Michael Bloomberg announced Sunday he is running for president, bringing a narrow following but boundless bank account to the crowded Democratic primary.
The 77-year-old former New York City mayor, positioning himself as a centrist alternative to Joe Biden, launched his candidacy in an online video that is part personal story, part attack on President Donald Trump.
“I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America. We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions. He represents an existential threat to our country and our values,” Bloomberg declared in a statement Sunday. “If he wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage.”
Bloomberg became one of the richest people in the world on the success of his eponymous financial news company. He then served three terms as New York City mayor and in 2014 was honorarily knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
The video accompanying his announcement, part of an initial $34 million ad buy, instead seeks to play up his middle-class upbringing in Medford, Mass. The narrator notes he “had to work his way through college” and built his business, Bloomberg LP, from “a single room to a global entity.”
NEW — @MikeBloomberg in first TV ad touts his bio & targets Trump.
Ad closes with “jobs creator, leader, problem solved. Mike Bloomberg for president.” pic.twitter.com/Bd6O00uGDH
— Kendall Karson (@kendallkarson) November 24, 2019
The ad, produced by Jimmy Siegel, is meant to contrast the financial identities of Bloomberg and Trump, both wealthy men with swank Manhattan addresses. As it closes in on a shot of Trump Tower, the narrator references a country “where the wealthy will pay more in taxes and the struggling middle class will get their fair share.” It is an implicit criticism of the president, who is battling the release of his tax returns a year after a New York Times investigation concluded he dodged taxes to increase his inherited fortune.
Bloomberg routinely made his tax returns public when he was mayor. A spokesperson said he would make his returns public now that he is seeking the presidency.
The former mayor, who is worth an estimated $54.1 billion, plans to forgo competing in early voting states and instead focus his resources on Super Tuesday, when 15 states head to the polls March 3. His aides believe the strategy will help him lay claim to delegate-rich territory that has been somewhat overlooked as the top-tier candidates focus their energies in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
They say their polling also showed Trump dominating in six swing states where they believe Bloomberg can perform well: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
It is also a signal that Team Bloomberg is worried he wouldn’t do well in the first four states. Polls conducted after he registered to get on the ballot in Alabama Nov. 8 show paltry support for his candidacy in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Bloomberg, who has switched party registration several times throughout his life to suit his political ambitions, plans to run a general election campaign at the same time he tries to win over Democrats. He will invest his personal fortune to persuade Americans he is best-suited to defeat President Trump, and recently announced plans to spend $100 million on anti-Trump ads in states Democrats are looking to flip next year.
He’s already targeting Trump’s record: On Monday, Bloomberg laced into the president for delaying action on outlawing flavored e-cigarettes.
The issue happens to be a winning one for Bloomberg, whose mayoral health initiatives like banning smoking in restaurants and bars were mimicked throughout the country and well received by fellow Democrats. He has invested funds in combating flavored e-cigarettes from his charitable foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is doubling as the headquarters for his nascent campaign.
His launch video also slams “the outright denial of this administration to protect the only home we have from the growing menace of climate change” over shots firefighters trying to quell wildfires. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the focus of a new Bloomberg initiative called “Beyond Carbon.”
At the same time, the ad takes a jab at the left flank of the Democratic Party by promising “everyone without health insurance is guaranteed to get it and everyone who likes theirs can go ahead and keep it.” Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders support eliminating private health insurance.
Where Bloomberg’s record on public health initiatives, guns and climate change is in step with much of the Democratic Party, he will have to overcome some well-known weaknesses to win the nomination.
For starters, he is an unabashed defender of Wall Street who let public housing conditions and homelessness deteriorate during his tenure. His advisers are quick to point out he is self made, having begun Bloomberg LP after getting laid off from an investment bank job when he was 39. But his public posture has shaped a narrative that he is out of touch with people of ordinary means.
He once advised New Yorkers snowed in during a blizzard in 2010 to take in a Broadway show. He fired a $27,000-a-year aide whom he caught playing solitaire on his computer during work hours, saying it was “not appropriate behavior.”
