Elections

Twenty Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Michael Bloomberg

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Surveying the life and career of the billionaire presidential contender

1. Bloomberg got his start on the path to corporate titanhood when he was paid $10 million and let go by Salomon Brothers as part of Phibro Corporation’s purchase of the venerable Wall Street firm. In his autobiography, Bloomberg on Bloomberg, he writes that he couldn’t understand why some of his colleagues insisted upon telling their spouses about the deal immediately. “Strict instructions to the contrary notwithstanding, some partners did telephone their wives that Friday night. I thought it was nonsensical to make your spouse a possible leak suspect. What difference would it make if she didn’t know for an extra day?”

2. In the same book, Bloomberg describes himself as “a member of the ‘never apologize, never explain’ school of management.” But he appears to have softened his stance on apologies since then. Just in the past few months, he has apologized for the stop-and-frisk policy he oversaw as New York City mayor, using disrespectful language about women, using prison workers for telemarketing, and calling Cory Booker “well-spoken.”

3. When Bloomberg started selling terminals with up-to-the-minute financial data, one of the first clients was the Vatican. “When their electricians seemed to take forever to install the wire needed for our terminal,” Bloomberg writes, “a nun in their funds management office told us she’d have the Pope bless our cabling to make the installation process go more quickly. I don’t know if he did, but the next day the installation was completed.”

4. In a passage from Bloomberg on Bloomberg that demonstrates either a can-do spirit or a sense that rules are for the little people, depending upon your point of view, Bloomberg hints that early customers might want to double-check their terminal wires. “Amid old McDonald’s wrappers and mouse droppings, we dragged wires from our computers to the keyboards and screens we were putting in place, stuffing the cables through holes we drilled in other people’s furniture – all without permission, without giving any thought to any fire law or building code. It’s amazing we didn’t burn down some office or electrocute ourselves.”

5. Bloomberg’s company was initially called Innovative Market Systems, and the Bloomberg Terminal was called the “Market Master,” which Bloomberg writes, “could have been confused with a kitchen appliance.” As the company grew more well known, it faced a potential trademark conflict over the name “Market Master,” and a fateful choice was made. “Since I’d spent so much time demonstrating our product, people had begun to mentally interchange me with the Terminal,” he writes. “It was only a matter of time before traders and salespeople began referring to the black box on their desk as the Bloomberg. . . . I acquiesced to a decision the marketplace already had made. Henceforth, the product and the company itself would be ‘Bloomberg.’ As my friend Harvey Eisen said, ‘An ethnic name, and all the more memorable for it.’”

6. Bloomberg on Bloomberg expresses skepticism that workers can be trusted to work from home: “Tougher, more competitive times are not suited for reduced interaction with fellow workers or more lax supervision. Those arguing that e-mail, chat, and videoconferencing are replacements for gathering around the watercooler must be academics.”

7. Sekiko Sakai Garrison was employed as a sales representative by Bloomberg from January 1989 until May 1995. The records from her lawsuit against him make for harrowing reading in the #MeToo era. Garrison contended that she “and other female employees were subjected, on virtually a daily basis, by Bloomberg and his male executives, to repeated and unwelcome sexual overtures, repeated and unwelcome sexual gestures, including unauthorized touching and inappropriate acts.” She said Bloomberg and other executives encouraged female salespersons “to wear sexually provocative clothing. Wearing short skirts was said by these executives, and others, to be an advantage for promotion. Women who applied for sales positions were required to meet criteria for sex appeal.” She described one of Bloomberg’s executives repeatedly leaving wind-up toys in the shape of genitalia on her desk.

8. Garrison described Bloomberg’s asking a newly hired saleswoman, “If [the clients] asked you to lay down and strip naked and fu** you, would you do that, too?” According to her suit, Bloomberg asked variations of that question to several women at the company. She said that in March 1991, another female employee complained to Bloomberg of sexual harassment at work and Bloomberg took immediate action — by firing the woman.

9. According to Garrison’s lawsuit, Bloomberg suggested to her, within earshot of her coworkers, that she wanted to have sex with a television-news anchorman. In another conversation, he pointed to two other employees, one an older woman and the other an overweight man, and asked her, “If you had to, would you rather do that or that?” In a separate conversation, Bloomberg allegedly asked Garrison in front of other employees if she was still performing oral sex on her boyfriend. In the lawsuit, Garrison contended that Bloomberg’s reaction to her engagement was, “Is he that good in bed, or did your father pay him off to get rid of you?”

10. Garrison’s lawsuit also described Bloomberg’s reaction to an employee who was having a hard time finding a nanny: “He yelled loudly at her, in the presence of a large group of employees, “It’s a fu**ing baby! All it does is eat and sh**! It doesn’t know the difference between you and anyone else! All you need is some black who doesn’t even have to speak English to rescue it from a burning building!”

11. In the lawsuit, Garrison described Bloomberg’s reaction to a complaint from clients in Mexico that they were not getting good service due to poor telephone connections: “I don’t give a sh** about those Mexican jumping beans. They are all hung up about the Alamo anyway.”

12. Garrison’s suit was settled for “an undisclosed sum described as substantial,” without an admission of guilt from Bloomberg or his company. Both parties also agreed to confidentiality. In a deposition during the case, Bloomberg was asked if the described remarks were appropriate. He responded, “If it happens very seldom, I see nothing wrong with it. I can’t control everybody’s conduct and have no right to keep people from having normal conversation.” In 1999, he told the New York Times, “I, in my heart of hearts, believe that we have done nothing wrong.”

