Facts First: What to expect when Bloomberg makes his debate debut

Since it’ll be the first time Bloomberg has debated his fellow Democratic candidates, the former New York City mayor is likely to be a target for much of the night as his opponents attempt to stop his recent rise up the polls. While we can’t predict the future, here are the facts surrounding some of the biggest issues Bloomberg’s opponents have attacked him on and some of the things he might say in response to their criticism.

Bloomberg has been criticized for his past support of “stop and frisk,” the policing policy under which New York City residents were temporarily detained, questioned and often searched, but, which, in practice, affected disproportionately black and Latino residents.

Bloomberg defended stop and frisk as a vital crime prevention tool through the end of his mayoralty in 2013 and in the years following, even after a judge ruled that the way New York City was using the practice was unconstitutional. But in the month he launched his candidacy in 2019, Bloomberg started apologizing for stop and frisk — saying he belatedly realized it was harming many innocent people, then cut its use by 95%.

What Bloomberg tends not to mention is that this 95% decline occurred in the last two years of his 12-year mayoralty, and that the decline was preceded by a 605% increase in the first 10 years. He has also not explained why he continued to advocate stop and frisk in the years after his campaign says he changed his mind about the policy in 2012.
On the debate stage, look for Bloomberg to stick to his script when challenged on the past. And look for him to try to pivot to the future by pointing to proposals he released Tuesday aimed at addressing racial disparities in criminal justice.

Wealth

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both put criticism of billionaires at the center of their campaign pitches.

Sanders, who argues that billionaires should not exist, followed Warren in proposing a new tax on billionaires’ wealth. He has long railed against billionaires using campaign spending to try to “buy politicians.”
Bloomberg is a handy foil for both Sanders and Warren. His net worth is in the tens of billions. And he has spent far more on television and online advertising than anyone else in the race — blanketing the airwaves with $417.7 million in ad purchases through February 16, 10 times more than any non-billionaire candidate, according to data from Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Look for Bloomberg to parry by noting his history of spending to bankroll causes Democrats care about, like gun control and the effort to thwart climate change. And look for him to argue that his resources will be a key advantage in a general election against a well-funded Trump campaign.

Inequality

Bloomberg said in 2018 that while “income inequality is a very big problem,” the “bigger problem” is taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, since this causes the rich to “stop producing.” But he is running on proposals to tax the wealthy in an effort to reduce inequality.
He said in 2015: “I, for example, am not in favor, have never been in favor, of raising the minimum wage.” But he is running on a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Expect his rivals to bring up his past and question his sincerity. Expect Bloomberg to point to past moments when he did support tax hikes on the wealthy, and to argue that he has generally seen the light.

Supporting Republicans

Bloomberg’s rivals may point out that he has a history both of being a Republican and of supporting Republicans.

Bloomberg has a complicated political history. He was a longtime Democrat, then a Republican when he ran for New York City mayor in 2001 and re-election in 2005. He switched his affiliation to independent in 2007, but he also appeared on the Republican line on the ballot, as well as the Independence Party line, when he ran for his third term in 2009.
Former vice president Joe Biden has taken issue with Bloomberg portraying himself as the “best buddy” of President Barack Obama, noting that Bloomberg would not endorse Obama in 2008. (Bloomberg did not endorse anyone in that presidential race. He did endorse Obama in 2012, and Biden called Bloomberg a “real ally” of the Obama administration on issues like guns.) Biden has also raised Bloomberg’s endorsement of Republican President George W. Bush for re-election in 2004.
Bloomberg could respond that most of his candidate donations have gone to Democrats, including spending that helped Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2018; that, again, he has been a top funder of groups aligned with Democratic views; and that being willing to work with both sides, and being seen as someone who is willing, is an asset rather than a liability.

Treatment of women

Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg has said Bloomberg has to “answer” for the numerous sexist comments attributed to him in a booklet of alleged quotations given to him as a gift on his 48th birthday, in 1990, by a female executive at his company And lawsuits have been filed alleging discriminatory treatment of women at Bloomberg’s company.
It’s not clear how Bloomberg might choose to respond. As The Washington Post reported, his spokesman said in 2001 that he might have said “some of the things” in the booklet. Current spokesman Stu Loeser says “Mike simply did not say the things somebody wrote in this gag gift,” but also that “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.”
Bloomberg might tout his history of donations to initiatives focused on women, such as reproductive health efforts.

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