And in order to exceed New York City’s two-term limit for mayors, he successfully pushed for a change in the law to give himself the option of running for a third term, only to revert the policy back to two terms for his successors. The change ran counter to voters, who in previous ballot questions had supported a ceiling of two consecutive terms for mayors. Though Bloomberg outspent his opponent 14 to 1 in the subsequent election in 2009, he won by fewer than 5 points.
“I just don’t think there’s a hunger for Michael Bloomberg in a Democratic primary. There’s such an arrogance in all this.”
– Progressive consultant Rebecca Katz
“I just don’t think there’s a hunger for Michael Bloomberg in a Democratic primary,” progressive consultant Rebecca Katz said. “There’s such an arrogance in all this. … It’s just a billionaire who just wants things and feels like he can throw money at it and that’s not how democracy works.”
Supporters hail him as a strong manager who helped New York City recover from the Sept. 11 terror attacks and shepherded it through a recession, all while driving crime down and school test scores up. He spearheaded sweeping redevelopment projects that helped secure the city’s reputation as a premier destination but did less to provide adequate affordable housing for its poorest residents.
“He was anything but politically correct, which was refreshing,” said Kathy Wylde, who leads the pro-business Partnership for New York City. “It was refreshing for the business community and certainly created an economic momentum that has carried us through the last decade.”
As he prepared to launch his campaign in recent weeks, Bloomberg sought to counter some of his biggest vulnerabilities.
When a story surfaced about comments he’d made over the years denigrating women, Bloomberg’s long-time spokesman was contrite. “Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong. He believes his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life,” Stu Loeser told the New York Times.
Last Sunday, Bloomberg took the rare step of admitting fault and apologizing for his police department’s controversial use of a tactic known as “stop and frisk,” which a federal judge determined in 2013 violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities. The former mayor had vehemently defended the policy after he left office, arguing it was necessary to achieve the dramatic drop in crime that happened on his watch. He even once argued that statistically white people were stopped too frequently.
Some black clergy and politicians forgave him, and his change of heart earned him the endorsement of Columbia, S.C. Mayor Stephen Benjamin.
Others were circumspect.
Rev. Al Sharpton said he was pleased to hear the admission but added, “It will take more than one speech for people to forgive and forget a policy that so negatively impacted entire communities.”
The headstrong former mayor who had doubled down on the NYPD’s use of the policy for years got up before hundreds of black parishioners in a church in Brooklyn and said that after much reflection he realized he “got something really wrong.”
This all amounts to an unlikely path for someone who prides himself on being apolitical.
Wearing a purple tie to indicate his nonpartisan bearing, Bloomberg began his searing indictment of Trump at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 by announcing he was “not here as a member of any party.”
He was a Democrat until realizing he had a better shot at winning the mayoralty as a Republican. He switched registration and, with the crucial post-Sept. 11 endorsement from then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, he won the race in November 2001. Shortly after taking office, he sought to abolish partisan municipal elections.
He then dropped his party affiliation during his first flirtation with a White House bid in 2007. And though he never went through with running the following year, he remained unaffiliated with a party until he became a Democrat last year.
Even then, he was skeptical about partisan politics.
“That’s why I won’t be the candidate of the Democratic Party, because it’s so impractical,” Bloomberg told PBS’s Margaret Hoover after being shown a clip of former Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke vowing to get rid of semi-automatic rifles during a debate in September.
Ironically, there are few issues with which Bloomberg is more closely aligned that would inure him to the left wing of the party than his long battle with the National Rifle Association. His aides say he has spent at least $300 million of his own fortune combating the gun lobby, and last year 21 of the 24 pro-gun control candidates he invested in won their races across the country.
Though he is running as a Democrat, Bloomberg is again donning a purple tie in the video and his 2020 slogan is half blue, half red — visual nods to what he hopes is his bipartisan appeal.
“I offer myself as a doer and a problem solver, not a talker” he said in his statement. “And as someone who is ready to take on the tough fights and win.”