NEW YORK — Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched his candidacy for president with a video describing him as the man who “brought a city back from the ashes” after Sept. 11, restored jobs and hope, and created a more livable New York for its more than 8 million inhabitants.
New Yorkers, though, offered a more skeptical take a day after the billionaire former mayor formally kicked off his campaign for the Democratic nomination. Like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who launched a failed presidential bid that became an object of ridicule, Bloomberg will have to contend with the difficulty of running for president after serving as New York mayor, a post where frequent and aggressive criticism comes with the territory.
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City politicians, who largely line up to Bloomberg’s left, mostly panned his bid.
“The rich got richer here, and the poor got poorer,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said of Bloomberg’s three terms in office. “The question is not whether his policies were successful. Who were they successful for?”
As a City Council member at the time, Williams clashed with Bloomberg over stop-and-frisk, the policing tactic that targeted black and Latino men for thousands of searches. Bloomberg fiercely resisted efforts to tamp down the practice, only to finally apologize for it last week.
“Are you going to also apologize for the housing and education policies that harmed the same communities?” Williams asked. “There was a hubris there that got in the way for way too long. That hubris, I think, is probably still there.”
So too is the divide between rich and poor — a condition many say the former mayor exacerbated.
“I can’t believe he’s running for president. The list of things that he did to transfer wealth to the richest New Yorkers and away from the poorest New Yorkers is so long,” said housing advocate Cea Weaver. “He’s just an entitled billionaire who thinks that gives him the credibility to run for president, and that’s ridiculous.”
She pointed to Bloomberg’s role in ending a rent subsidy program for the homeless, after which the homeless shelter population began to surge. “We have an exploding homelessness problem in our city that we’re still dealing with, and that’s very much on Bloomberg,” she said.
Still, Bloomberg’s toughest Democratic critics in the city give him credit for public health initiatives such as his smoking ban and required calorie counts at restaurants, as well as his tough stances in favor of gun control and combating climate change.
His allies in the business community laud his work to diversify the city’s economy and create jobs, as well as managerial acumen they say is sorely needed in the White House.
“Bloomberg was a long-term thinker, and made investments for the future, and that’s what America needs right now,” said Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City. “I’m enthusiastic that there’s a strong counterweight to the extremes.”
She said Bloomberg had been unfairly blamed for inequality between the rich and poor in the city, the issue that de Blasio seized on to win election as Bloomberg’s successor.
“He really laid the groundwork for two decades of economic growth in all five boroughs,” Wylde said.
Jennifer Pomeranz, an assistant professor at the College of Global Public Health at New York University, said Bloomberg's strides on public health and the environment were reason for Democrats to at least “hear him out.”
“Right now, we’re in a country where the evidence seems to matter less and less day by day. And I would love to see someone in office who wants to enact evidence-based public health policies,” she said.
Bloomberg has made a trademark of his reliance on evidence and data, even hawking T-shirts with the slogan, “In God We Trust. Everyone Else, Bring Data.”
“If people want a data-driven federal government with less concern about social impact,” he’s your man, said State Sen. John Liu (D-Queens).
Liu, who was city comptroller during the Bloomberg administration, said a reliance on numbers could cloud the reality on the ground. The chair of the Senate's NYC Education Committee, Liu pointed to fights over charter schools moving into public school buildings, where Bloomberg's City Hall relied on stats about available space that favored the so-called co-locations.
“You can cut up data every which way, to make whatever argument you’re looking for,” he said.
Kumar Rao, an attorney at Center for Popular Democracy Action, said Bloomberg’s blind spots on policing went beyond stop-and-frisk, to surveillance of Muslim communities and aggressive marijuana arrests.
“His beliefs, his positions, his policies are clearly outdated and disproven,” he said. “None of that is where the Democratic party is, and I don’t think it’s where the country is either.”
Bloomberg spokesperson Stu Loeser said when Bloomberg was mayor, New York was the only big city in America that did not have an increase in the poverty rate.
“When he took over New York, it was widely believed that New York City’s greatest days were behind it, not ahead of it,” he said.
He said street homelessness decreased under Bloomberg, while crime fell at the same time jail populations decreased. “That’s unprecedented, and we’re extraordinarily proud of this record,” he said.
De Blasio ramped up criticism of his predecessor's presidential bid Monday.
“He left a real trail of destruction here in terms of human lives,” he said in an appearance on Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show. “I spent six years trying to fix things he broke and rebuilt things he tore down.”
But Mitchell Moss, an NYU professor of urban policy who advised Bloomberg during his first campaign for mayor, said there’s one big difference between the two mayors with eyes for the White House. “Bill de Blasio had ambition, but no record. Bloomberg has a record.”
"We have a lot of ideologues," Moss said of the current Democratic field. "We don’t have many people who are doers. That’s what Mike offers."
Joe Anuta contributed to this report.