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Will Black folks buy what Bloomberg is selling?

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Michael Bloomberg’s entry into the presidential track meet has been stunning.

Unlike other late entrant Deval Patrick, the Black former Massachusetts governor, Bloomberg’s decision to run has upended the race. The former mayor of New York City has God-only-knows how many billions of dollars, and he’s not reluctant to spend them in his bid to displace Donald Trump. (He is reported to have unloaded more than $400 million on political ads.)

Bloomberg is uber wealthy, uber brash and uber serious about buying the Democratic Party’s nomination — or at least renting it.

Unfortunately, Bloomberg has tons of baggage regarding racism and sexism that would have disqualified presidential aspirants in recent years. Bloomberg is addressing damning allegations from several women, including that he has repeatedly made sexually-charged comments over the years. 

Then there is the issue of race, especially in regards to the negative effect Bloomberg’s “stop-and-frisk” policy had on New York’s Black and brown population. The number of stops that police made was literally greater than the total population of Black young men in the city. Bloomberg has been recorded making stereotypical (and inaccurate) comments about the relationship between crime and race. 

Nonetheless, a recent Quinnipiac poll placed Bloomberg’s approval rating among Black folks at second only to Joe Biden (whose campaign is flailing). Does that seem strange? It shouldn’t. As has been the case in scores of elections, African Americans might be left with the choice of voting for a rich and/or powerful white man who has seemed to repent of his racial sins, versus voting for a rich and/or powerful white man who has not repented. 

In the same way that people of Hispanic heritage are not solely focused on racist immigration policies, African Americans are willing to overlook certain racist actions if we believe there might be a chance of a better future for us and our children. The fact is Black folks have pretty much always chosen not only between the “lesser of two evils,” but also between the “lesser of two racists.” 

Understandably, not all Blacks folks are convinced. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow noted, even the NYPD criticized Bloomberg for stop-and-frisk.

Other Democratic presidential candidates have been harmed more by allegations of racial insensitivity.

I have been critical of Pete Buttigieg because of the racial challenges that he exacerbated as mayor of South Bend. Bloomberg’s record is arguably worse than Buttigieg’s.

However, there is a key difference between Bloomberg and Buttigieg: Bloomberg decided to repent. He did so belatedly; he may have done so insincerely. But repent he did.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, who is Black, put it this way: “You don’t judge people by the mistakes they have made. You judge them by their ability to fess up.” Turner has endorsed Bloomberg.

By contrast, for all his Midwestern charm and school-boy earnestness, Buttigieg’s refusal to own his blemished racial record speaks to an arrogance that is reflected in his demeanor and trademark smirk-as-smile.

Whereas Donald Trump openly disparages the idea that he has ever made a mistake, Buttigieg apparently believes that people aren’t bright enough to notice his deflections when asked about his tenure in South Bend. 

In the end, whatever Bloomberg’s faults, he will never be applauded by people like David Duke and Richard Spencer, white supremacists who embrace Donald Trump. That’s not simply because Bloomberg was born Jewish. Despite his prior racist statements and policies, the fact is that Bloomberg does not appear to be inherently contemptuous of African Americans. 

Last, but certainly not least, there is the question of whether Bloomberg would do anything to close the ever-increasing financial gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” (and “have-too-littles,” to borrow a phrase from Dr. Cornel West).

Bloomberg is one of the billionaires who has signed the so-called “Giving Pledge,” which commits the obscenely wealthy to give away at least half of their fortune. He has also pledged to increase Black job prospects and homeownership if elected. Of course, even if he is being honest about all of that, it still amounts to tinkering around the edges of systemic economic inequality.  

The former slogan of the New York Lottery was, “Hey, you never know.” The idea is that one should take a chance because of the potential reward. Much the same could be said about Bloomberg’s candidacy. After all, what the hell do we have to lose?

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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