Politics & Policy

Bloomberg, Once a Tough Talker, Becomes a Pander Bear

Michael Bloomberg speaks at an event in New York, N.Y., September 21, 2016. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)
His recent apology for stop-and-frisk probably won’t win him the nomination.

We now know Michael Bloomberg is going to run for president. He’s turning himself into a pander bear.

During his three terms as New York City’s mayor, Bloomberg was famous for dismissing politically correct criticism and refusing to apologize for it.

But there he was on Sunday at an African-American megachurch in Brooklyn saying he was sorry for the stop-and-frisk policy he used so successfully to break the back of crime and reduce the murder rate in New York City by 50 percent.

Under stop-and-frisk, police officers were authorized to search people if they were suspected of illegal activity while carrying a weapon. Critics said the practice was disproportionately used against blacks and Hispanics. After Bloomberg left office in 2013, a judge ruled that the tactic had been used unconstitutionally. Bloomberg denounced the decision of Bill de Blasio, his successor as mayor, to dramatically reduce stop-and-frisk.

But on Sunday and six years after he left office, there was Bloomberg saying:

Because of the number of stops of innocent people, because it had been so high, resentment had built up. We eroded what we had worked so hard to build: trust. Trust between police and communities, trust between you and me.

And the erosion of that trust bothered me deeply. And it still bothers me. And I want to earn it back. . . .

I got something important wrong. I got something important really wrong. I didn’t understand that back then — the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino community. . . . I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong. And I am sorry.

Bloomberg’s retreat is more than a complete reversal of his previous views, it’s an attempt to earn votes in the coming Democratic presidential primaries in which left-wing activists exercise disproportionate influence.

Indeed, one of those leading left-wing activists is cheering Bloomberg’s mea culpa. “Whatever his motive is, I’m glad that he’s taking this stand,” Al Sharpton told the Daily News on Sunday. “I think it is an important stance for a man who was a symbol of big-city stop-and-frisk.”

Sharpton has previously taken credit for getting both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to step away from their previous support for anti-crime measures. But he says speeches full of regret won’t be enough to assuage his concerns. All of the Democratic candidates are “going to have to earn that respect, have to earn that forgiveness,” he said.

From others, Bloomberg has earned nothing but scorn for his retreat. “The reign of race-based identity politics in the Democratic party may now be declared absolute,” Heather Mac Donald, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who often boosted Bloomberg, tells me, adding:

The Left has never shown that stop-and-frisk was racist; in fact, like other tactics in the police tool kit, it was directed through objective, color-blind data to where people were most being victimized. And such victimization occurs overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods, driven by minority perpetrators.

The main argument against stop-and-frisk by the Left is that a bit more than 50 percent of New York City stops were of blacks. Even though blacks are only about a quarter of the city’s population. Whites, by contrast, are about a third of the city’s population, but made up about 9 percent of stops. By MacDonald says that population is the wrong benchmark for measuring the validity of police actions. The relevant benchmark is crime. Blacks commit around three-quarters of all shootings in New York City; the victims are overwhelmingly minority. Whites commit less than 2 percent.

The police cannot respond to violent street crime without having a disparate impact on minority communities. The fault lies not with the police but with the criminals. To argue that support for stop-and-frisk is a form of white supremacy ignores the real issues.

Critics of stop-and-frisk point out that crime rates have remained low even though the use of stop-and-frisk has declined some 90 percent from its height in 2011. But Mac Donald says that demographic changes have a lot to do with that: “Low-middle-class families in a strong economy have transformed once-bad neighborhoods and are exercising social controls to keep crime down. Plus, a lot of criminals have been locked away and are still behind bars.”

Other cities aren’t so fortunate. In other cities that have largely abandoned stop-and-frisk, such as Chicago and Baltimore, crime rates and especially murders have gone up dramatically.

Back in 2014, when he gave a famous commencement speech at Harvard, Bloomberg was thinking about running for president in 2016 as an independent, not as a Democrat. Then he took a much braver stance against political correctness. Universities were becoming places “where the forces of repression appear to be stronger . . . than at any time since the 1950s,” he said.

Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species. . . . Diversity of gender, ethnicity, and orientation is important, but a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous.

That Michael Bloomberg is probably gone for the duration of his campaign, his anti-PC stances no doubt being held in a blind trust.

The irony is that Bloomberg’s cave-in came just two days after former president Barack Obama sounded a warning cry to Democratic donors meeting in Washington, saying that Democrats risk tilting too far to the left to win elections. He cautioned that average voters aren’t going to agree with “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party.” He urged Democrats to remember that “even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality.”

No doubt Bloomberg’s political consultants have told him that shifting to the left is necessary if he is to have any chance of winning the Democratic nomination. But while polls can pick up voter attitudes on issues, they cannot always detect shifts in people’s opinion of a candidate’s character.

As Bloomberg fills in political potholes on the left-hand side of his road to the nomination, he should remember that his repairs may come at the expense of his reputation as that rare officeholder who did what he thought was right and defended the results.

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