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It wasn’t exactly the warmest reception the mayor has ever received. Mike Bloomberg stopped by the House of Justice in East Harlem earlier today — where apparently most local electeds that matter (or hope to matter) were making their MLK appearances.
Folks in the audience packed tightly into one large room for the National Action Network’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Public Policy Forum. Some weren’t so happy to see Bloomberg. Host Rev. Al Sharpton didn’t exactly help Bloomberg feel welcome with a strange introduction emphasizing his rocky relationship with the mayor.
Before the mayor arrived, Sharpton — speaking in a room with many of his magazine cover stories and front page photo-ops from years past plastered on the wall — made clear that he wanted to be united with Bloomberg on the issue of gun violence.
“Today, we are coming together to stop gun violence…We all got to be real clear that we’ve got to stand together,” he said.
Once Sharpton told the crowd that the mayor had arrived, a chorus of scattered boos and shouts criticizing the NYPD and the mayor erupted.
“I disagree with some of his policies…But let’s hear what he has to say about violence,” he said. “I got serious issues. He got serious issues, we disagree on those. But I want to us to [be] in the spirit of King.”
The crowd of around a thousand then settled down, and the mayor took the mic.
Throughout Bloomberg’s speech, which focused on gun control and — you guessed it, education — folks continued to mumble criticisms of the mayor. There was a clear shift in the atmosphere from earlier — when, during Sharpton’s speech, many had stood to applaud and cheer.
“So much of Dr. King’s message was about children and creating a better future for them,” said the mayor, who said he was speaking at this event for the tenth time. “We’ve made some enormous progress over the last ten years. Crime and murders are way down. Graduation and test scores are up.”
“No they’re not!” shouted one audience member while others yelled: “Wrong, wrong!”
A frustrated Bloomberg replied: “Oh c’mon, if you don’t want crime to go down and student test scores to go up, we have nothing in common. That’s what we all should want. That’s what Dr. King would want.”
“Despite the progress that we’ve made, there are still too many kids killing kids with guns,” the mayor said (“Too many cops killing kids!” a heckler yelled back). “They need to choose college and a career over crime and the streets.”
Bloomberg promoted the coalition he co-chairs, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and called for tighter gun control laws, such as background checks for gun sales. He said that the time has come to close the loopholes that allow criminals and children to get their hands on guns.
“We see the devastating consequence of those loopholes time and time again right here on the streets of our city,” he said.
The mayor transitioned to a discussion of education where he said the same stuff he’s been saying this month — that the school system must prioritize students and not those who work for it. He shied away from directly mentioning the Teachers’ Union this time around, though the message was the same.
Bloomberg, nearing the finish line of his speech, was interrupted again by a loud audience member who shouted something about the lack of black firemen.
“We’re working on the Fire Department,” Bloomberg said. “We’re talking about something else.”
He finished by shouting over the crowd to talk about working together: “As Dr. King’s example showed us, working together, we can help America live up to its best intentions. Working together we can give all our young people…the opportunity they need to reach their full potential.”
As Bloomberg exited, a group yelled: “Stop criminalizing our youth. Stop stop-and-frisk. Stop stop-and-frisk!”
Andrew Brumskin, a 39-year-old Harlem resident, told Runnin’ Scared that he was mad about the mayor’s speech.
“He’s a hypocrite! … [The NYPD] wants to shoot first and ask questions later. They just killed an innocent man,” he said, referring to a shooting last week that left an East New York man dead.
Outside, the stop-and-frisk folks, who have been pushing for police accountability, said they hope the mayor heard them loud and clear.
“For him to act like he’s supporting Dr. King, it’s the biggest joke ever. If you were really supporting Dr. King…you’d try to help the black and brown people who are getting harassed all the time,” Marina Bendetto, a 29-year-old social worker, told Runnin’ Scared.
Meanwhile, back inside the crowded room, things calmed down when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand gave an update on her friend Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot just over a year ago.
“Gabby’s doing really well. She’s fighting hard,” she said. “I think the greatest blessing for Gabby is that everything that makes her a wonderful woman is all there — her love, her kindness, her sweetness, her courage, her tenacity, her strength. It’s all there. She can’t always say everything she wants to say. She can’t say it in the way that she used to say it, but Gabby is still Gabby. We all look to her for courage and inspiration every single day.”