Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) held former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg accountable for his past comments at the outset of Wednesday night’s Democratic debate, the first in which Bloomberg participated with the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Warren said. “And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
Sixty-four women have accused Bloomberg and his company, Bloomberg LP, of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. The businessman’s former staffers have alleged he told a pregnant employee to “Kill it!” and suggested other women at his company would offer sex to co-workers and clients.
“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop and frisk,” Warren said, referring to housing and policing practices that harmed nonwhite communities. “Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is, but understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Bloomberg also addressed a moderator question about his alleged misogyny by saying he had worked with women closely as mayor and in the private sector.
“I hope you heard what his response was: I’ve been nice to some women,” Warren shot back. She went on to condemn Bloomberg’s practice of holding staff to nondisclosure agreements, which keeps them from speaking publicly about abuse. Trump has also relied on such agreements over the course of his career.
Warren asked Bloomberg how many NDAs he had in place, and he did not answer. She also asked him if he would pledge on national TV to release women from their agreements.
“They signed those agreements and we’ll live with it,” Bloomberg replied.
The senator’s push against a rival rising in the polls comes at a time when her own campaign has received dwindling attention ― and could provide the perception of momentum that her team has been seeking.
The other candidates who have, like Warren, been running for longer than Bloomberg noted the incongruity of one of the country’s richest men and a figure associated with racist policies running to represent a Democratic Party that relies on voters of color and talks about building a more just, equitable society.
“I don’t think we look at Donald Trump and say we need someone richer in the White House,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing policy targeted Black and Latinx people in “an outrageous way.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden also criticized Bloomberg for resisting an Obama administration effort to rein in stop and frisk.
“He figured out it was a bad idea after we sent in monitors and said it must stop,” Biden said. “Even then, he continued the policy.”
Bloomberg’s administration ended stop and frisk ― which activists blamed for trauma, particularly among young people, and increased distrust of the New York City Police Department ― after a federal judge ruled in 2013 that it was discriminatory.
Bloomberg criticized the judgment at the time but has since apologized for the policy.