Politically speaking, former New York mayor and 77-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg is in nowheresville, polling around 5 percent and with the highest negative ratings of anyone in the Democratic presidential primary. Yet he’s everywhere in the media. According to data from Newswhip, which tracks social network activity, the tens of millions of dollars that he has dumped into the race have bought him more social media interactions for his announcement than Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Julián Castro, and Tom Steyer have enjoyed since they entered the race. Just the rumor that Bloomberg was considering running, according to the nonprofit Internet Archive, got him more attention on cable news shows in a single day than any other candidates besides Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. In November, cable news mentioned him more than any other candidate save for Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
The coverage has occasionally focused on Bloomberg’s billions, his obscene comments about women, and his erstwhile commitment to a draconian stop-and-frisk policy for the city’s police that targeted black and Latino neighborhoods and was later determined to be not only ineffective but also unconstitutional. There has also been some attention to the fact that Bloomberg recently devoted some of his financial munificence to help ensure that Republicans maintained their US Senate majority: In 2016 he spent nearly $12 million to persuade Pennsylvanians to reelect Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican who supports background checks for all gun sales but who is otherwise your standard-issue, Trump-supporting conservative.
Even so, Bloomberg’s base in the mainstream media remains rock solid. All those donations to cultural institutions and mildly reformist organizations have created a near-perfect profile for the economically conservative, socially liberal punditocracy. In November, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained that he was “glad Bloomberg may enter the race, because he will forcefully put a Democratic pro-growth, pro-innovation, pro-business agenda on the table, while also pushing ahead on major social issues.”
This same narrative plays out when pundits discuss Bloomberg’s 12-year mayoralty. The Nation’s editors called his tenure a “mix of technocratic efficiency and top-down urbanism,” which many in the media view as a model for how the federal government should be run. But that perception is wrong: Bloomberg was a terrible mayor, especially for the city’s nonwealthy residents.
New York’s biggest problem is affordable housing. Every year during his tenure, the city lost thousands of rent-stabilized apartments to market rates that were often double what tenants had been paying. Bloomberg’s solution was to encourage the building and purchase of luxury housing—often by people who couldn’t be bothered to show up at their luxury investment properties. “The way to help those who are less fortunate,” he explained, “is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people…. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?”
According to housing researchers Benjamin Dulchin, Moses Gates, and Barika Williams, the Bloomberg administration “left affordable housing out of the picture entirely, projecting a large increase in population but ignoring the near certainty that a large share of those additional New Yorkers would be unable to afford market-rate housing.” From 2000 to 2012, the number of housing units in New York City rose by less than 6 percent, a rate below all but three of the 22 largest cities in the United States and by far the lowest among cities with growing populations. In a city where 65 percent of households live in rentals, the median rent rose 23 percent from 2002 to 2011, while incomes increased by just 2 percent.
What about public housing? Don’t even ask. Its management under Bloomberg was characterized by “incompetence and [a] lack of accountability,” according to a report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The report found that in 2011 almost 80 percent of the city’s 334 public housing developments had at least one deficiency, a 20 percentage point increase since 2002. It also revealed that from 2005 to 2011, the number of broken windows in New York City Housing Authority apartments increased 945 percent, and the number of rats spotted jumped 12 percent.
Remember Superstorm Sandy? It arrived on October 29, 2012, and damaged or destroyed an estimated 69,000 homes. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars made available by the federal and state governments, the Bloomberg administration somehow managed not to rebuild a single damaged home by the time Bill de Blasio took over on January 1, 2014. According to a long review by The New York Times, “the standstill…was largely attributable to the design and execution of the [disaster recovery] program by the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.”
But he’s a wiz at economic development, you say. Only if you consider a living wage another luxury item. Laura Wolf-Powers, an urban studies professor at Hunter College, tallied some of the costs to lower-income communities of the mayor’s economic strategies, “While Bloomberg’s ambitious five-borough development program created new destinations and boosted job growth in some sectors, it also imposed high costs on low- and moderate-income neighborhood residents and small businesses.” The result was that, according to a 2014 study by the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, fully 42 percent of New Yorkers lived in households whose incomes could not cover the cost of “housing, food, transportation, health care and other basic necessities.” To make matters worse, Bloomberg, in Trumpian fashion, ensured that New York City would be the only place in the state to refuse food stamps to people who needed them for more than three months.
Bloomberg might make an effective alternative to Trump in some respects, but this professed “nonpartisan” candidate is definitely running in the wrong primary.