Mayor Bloomberg and the imaginary racist campaign

September 9, 2013
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio (Seth Wenig/AP)
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray. (Seth Wenig/AP)

While some lame duck leaders spend their remaining moments in office trying to solidify their legacies, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems determined to do just the opposite. Though never known for being particularly diplomatic, in recent months the mayor has outdone himself.

Some recent highlights include dismissively referring to the federal judge who deemed the stop and frisk policy the mayor has long championed unconstitutional as “some woman.” Another was his response to criticism that stop and frisk overwhelmingly targets innocent racial minorities: “There is this business, there’s one newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying, ‘Oh, it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group.’ That may be, but it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murder. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” (For the record, last year out of more than 532,000 stops, 89 percent were completely innocent, according the New York Civil Liberties Union.  Eighty-four percent of those stopped were black or Latino.)

But if there were an Olympics for inserting one’s foot in one’s mouth, Bloomberg would clinch the gold for his recent comments about the leading contender to succeed him in the mayor’s office, New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. In an interview with New York Magazine, the mayor said de Blasio is running a “class-warfare and racist” campaign.

Now when I first read the remark, it left me scratching my head. De Blasio, who is white, is married to a black woman, Chirlane McCray, with whom he has two children. I suppose an argument could be made that if he were attempting to hide his family in the hopes of winning support from voters who may not be approve of an interracial union, one could accuse de Blasio of running a “racist” campaign. But he has done just the opposite. He has not only put his family front and center but his son Dante has starred in what will arguably be remembered as one of the most effective political ads in recent memory. Sporting a sizable Afro, the teen looks into the camera and discusses why de Blasio will make an effective mayor, citing a number of issues including his staunch opposition to stop and frisk. Dante does not reveal that de Blasio is his father until the end of the ad, making the emotional impact even more powerful.

But according to Bloomberg, de Blasio not hiding his family is precisely the problem. When pressed by a reporter to explain why de Blasio’s campaign is racist, the mayor replied, “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.”

As other media outlets have since noted, Bloomberg did just that, highlighting his Jewish heritage in an effort to appeal to Jewish voters in his previous campaigns. Which makes his criticism of de Blasio all the more odd, and raises an uncomfortable question, given that political candidates use their families in campaign ads all the time: Why does Bloomberg think it’s unacceptable for a white candidate to use his black family in a campaign ad?

But an even more uncomfortable question this controversy raises is this: When will progressives stop using to a double standard when it comes to racially insensitive language? Though he is a registered Independent, Bloomberg initially was a Democrat and only became a Republican to avoid a crowded primary when he ran in 2001. After a successful reelection, he changed his registration once more to Independent. But his advocacy for gun control and the environment makes him one of the most visible liberal activists in the nation. He reaffirmed that by endorsing President Obama, albeit somewhat tepidly, citing the issue of climate change in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Had Bloomberg been an avowed conservative and made those same remarks about de Blasio’s campaign, the left would be calling for his head, and an official apology. But because he has been right (pun intended) on so many lefty issues, he has been given a perennial “he’s not really such a bad guy” pass. This despite repeated instances of racial insensitivity and sexism.

He’s known to admonish Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the most powerful woman in city government and a candidate for mayor, for not wearing high heels, which the mayor prefers, as well as commenting on her hair color — the type of criticism usually reserved for one’s girlfriend, not a peer. Then there was the crass remark others claimed he made about another woman’s backside at a public event, which he later denied. Then there is his obsession with maintaining, not ending or at the very least mending, stop and frisk in its current state, despite every piece of data confirming it is racially biased and ineffective.

In his eleven years in office, Michael Bloomberg has become the embodiment of the very worst limousine liberal stereotype. Someone who is proudly pro-choice but makes comments that suggest he sees women in his workplace not as equals, but as dolls that should dress to his liking. Someone who gives to charities benefiting black males, but would consider one of those very same black males dangerous and worthy of being stopped and frisked.

To their credit, de Blasio’s mayoral rivals, Quinn and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, denounced Bloomberg’s remarks. De Blasio said, “So all I can say is I hope the mayor will reconsider what he said. I hope he’ll realize that it was inappropriate.”

De Blasio’s family also responded to the controversy. His 18-year-old daughter, Chaiara, has this to say: “Everything I do for the campaign is my decision. And I think that, or at least I suspect … 20 years ago my dad did not know he was running for mayor and he did not seek to marry a black woman to put her on display.”

Keli Goff is a columnist for The Daily Beast and The Root. Follow her on Twitter @keligoff.
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