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Good for him.
I’ll be surprised if Michael Bloomberg wins the Democratic nomination. We are living in a political era characterized by economic dissatisfaction and populism, and a 77-year-old Wall Street billionaire doesn’t look like an obvious nominee for a left-of-center party during such a time.
But I’m glad Bloomberg appears to be running. The current field is imperfect, split between candidates running weak campaigns (Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, for instance) and those who have so far shown little interest in appealing to swing voters (Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders). By entering the race, Bloomberg could sharpen the eventual nominee — or run such a strong campaign that he’ll prove skeptics like me wrong.
And it’s not fair to compare him to Howard Schultz, who threatened an independent campaign. Because he’s running in the primaries, rather than as an independent, Bloomberg won’t help re-elect President Trump by splitting the votes of progressives and moderates. Bloomberg understands this.
I’m glad he appears to be running for another reason, too. He has already shown that he knows how to use government to improve people’s lives.
He certainly made mistakes as mayor of New York — like his approach to policing — but he had many more successes than failures. Here’s what I wrote in 2017, in a book review of Chris McNickle’s biography of him:
[Bloomberg and his team] remade New York’s once grim waterfront, transforming the face of the city. They won a huge public-health victory by restricting smoking and made more progress than many people realize on obesity. Bloomberg rewrote archaic zoning laws, so they were no longer based on the notion that factories and residences were the main uses for New York’s real estate; offices, retail and public parks were vital too. The Bronx Terminal Market, Hunters Point in Queens and the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn are all examples. He presided over a decline in both crime and the jail population. The poverty rate fell relative to the rest of the country’s. His schooling reforms fell short of what he wanted, but McNickle shows they were also responsible for real improvements.
My biggest substantive question for the Bloomberg presidential campaign: Does he understand that the stagnation of American living standards requires more than technocratic tweaking? If so, how will he use the power of the federal government — including the tax code — to reduce inequality and help the middle class and poor?
For more …
David Axelrod, former Obama adviser: “This is a thunderclap. And not exactly a vote of confidence [from Bloomberg, a fellow moderate] in durability of @JoeBiden campaign.”
Eric Levitz, New York Magazine: “Bloomberg in the general is a spoiler who helps Trump. Bloomberg in the primary is — if anything at all — a spoiler who helps Bernie/Warren. No chance of capturing Biden’s (heavily nonwhite) coalition. Only possible impact is splitting the anti-anti-billionaire vote.”
My colleague Jamelle Bouie: “Rather than throw money behind the talented senator who could win over black voters in the south [Cory Booker], the moderate rescue plan has been:
rally behind the mayor of a small college town
encourage a billionaire to enter the race on his own behalf.”
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight: “Media elites have underestimated the resilience of Biden’s candidacy pretty badly so far and Bloomberg is, among other things, a media elite who hangs out with a lot of other media elites.”
“If he is serious about running for president, which those close to him believe he is, he needs to show voters that he can learn from his mistakes,” wrote my colleague Mara Gay in The Times last year. “He should not only apologize for his administration’s use of stop-and-frisk, he should begin listening seriously to black and Latino voters in a way he never did as mayor.”
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