It took one billionaire accused of the toxic mixture of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, sexism and flat-out racism to unite most of the Democratic candidates on the debate stage Wednesday night. And his name was not Donald Trump.
Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who only declared his candidacy less than three months ago, has surged in the national polls as well as those in key primary contests and among the coveted demographic of Black voters, putting the fear of God in his rivals. That rise was in spite of — or because — of Bloomberg’s legacy of stop and frisk, the unconstitutional and racist policing tactic that the NYPD employed against Black and brown New Yorkers at the mayor’s behest.
Hence, it was that same stop and frisk that was able to galvanize a splintered group of Democrats and transform five of them into the sharpest of thorns that were surgically wielded against Bloomberg during his debate debut in Las Vegas just days ahead of the Nevada Caucuses this weekend. Moderators also got in on the act, too.
From the start of the debate, NBC’s Lester Holt immediately asked candidates what they thought the most viable path was to beating Trump on Election Day, and Bernie Sanders was ready. The Vermont senator said Bloomberg is not the right person to unite the country based on stop and frisk, which “went after African Americans and Latinos in outrageous ways.”
Elizabeth Warren said Bloomberg has a history of “harassing women,” supporting redlining and insisting that it would be counterproductive to “substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Joe Biden piled it on, as well, and said Bloomberg snubbed the Obama administration’s attempted intervention to help end stop and frisk in New York City. The former vice president said Bloomberg’s NYPD continued the policy even after that intervention. “Let’s get the facts straight,” Biden said before adding later that “the policy was abhorrent.”
Bloomberg, for his part, stayed on-message. He said he had apologized already and simply repeated variations of his very simple message: “I’m spending my money to get Trump gone.”
He added he was “really embarrassed about is how it turned out with stop and frisk” and admitted that “it got out of control.”
But that wasn’t good enough for Warren, who called out what she said was a hollow apology by Bloomberg, saying that stop and frisk did “what it was designed to do from the beginning,” telling him, “you need a different apology!”
Moderators also brought up the issue of transparency in the context of Bloomberg’s apparent refusal to release his full financial records.
“They’ll be out in a few weeks,” Bloomberg said nonchalantly, insisting he makes a lot of money and preparing that type of paperwork takes time.
Trump has also not made his tax returns public and used the same logic to explain the years-long delay.
Next, moderators brought up the issue of Bloomberg facing accusations of sexism in his organizations. When Bloomberg ran down a laundry list of women he said served in leadership positions in his businesses, he did not acknowledge the discrimination accusations, something that Warren wasn’t having any of.
Citing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that Bloomberg has reportedly made a number of women working for him sign, Warren said: “We need to know exactly what is lurking out there.” When Warren and other candidates called for Bloomberg to release the women from their NDAs, Blomberg said he wouldn’t.
“None of them accused me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like the joke I told,” Bloomberg said rather tone-deafly.
Later in the debate, Biden took an opportunity while he was answering a separate question to redirect the conversation to redlining, the practice of selectively discriminating against people of color based on the areas where they live that Bloomberg was seen defending on a years-old video that recently resurfaced and went viral.
Bloomberg said his words were taken out of context and insisted he has been “against redlining,” which he said, “is still in practice in some places and we’ve got to cut it out.”
To be completely fair, Bloomberg was far from the only candidate on the stage with a questionable record when it comes to the topic of race.
Pete Buttigieg, for example, has struggled to get hardly any polling traction with Black voters and has most recently been accused of overstating the pledges of support he’s been getting from the African American community. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was also accused of using Black women as props at the Iowa Caucuses. Those developments came after former staffers of color said they were hired as tokens to back his presidential run.
Even Sanders has been at times racially problematic. Most recently, he failed to disavow the support of Joe Rogan, a radio host and comedian who has a documented history of racist moments. And while he has been eating into Biden’s support among Black voters, they both have seemingly been placing blame on Black folks for things beyond their control.
Biden, meanwhile, has fallen in the polls that he once resoundingly led in what may be the results of a social media campaign to expose the former vice president’s apparent racist-adjacent tendencies.
Not to be outdone, Warren was busted for lying about being an “American Indian,” which is how she identified herself on her registration card for the State Bar of Texas back in 1986.
According to the most recent national poll, Sanders was leading with 32 percent to Biden’s next-closest 16 percent. Bloomberg (14), Warren (12), Buttigieg (8) and Klobuchar (7) were bringing up the rear. Those numbers shifted when measuring support among Black voters. The latest Morning Consult poll found that Biden was enjoying 33 percent from Black voters, followed by Sanders (30), Bloomberg (20), Warren (6), Buttigieg (4) and Klobuchar (2).