Jan 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bloomberg: "My story might have turned out very differently if I had been black"

Mike Bloomberg

Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images

TULSA, Okla. — Mike Bloomberg is ready to acknowledge his white privilege, and he's hoping it'll help him with black voters.

Why it matters: Bloomberg’s courtship of black voters appears an uphill climb because of his past support for stop-and-frisk in New York City. He's seeking to redefine his reputation with black voters using his biggest strength — an understanding of data and the economy — to present himself as a wealth advocate on their behalf.

  • "Stop-and-frisk," a policy for which Bloomberg apologized prior to launching his campaign, is haunting the former New York mayor at a time when race and gender are driving the political conversation.
  • During his 12-year tenure, "there were millions of street stops heavily targeting black and brown young men," per the New York Times.
  • Now, Bloomberg is facing the impact his own political legacy has had on the black community.

Driving the news: The former New York mayor is giving a speech on the racial wealth gap and economic mobility in Tulsa on Sunday, delivering some of his most honest remarks on race since launching his presidential campaign. Bloomberg's campaign is also releasing "the Greenwood Initiative," an economic proposal that aims to address the lasting legacy of discrimination.

What they're saying: "As someone who has been very lucky in life, I often say my story would only have been possible in America — and that’s true," Bloomberg is expected to say at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

  • "But I also know that my story might have turned out very differently if I had been black, and that more black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth, had they been white."
  • Bloomberg's team maintains that he’s been aware of his privilege for a long time — because of his experience in New York City and because he's a data guy familiar with racial disparities — but now he's talking about it publicly.

Bloomberg's Greenwood plan combines some of the other ideas we've heard from other 2020 Democrats, like investing in black-owned businesses and stimulating generational wealth for African American families.

  • A senior adviser for the campaign told reporters that they think what makes his plan different is its "place-based" strategy: The campaign is working to identify 100 communities — mostly in non-white areas — hit hardest by economic and/or racial discrimination.
  • The adviser also said that Bloomberg supports H.R. 40, a House bill that calls for a commission to study reparations for slavery.

By the numbers: Bloomberg's team is not yet saying where the money is coming from or how much the full plan will cost.

  • It proposes $70 billion over 10 years specifically for the 100 communities.
  • It would also seek to create 1 million new black homeowners, which a senior adviser said would get the country back to 2003 numbers — the last time black homeownership rates were still climbing.
  • The plan would double the number of black-owned businesses, to 100,000, and seek to increase median household income for black families by one-third.
  • It would also invest an initial $10 billion for the creation of a Housing Fairness Commission.

"For black Americans, there was nothing that white landowners, businesses, banks, and politicians might not take: Their wages and their homes, their businesses and their wealth, their votes and their power, and even their lives," Bloomberg is expected to say in his speech.

  • Tulsa was known as "Black Wall Street" because it had several prominent and successful black-owned business, until race riots in 1921 destroyed the area and these businesses.
  • "What happened here in Tulsa demonstrates in incredibly stark relief the violent destruction of a prosperous black community and the enormous obstacles that so many black Americans have faced not only in creating wealth, but in passing down assets to their children and grand-children as generations of white families have done," Bloomberg will say.

Between the lines: Bloomberg is running a non-traditional campaign with an eye toward general election states rather than the early voting states. But so far, the campaign has been less clear on how to earn the support of African American voters.

  • Bloomberg is currently polling at 4% among African American voters in the Democratic primary. Since 1992, no Democratic candidate for president has become the party nominee without earning a majority of the black vote.

The big question: Will Bloomberg continue the conversation on racial discrimination past MLK weekend? If so, he'll have to continue processing the legacy of "stop-and-frisk" in public and in real time.

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