Michael Bloomberg assured voters during Tuesday’s debate that despite his past efforts to get Republicans elected, he would be a good Democratic presidential nominee because he was the mayor of New York City shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“I have been training for this job since I stepped on the pile that was still smoldering on 9/11,” said Bloomberg, who became mayor almost four months after the attacks. “I’m the one choice that makes some sense. I have the experience, I have the resources, and I have the record,” the billionaire candidate continued.
Bloomberg’s comments came in response to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) arguing that Democratic voters would never trust a man who funneled money toward right-wing, anti-choice candidates. “The fact that he cannot earn the trust of the core of the Democratic party means he is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage,” she said.
Invoking Sept. 11 was a curious move for the former Republican — and not just because he wasn’t in office at the time of the attacks. Bloomberg, who has defended the invasion of Iraq, spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and endorsed former President George W. Bush for reelection, needs to earn support from progressive voters. And when Bloomberg did become mayor, he responded to the Sept. 11 attacks by authorizing a New York Police Department program to spy on Muslim Americans. After the Associated Press exposed the surveillance program in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Bloomberg defended the program as “what you would want” the police to do.
Bloomberg, who has used his personal wealth to flood the airwaves with advertisements and pay people to praise him on social media, has faced constant criticism for his record on civil liberties during his time as mayor. In addition to the Muslim surveillance program, Bloomberg oversaw a vast expansion of stop and frisk, a policy he has since tried to distance himself from.
“We let it get out of control and when I realized that, I cut it back by 95 percent,” Bloomberg said during Tuesday’s debate, adding that he has apologized. Asked by debate moderators if Bloomberg’s implementation of stop and frisk was racist, Democratic candidates South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) both responded that it was.
Bloomberg’s claim that he unilaterally cut back stop and frisk is misleading, at best. During his time as mayor, stops increased from 92,000 in 2002 to almost 700,000 in 2011. It is true that the number of stops decreased by the time he left office — but only in response to a series of court orders. In August 2013, a federal judge found that the city’s use of stop and frisk was a “policy of indirect racial profiling” that targeted Black and Hispanic communities and ruled the practice unconstitutional.
Bloomberg was outraged by the judge’s decision at the time. “What does she know about policing? Absolutely zero,” he said on his radio show. “Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it,” he said of the judge.
Asked how he can put voters’ fears and skepticism about his record on stop and frisk to rest, Bloomberg insisted on Tuesday that Black people in New York like him. “If you talk to the people in New York City, I have over 100 Black elected officials that have endorsed me,” he said.