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What Bloomberg’s complicated record means for his White House bid

Michael Bloomberg is many things: activist, billionaire, established politician from a big city. Now he's also a presidential race disrupter. Before the former mayor takes the Democratic debate stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Lisa Desjardins talks with Eleanor Randolph, author of “The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg,” to understand his complicated and sometimes controversial record.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now Lisa Desjardins dives into Michael Bloomberg's complicated and, at times, controversial record.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Activist, billionaire, big city mayor, and occasional subway rider, Michael Bloomberg is many things at once, including now both disrupter and established politician.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    The momentum in this city is the legacy we're really leaving.

    I, Michael R. Bloomberg, do solemnly swear…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Bloomberg began his 12 years as New York City mayor as a Republican in January, 2002.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    So help me, God. Thank you.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mere months after the September 11 attacks shook the city's heart.

  • Man:

    He is definitely what New York needs as far as finance goes. Like, after September 11, we definitely need more commerce, more business in New York.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Eighteen years later, that image of a deliverer is one Bloomberg's running on.

  • Narrator:

    He took charge, becoming a three-term mayor who brought a city back from the ashes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    By the end of the Bloomberg era, more than half of New Yorkers polled said the city's economy was doing good, and about a third believed quality of life was better.

    There was wide approval of some of his initiatives, like banning smoking in restaurants and adding miles of bike lanes. But other Bloomberg policies stirred discontent or outright protest, things like his failed proposal to ban large sodas.

    His extension of stop and frisk police tactics, which targeted mostly black and Latino men, was deeply divisive, both then and now. Bloomberg renounced stop and frisk late last fall, but just five years ago defended his approach as appropriate.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Supporters point out that Bloomberg has spent millions aiming to lift up marginalized communities, but critics say words like those belie a deeper problem.

    And, yesterday, BuzzFeed news reported that, last year, Bloomberg seemed to scold Democrats who campaigned for transgender rights.

    He said: "If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress, that's not a winning formula for most people."

    Above all, Bloomberg stresses that he is a man who knows how to get things done, one of the world's most successful businessmen. But here too are questions. Multiple news stories, including a recent Washington Post report, have highlighted profane, sexist comments he made while leading his namesake financial data company, Bloomberg LP.

    Bloomberg denies that, and told the hosts of ABC's "The View" last month, women thrive in his workplace overall.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    You talk to most women in the company, they would say, equal pay, equal promotion, equal opportunity, it's a great place to work.

    Did I ever tell a bawdy joke? Yes, sure I did. And do I regret it? Yes, it's embarrassing. But, you know, that's the way I grew up.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    His company is also under scrutiny because the Bloomberg LP news operation has a policy of blocking any in-depth investigations of Bloomberg or his primary rivals.

    He told CBS this:

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    People have said to me, how can you investigate yourself? And I have said, I don't think you can.

  • Journalist:

    But even your own news reporters have complained. They think it's unfair that they're not allowed to investigate other Democratic candidates because their boss is in the race.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    OK, we have — you just have to learn to live with some things.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Bloomberg's opponents have not held back their criticism.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    Well, I got news for Mr. Bloomberg, and that is, the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Bloomberg's team rejects this, and defends him as someone doing the hard work. He's visited 25 states so far and 60 cities, and he is campaigning on his past national activism, especially on guns and climate change.

    His biggest pitch, maybe the biggest question for Democratic voters, does past accomplishment guarantee success in November?

    For a closer look at the man shaking up the race for the White House, I'm joined by Eleanor Randolph, who has covered Bloomberg's mayoral career as a member of The New York Times' editorial board and is the author of "The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg."

    Thank you for joining us, Eleanor.

    Let me just ask you right away, why do you think Michael Bloomberg is running?

  • Eleanor Randolph:

    Well, he's always wanted to be president. And he even talked about being — running for president when he was in college.

    And he looked at the races — 2016, he looked very seriously at the race, and then he didn't run. And I think, actually, in March, he decided he wasn't going to run. He decided that, you know, the numbers weren't there.

    And then his people came back to him and said, you know, what's happening in the old blue wall, the blue states, you know, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Trump is winning. So why don't we get out there and go after him?

    So Trump — Bloomberg decided that he should be the one to do that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's talk about how Michael Bloomberg is running. He is spending a lot of money.

    I spoke to his campaign today, and they confirmed he now has 2,400 campaign staffers in 43 states, has spent at least $400 million. That's according to the most recent analysis, likely a good deal more than that.

    And that's just in a handful of months that he's actually had a presidential campaign. Can you talk about how Bloomberg leverages his resources, his money and also his personal alliances from being a top Democratic donor?

  • Eleanor Randolph:

    First of all, he's worth over $60 billion. Many of the ads that people have seen have been anti-Trump ads.

    And what Bloomberg is trying to do is soften Trump up for whoever is the Democratic nominee to run against him in November.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm curious, what do you think he thinks of the optics of him running as a New York billionaire, at a time when Democrats are trying to take out another wealthy man from New York and who criticize President Trump as being out of touch, because he is a man of such wealth?

    How does Michael Bloomberg see those optics regarding himself?

  • Eleanor Randolph:

    Well, you know, he sees himself as a different kind of billionaire and a different kind of businessman.

    And, also, he's spent — he's promised that he's going to give away his money before he dies. I don't think that Donald Trump has come anywhere near that. And so, I mean, Bloomberg's philanthropy has been vast. And it's been very pointed, even more than the political money that we have started to see now.

    So I think Bloomberg sees this money as a way — as a way to deal with some of the problems of the world, like climate change and gun control, and Donald Trump.

    So, you know, he's spending whatever he can to try to get Trump defeated. And he's said, no matter who on that stage ends up being the nominee, he's going to support them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What do you think is Michael Bloomberg's biggest challenge?

  • Eleanor Randolph:

    He's not a great speaker. He's probably not going to do exceptionally well in this debate tonight. And there are some other ones. There's one in South Carolina.

    And he doesn't — unlike Trump or Bernie Sanders, he doesn't connect with an audience. He has to sort of explain to people that he's Mr. Fix-It. He likes to get things done, and he would — if he were president, it would be a quieter presidency. And maybe there's some people that want that.

    He just — he doesn't — he's an ex-engineer. Well, he trained as an engineer. He doesn't show his emotions very much or very well. And you don't see him hammering the podium. You don't see him sort of raising his voice to the crowd. He will never be that person.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Eleanor Randolph, biographer, journalist, thank you for joining us.

  • Eleanor Randolph:

    Thank you.

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