching orders from Bloomberg himself, and that those orders include not criticizing the boss. That’s bad enough without having to issue his self-serving PR releases as “news” under its Politics brand.
At any rate, Bloomberg Politics might be impressed with its boss’ efforts to “move past” his stop-and-frisk history and comments, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is most decidedly not. Earlier today, she broke the R-word out from its Use Only in Case of GOP Emergency case to use on Bloomberg:
New York City is about 60% people of color.
Stop and Frisk was an unconstitutional, devastating practice for the entire city that intentionally exempted White people from harm.
It was one of the most racist policies I’ve ever lived through that deeply impacted the entire city.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 13, 2020
AOC’s not the only leading Democratic figure to smash the emergency case, either. Elizabeth Warren was only slightly more nuanced in using it after the Associated Press reported on Bloomberg comments in 2008 about the financial crisis, which he blamed in part on anti-redlining initiatives:
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. We need to confront the shameful legacy of discrimination, not lie about it like Mike Bloomberg has done. https://t.co/Lzavpie7Iy
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 13, 2020
Like his public comments on stop-and-frisk, Bloomberg brought this on himself:
“It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” Bloomberg, now a Democratic presidential candidate, said at a forum that was hosted by Georgetown University in September 2008. “Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighborhoods and said, ‘People in these neighborhoods 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.”
Bloomberg, a billionaire who built a media and financial services empire before turning to electoral politics, was correct that the financial crisis was triggered in part by banks extending loans to borrowers who were ill-suited to repay them. But by attributing the meltdown to the elimination of redlining, a practice used by banks to discriminate against minority borrowers, Bloomberg appears to be blaming policies intended to bring equality to the housing market.
This is a bungled explanation of an actual problem in pre-collapse policies, because the larger issue wasn’t just limited to poor borrowers. The Community Reinvestment Act and other such policies, along with pressure brought by regulators under both the Clinton and Bush administrations to lend much more freely, got combined up with loan guarantees by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to create this disaster. If both administrations had just stuck to anti-redlining policies, the scale of the problem would have been far more modest. Instead, those policies got applied widely, which allowed many more people to buy more than they could afford, leveraging against the bubble-driven rapid escalation of home valuations and equity. Lots of people — not just the poor — then used that equity as either ATM machines to fuel their consumerism or to flip houses and extend themselves further. It’s a dumb explanation, although Bloomberg was hardly alone in advancing it. Given that the very term “redlining” has always had connotations of racism, it was particularly stupid of Bloomberg to explicitly attempt to rehabilitate the practice.
What makes this interesting is that Bloomberg’s own party is now willing to brand him with the Scarlet Letter R as these earlier comments arise rather than leave themselves room in case he actually wins the nomination. This makes it clear that Warren, AOC, and others fear he might actually do just that — beat them or another progressive to the top of the ticket. After years of reserving this attack to those outside the Democratic tent, it’s an attack that’s now being launched inwardly. Eeeenteresting.
Speaking of tents, will this convince Bloomberg to fold his in 2020? Earlier he pledged to spend vast sums of money all the way to November to defeat Donald Trump regardless of whether he won the nomination or not. At this point, any rational multi-billionaire must wonder why he’d spend hundreds of millions of dollars more while his own party conducts a character assassination on its benefactor.