Sam Fogel: Michael Bloomberg - the folly of a billionaire

Monday, December 2, 2019 - 12:11pm

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With the Democratic primary inching closer with every passing day, the field of candidates has been hard-pressed to slim down from the large pool that the race started with. The three main candidates that have been garnering the most attention are, of course, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Some other notable figures in the race are Mayor Pete Buttigieg, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, among others. I’m sure I don’t have to name everyone, as the list is quite lengthy. With so many candidates fighting for the nomination, you’d have to either be cocky or foolish (or possibly both) to enter now. That being said, why the hell is Michael Bloomberg considering running for president? 

His potential bid for the presidency is a departure from what he said earlier this year. In an opinion piece for Bloomberg News, Bloomberg rhetorically asked readers if he should “devote the next two years to talking about my ideas and record, knowing that I might never win the Democratic nomination,” or if he should “spend the next two years doubling down on the work that I am already leading and funding,” concluding that it would be more beneficial to continue the various projects and initiatives he’s already running. Why the change of heart, Michael?

I don’t really know. But what is known is that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and the wealthiest man in the world, called Bloomberg to ask if he’d be running for president. And if you know anything about Bezos, his treatment of employees is frankly appalling. A mandatory 60-hour workweek at grueling warehouses, negligence in handling workplace injury and slashed bonuses after a slight increase in wages are all examples of Amazon’s horrible treatment of its employees. While superficially indicative of very little, I’d wager that there’s a reason Bezos asked Bloomberg directly about his prospects. If we know anything from the current billionaire in office, it’s that he tends to be lenient when it comes to income taxes and accountability for the rich. With income inequality reaching five-decade highs in the United States, many of the candidates on the Democratic stage advocate forwealth redistribution. Bloomberg, with a history of favoring privatization, may win the favor of the ultra-rich and elites, but is absolutely not what the party needs at the moment. 

Speaking of income inequality, it went unaddressed in New York City under Bloomberg. As New York recovered from the attacks on 9/11, he adopted policies that helped assist the city in its plight. He built and preserved over 165,000 units of affordable housing, which is an admirable feat. It all sounds fine and dandy until you look at the real effects of his policies. Median rents rose in New York by 19 percent in real dollars between 2002 and 2011, and the homeless population in shelters rose from less than 30,000 to upwards of 50,000. Nearing the end of his tenure as mayor in 2011, the median income for the bottom fifth of New Yorkers dropped to $8,844. In contrast, the households in the top fifth earned $223,285. The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development found that one-third of housing was unaffordable for local residents. Unsurprisingly, this led to an epidemic of gentrification that forced many NYC natives out of their neighborhoods. Sasha Zena, a New York resident, said in an interview with The New York Times that Bloomberg “smothered the bohemian creative heartbeat of New York City, trading it for luxury housing by giving luxury developers huge tax incentives.” With the concerns of increasing inequality growing ever-pervasive in the collective consciousness, Bloomberg is anything but a working-class champion. As someone who is vying to be an alternative to Trump and his policies, Bloomberg doesn’t seem all too different when it comes to caring about the lower class. He is absolutely not what the Democrats need. 

There are some other concerns that I could bring up about Bloomberg. He’s been noted to be casually sexist and objectifying of his female employees. Four women have filed sexual harassment claims against Bloomberg. Crude remarks about him wanting to “do” female coworkers and various other instances of “locker room talk” are reminiscent of the orange despot he wants to dethrone. There’s also his support of the infamously racist “stop-and-frisk” policy used by the New York Police Department. As recently as January this year, he’s gone on record in favor of the racial profiling method of policing streets. The practice was ruled unconstitutional in 2013 in Floyd v. the City of New York for violating both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (for unreasonable searches and racial discrimination, respectively). Only just recently has he apologized, but it’s a paltry attempt at amends. It’s clearly meant to try and address the criticisms he has garnered before his campaign starts in full. He is now six years out of office and believed in his policy up until just months ago. It’s a shallow and transparently phony apology. For somebody who is thought of as a “social liberal,” he certainly seems to be in conflict with the ideals of social justice. Intrinsic to social justice is the need to fight for marginalized groups and their rights, and he has shown himself to not really care at all. Bloomberg can say whatever he wants, but actions speak louder than words. 

Bloomberg is obviously confident enough in himself to run for president and represent the Democratic Party. He is so confident that he believes he can win despite missing several deadlines for states such as New Hampshire. He emanates a sense of billionaire entitlement, seeming to think that somehow, having money makes you worthy of the Oval Office. However, I want to stress that he is remarkably similar to Donald Trump — much more than many people think. They’re both completely separated from the American populace by virtue of being billionaires, raise suspicion in their treatment of women and actively support policies that worsen the already enormous gap between the rich and the poor. He is a rich white billionaire — just another plutocrat in it for himself. He isn’t the right candidate for a party that is supposed to represent the marginalized citizens of our republic. Don’t let him convince you he is.

Sam Fogel can be reached at samfogel@umich.edu.