13. Eleanor Randolph’s biography, The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg, describes Bloomberg’s having an off-color, provocative personality that could take male employees by surprise, too:

A bright but taciturn hire suddenly found Bloomberg at his side. The terror in the young man’s eyes was obvious to those around him, and Bloomberg, who could converse with a stone, found this youth particularly difficult. Finally, he asked where the young man went to school.

“Brown,” the youth choked.

“Ah, Brown,” Bloomberg chuckled. “That’s where I got my first blow job.”

The employee froze, desperately searching for a response.

Finally, he said, “In Providence?”

14. In the late 1990s, Bloomberg’s interest in running for office became clear, and his charitable foundation expanded into 79 organizations. “He doesn’t get bought. He’s the one doing the buying,” state assemblyman Richard Brodsky said at the time, summing up an M.O. that Bloomberg has maintained ever since. “Tactical philanthropy gives Bloomberg the unique capacity to influence the decision-making of the institutions that are traditional power brokers and opinion makers in Democratic politics,” the Brooking’s Institution’s Vanessa Williams has written. “As Bloomberg knows well from his stint as mayor, big-money ‘charity’ is an imposition of the giver’s political will.”

15. When Bloomberg first ran for mayor in 2001, his inability to keep his blunt assessments of others to himself initially created headaches on the campaign trail. At Columbia University, for example, Bloomberg dismissed New York City’s public-school students: “They don’t know how to present themselves. They have personal-hygiene problems. These are the things that drive employers crazy.”

16. At a breakfast in October 2001, he told executives that their companies should not hire people who live in the suburbs because suburbanites are not smart enough:

[Bloomberg] also suggested that companies should not be interested in hiring people who live in the suburbs because they are not “the best and the brightest.”

“There is a self-selection process,” he said. “People that want to go there aren’t the people that you want to have in your company.”

17. As mayor, Bloomberg bristled at the idea that the public or media should know when he was in or out of the city:

Mr. Bloomberg, who owns a waterfront estate here, has walled off his life in Bermuda from voters in New York, arguing it is none of their business. He steadfastly refuses to say when he is on the island, and to blindfold prying eyes, he has blocked aviation Web sites from making public the movements of his private planes.

In dozens of interviews, residents described Mr. Bloomberg, 68, as a fixture on the island, dining out with lawmakers, cruising its streets in his golf cart and hosting small parties at his house.

It is difficult to say exactly how often he stays on the island; neighbors and friends say he is here about twice a month, depending on the weather in Bermuda (no sun, no Bloomberg) and the political climate in New York.

18. Mayor Bloomberg also faced accusations that city policies worked to the benefit of his company. In March 2008, Time Warner was approaching the expiration of its contract with the city as the primary cable-television provider in the five boroughs. It made a curious change to their channel lineup, moving the New York Yankees’s YES Network from channel 30 to channel 53 and replacing it with . . . Bloomberg News.

According to the late Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice:

You can be sure that Time Warner believes that its decision to bump the Yankees and move a minor news network all the way from channel 104 to a prime spot on the dial carries some weight with the city and the man who runs it. . . .

After nearly two full terms, however, the walls between the mayor’s money and his public office that once looked so strict have appeared more and more porous. In some cases, like with Time Warner, that may not have been Bloomberg’s doing. And in others, it may not have even been what was on his mind. But as he nears a third term, there’s little doubt that Bloomberg’s business interests have become increasingly intertwined with his government, a conflicted marriage unprecedented in the life of the city and unchecked by an independent overseer.

19. In his first inaugural address as mayor, Bloomberg declared, “We cannot drive people and business out of New York. We cannot raise taxes. We will find another way.” Within a few months, he had changed his mind. He raised property taxes by 18 percent in 2002 and signed off on an increase in personal-income-tax rates in 2003. When the Great Recession hit, he raised property taxes again, increased the sales tax by another half-percent, and supported the extension of temporary hotel-tax hikes. In part because of his opposition to smoking, he was also responsible for saddling New Yorkers with the highest cigarette-tax rate in the nation.

20. In 2003, Bloomberg argued that a high cost of doing business was part of New York City’s identity. “The city is a luxury product and . . . businesses should be willing to pay more to operate here. . . . If New York City is a business, it isn’t Wal-Mart — it isn’t trying to be the lowest-priced product in the market. [It’s] a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product. New York offers tremendous value, but only for those companies able to capitalize on it.”

By 2013, he was arguing that the reason the city’s income inequality seemed to be getting worse was the number of billionaires moving to the city. “While there’s still people at the bottom struggling — and that’s the great challenge, and that’s what we’ve been working on for twelve years and made a lot of progress — the problem in the income gap is not at that end,” he said. “The reason it’s so big is that the higher end — we’ve been able to do something that none of these other cities can do, and that is attract a lot of the very wealthy from around the country and around the world.” In a separate interview he said, “All I know is from the city’s point of view, we want these people, and why criticize them? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?”

In 2008, Barrett wrote that Bloomberg had been simultaneously the best and worst mayor he had ever covered. “The Bloomberg who came into office as the anti-politician, promising to transform city government, has been transformed himself. Some of us liked him precisely because his wealth insulated him from the kind of horse-trading that diminished his predecessors. But seven years later, Bloomberg has not only proved himself to be a master politician, as hungry for power as anyone we’ve ever seen, but he’s also ended up putting nearly everyone who deals with the city deep into his political debt.”

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