The Colors of Bloomberg

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

On June 5, Michael Bloomberg declared his candidacy for mayor of New York by staring at a TV camera and saying, "I love this city." The 59-year-old media mogul is obviously ready to pander. To make himself sound like the next big thing, Bloomberg has already switched parties, turned up his nose at public financing, and called for a nonpartisan campaign. Any skeptic can see those are empty gestures by an egotistical billionaire who stands a poor chance to win. He may think he deserves a free ride in the media, but it would be a mistake if he gets it. Especially when it comes to minorities.

Consider one of Bloomberg's key selling points: He says he will govern in the tradition of Republican icon Rudy Giuliani. Everyone knows that Giuliani's great success was making the city a safer place, but he did so by depriving blacks and Latinos of their civil liberties—and the next mayor will be under pressure to restore the city to a gorgeous mosaic. At a recent press conference, someone asked Bloomberg how he would treat minorities differently. Believe it or not, this is what he proposed:

"Every single week, you have a dinner in Gracie Mansion, and you invite a government employee selected at random from every one of the 30 different departments. They come with their spouses, you sit and just break some bread. People have a feeling for each other, and then you do the same thing."

Good God. If Bloomberg thinks that inviting random city employees to dinner is going to solve the color problem in this city, he's either naive or arrogant, or both. As the Voice's Wayne Barrett reported in 1999, Giuliani lost touch with the black community as a result of systematically excluding blacks from professional jobs in his administration and turning down repeated overtures from black leaders.

Based on the tentative first two weeks of Bloomberg's campaign, it's a safe bet that minorities are going to be his Achilles' heel. Like Giuliani, he promises to be "tough on crime," but we all know those are code words for protecting rich people at the expense of the poor. You can hear this sentiment expressed both by supporters (according to the New York Post, real estate brokers favor Bloomberg because a beefed-up police force maintains property values) and by detractors (a recent op-ed in Newsday argued that when Bloomberg says he can "get things done," he is signaling that he will continue Giuliani's methods of keeping blacks and Latinos under the boot).

Perhaps there is more to Bloomberg than meets the eye. According to a spokesperson, minorities make up about 33 percent of the global workforce of Bloomberg L.P., which delivers financial data and news via print, radio, TV, and the Web. (Statistics on minorities in the newsroom were not available, so for all we know, 99 percent of the reporters and editors on payroll could be Caucasian.)

Benetton-style, Bloomberg has spent freely to paint himself as a friend of minorities. In 1994, he gave 83 Bloomberg terminals worth $2.6 million to the United Negro College Fund, and since then he has become a champion of organizations for black, Hispanic, and Asian journalists, offering them internships and other incentives to enter financial journalism. Last week, he boasted that one of his board members is black.

The way things are going, it won't be long before the neophyte pol begins trotting out his successful black friends for media support. Reporters, add these Bloomberg brothers to your Rolodex:

Earl Graves, bestselling author of How to Succeed in Business Without Being White. Graves is the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise, a media company that targets upscale blacks. In 1999, Bloomberg began providing financial news, wires, and information technology to Black Enterprise.com, for which he charges Graves nothing. At the time, Bloomberg said that he sees the partnership as an extension of his brand.

Jonathan Capehart, a gay black journalist who won the Daily News a Pulitzer in 1999 for a series of editorials exposing mismanagement at Harlem's Apollo Theatre. Later that year, Brill's Content questioned the editorials' interpretation of the facts. But by then, Capehart had moved on to become a weekly columnist for Bloomberg. He is now working on Bloomberg's campaign.

Rudy Washington, Giuliani's deputy mayor. Washington is expected to run for public advocate on the Bloomberg ticket, a move that the Post says will "allow Bloomberg to be seen stumping with an African-American official as he tries for support in overwhelmingly Democratic minority communities."

Reverend Floyd Flake of the Allen AME Church in Queens. Wayne Barrett has called Flake the "ultimate political crossover"—a former Democratic congressman who starting backing Republicans in 1997, when Giuliani ran for a second term. For now, Flake has endorsed mayoral candidate Alan Hevesi, but he says he won't rule out Bloomberg if Hevesi loses the primary. Earlier this year, Flake told the News that he and Bloomberg have had a "business relationship" for years.

No doubt Bloomberg will be wining and dining more people of color as the campaign unfolds—he recently told Time that he has dated Diana Ross and intends to meet with Al Sharpton. But when he's paying lip service to the working class, it's the movers and shakers who are more likely to get their needs met.

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