September 9, 2013
Mayor Bloomberg (John Minchillo/AP)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

A New York Times story last week pointed out how the candidates seeking to succeed Mayor Bloomberg are shying away from a potential endorsement from him. And a New York magazine interview out over the weekend is but one example of why. In it, Bloomberg says Bill de Blasio, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for mayor, has run a “racist” campaign. A baseless charge that was made worse by his attempt to explain it.

Chris Smith asked Bloomberg about de Blasio’s campaign. “He has in some ways been running a class-warfare campaign,” he said before Bloomberg interrupted him to say “class-warfare and racist.”

Smith: Racist?

Bloomberg: Well, no, no, I mean* he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist. It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.

Instead of “racist,” perhaps Bloomberg meant de Blasio was employing a “racial appeal”? But so what? Politicians enlist their families in campaigns all the time. Their spouses and children humanize them. Their presence on the trail and in campaign ads deliver implicit or explicit messages to the electorate. Bloomberg has done it. For instance, Bloomberg’s late beloved mother appeared in campaign literature and went to a senior center on her son’s behalf during his first campaign for mayor in 2001. A campaign that I proudly worked on as a policy adviser.

Bill de Blasio and family
Bill de Blasio and family at the West Indian Day parade. (Tina Fineberg/Associated Press)

De Blasio’s multiracial family (his wife is African American) has been a key part of campaign. The New York Post’s John Podhoretz argues that Dante’s ad for his dad is the reason for de Blasio’s poll vault. A sudden rise that has the city’s public advocate snagging almost twice as much support (47 percent) from African Americans as Bill Thompson, the only African American in the race. This is significant in a majority minority city.

After all hell broke loose when the comments went public late Saturday afternoon, New York magazine said it was asked by the mayor’s office to add “Well, no, no, I mean.” While the interjection takes a bit of the sting out of what Bloomberg said, the comment reveals once again that he is prone to saying what he thinks as indelicately as humanly possible.

The rest of Bloomberg’s comments on the class-warfare aspect of de Blasio’s campaign fall into this category, too.

But his whole campaign is that there are two different cities here. And I’ve never liked that kind of division. The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills. The people that would get very badly hurt here if you drive out the very wealthy are the people he professes to try to help. Tearing people apart with this “two cities” thing doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s a destructive strategy for those you want to help the most. He’s a very populist, very left-wing guy, but this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for services for the other.

I see what Bloomberg is trying to say. The rich pay the taxes that fund the programs and services that help the poor. But the remark is beside the point and callous coming from the multi-billionaire mayor of a city with the greatest income inequality of any other in the nation. It easily feeds into the meme that Bloomberg is out of touch with the concerns of the less fortunate. And it obscures that the primary reason he ran in the first place 12 years ago was because he wanted to help people and thought he could make a difference. There is no question that he succeeded.

Bloomberg’s impertinent “racist” remark obscured something else in the interview. He gave implicit primary endorsements to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D) and former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Joe Lhota (R).

Whether you are in favor of Chris Quinn becoming mayor or not, I will tell you this: She did a very good job for seven and a half years of keeping legislation that never should have made it to the floor, that would have been damaging to the city, from ever getting there. And she deserves a lot of the credit for what’s gone on in the city in the last seven and a half years.

I thought the Times was right in their editorials on Lhota and Quinn. I’m very pleased about that.

Considering they have been keeping him at arms length, I’m sure Quinn and Lhota are pleased no one noticed Bloomberg’s approving nod.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.