After a recording surfaced of him boasting of deploying police into minority neighborhoods to “throw them up against the wall and frisk them,” Bloomberg insisted that the words he spoke in 2015 do not reflect who he is today. “I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities,” he said.
It is time for Bloomberg to face a similar reckoning with his record on the treatment of women in the private-sector business that made him a billionaire.
Over the years, there have been reports — and a series of lawsuits — contending that a toxic workplace culture existed at Bloomberg’s spectacularly successful business-information company.
The latest revelations, in a deeply researched story by my Post colleague Michael Kranish, add to evidence that Bloomberg himself fostered that environment, with profane, misogynistic comments. He is said to have been especially fond of making jokes suggesting that female employees should offer oral sex to colleagues and clients.
Kranish also found more verification to longstanding allegations that Bloomberg berated employees who got pregnant. One former employee said he heard the billionaire ask an expectant saleswoman whether she planned to “kill it.”
Bloomberg has denied having said that. But his spokesman Stu Loeser told Kranish: “Mike openly admits that his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life and some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.”
Still, Bloomberg has also gone to great lengths to assure that those who claim they were the victims of his mistreatment will never be able to speak for themselves publicly. In reaching legal settlements with women who have sued him, he has bound them to confidentiality agreements, and he refuses to release their depositions.
That means his actions in the private sector, unlike his record as mayor, can never be held up to independent scrutiny. Instead, Bloomberg expects us to accept his word that his company achieved an “enviable record” on gender.
As his presidential rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has pointed out, nondisclosure agreements are “a way for people to hide bad things they’ve done.”
In responding to her, Bloomberg — who is notoriously prickly about criticism — did not sound like a man who is chastened or remorseful. “Maybe the senator should worry about herself, and I’ll worry about myself,” he said.
Bloomberg’s defenders note that, as mayor, he promoted women to high-ranking roles in his administration. As a philanthropist, he has donated tens of millions of dollars to women’s causes around the world.
These are not insignificant defenses. Part of the maturation of the #MeToo movement is the growing understanding that there have to be paths to redemption for offenses that are less than criminal. Nor is it always fair to hold decades-old infractions against the standards of today.
But Bloomberg is going to have to recognize that this is a case he must make for himself. As a private businessman, he may have been able to glide past pointed questions with vague statements. But as he seeks to become the standard-bearer for a party that claims the high ground on women’s rights, he cannot.
The first thing Bloomberg owes voters is a frank admission of his actions in the past, and a fuller explanation of how and why his attitudes have changed. He should start by allowing those who have sued him to speak publicly, if they so choose, and to release the relevant legal records.
Of course, if he manages to get the Democratic nomination — something that is starting to appear more possible amid the turmoil in the primary contest — Bloomberg will be running against a president who has bragged about grabbing women by their genitals, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women and who paid off a porn actress to cover up his extramarital affair with her.
It is worth noting that none of the accusations against Bloomberg involve inappropriate sexual conduct. They center on crude comments that he is alleged to have made, and the noxious workplace environment that he is said to have fostered.
Still, Democrats have to ask themselves: Is better than Trump really the best they can do?