This past week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tossed his hat into the ring for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. The 77-year-old billionaire, whose wealth is reported to be north of $55 billion, served as mayor of the Big Apple from 2001-2013. Although he had been a lifelong Democrat, when he decided to run for mayor — his first elective office — he found it more convenient to run as a Republican. Midterm he switched from Republican to Independent and in 2018 he returned to the Democratic fold.
Aside from the fact that Bloomberg has a lot of catching up to do, history is not on his side when it comes to winning the presidency. No mayor of New York City has ever been elected President of the United States.
The Empire State has produced six presidents. Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt got to the White House via the governor’s office in Albany. The other two, Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur, were accidental presidents — Fillmore, when President Zachary Taylor drank too much cold milk and fresh cherries on a hot day in Washington in 1850 and died, and Arthur when an assassin’s bullet struck down Ohioan James A. Garfield.
After the Civil War, the Democratic Party nominated three New Yorkers in a row for the presidency: Horatio Seymour (1868), Horace Greely (1872) and Samuel Tilden (1876). Each one went down to defeat to an Ohioan, U.S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College in a precursor to Bush vs. Gore. In 1904 New York Judge Alton B. Parker went down to defeat at the hands of his fellow New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt. In 1928 the nation was not ready for a Catholic president. New York Governor Al Smith lost to Herbert Hoover. And we all know what happened to transplanted New Yorker, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.
In the 1970s New York Mayor John Linsey switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic party in hopes of winning the presidency. His presidential dreams were dashed among allegations of scandals. Mayor Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the presidential race in 2016, only to land on his feet on the fringe of the oval office as President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. More recently current Mayor Bill di Blasio gave up his presidential bid after a short campaign that barely got off the ground. For whatever reason, Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City mayors, has not been an incubator for the presidency.
Although history shows that New York City has not been fertile ground for presidential candidates, it was not an accurate predictor when it came to Donald Trump. Ten years ago, most political pundits would have laughed at a prediction that a thrice-married, New York City real estate developer and casino operator who starred in a TV reality show could be elected president. And if you had thrown in the prediction that much of his base would be from Evangelical Christians, you would have been laughed out of any discussion.
Aside from history, the real noose around Bloomberg’s neck is the stop-and-frisk policy that he instituted within the New York City Police Department. Under the Bloomberg administration, police routinely made indiscriminate stops of hundreds of thousands of primarily young, black, brown and Latino males. Only 10% of those stopped under the policy were white. Seventy per cent of those stopped were found to be innocent of any crime and the vast majority who were charged with anything were charged with minor infractions. At its high point in 2011, the city detained over 700,000 individuals because they looked like they might be guilty of something when in fact they were best described as victims of unwarranted police harassment.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow has been calling out Bloomberg for this policy for years. Last week he wrote another scathing opinion piece calling Bloomberg’s “…expansion of the notoriously racist stop-and-frisk program a complete and nonnegotiable deal breaker.” He vehemently decries any black person, Hispanic or ally of either group who would consider casting a vote for Bloomberg. The fact that a federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities calling it a “policy of indirect racial profiling” should be enough for fair-minded voters of any race to tell Bloomberg to take a hike.
Hopefully voters in Alabama, where Bloomberg recently filed papers to get his name on the Democratic primary ballot, will ask the right questions when and if he shows up in their state. After they hear his explanation of the stop-and-frisk policy — if he has one — they should then ask him which party he is now, since he has changed several times. I’d also like to know where he’s been on issues that have faced the nation since he left office in 2013.
Black voters are the mainstream of the Democratic party. To consider the nomination of a man with Bloomberg’s track record on stop-and-frisk is an insult to all persons of color and all fair-minded Americans. Allowing him to bogart his way onto the presidential platform and attempt to buy himself a seat on the Democratic ticket would only keep minorities at home on Election Day and send Donald Trump back to the White House for four more years.
C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and president of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.