Michael Bloomberg has been the boss of many things: The founder of his own financial conglomerate; the mayor of America’s largest city; the leader of a national gun control group; the founder of the global news organisation that carries his name.
And now the 78-year-old would like to be President of the United States. What’s more, he has the money to do it — the ambition has never been in doubt since he entered politics in 2001 as a Republican and won the race to become Mayor of New York.
A Republican? Yes. Now, two decades on, he’s in the Democrat camp and running for the Oval Office almost in parallel to the multi-candidate dogfight spilling through the early caucuses. As you would expect from self-made man with more than $62 billion (Dh227 billion) in real money, he’s self-funding his campaign and will only first appear on Democrat ballot papers come the Super Tuesday polls on March 3.
His 12 years as mayor and his pragmatic policies brought him back to Democrat ranks and the head of anti-gun lobby borne out of his hard line policies on policing in the city
Bloomberg, however, has long been on the radars of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigeig, Elizabeth Warren and others precisely because he has a proven political pedigree, a winning record and an ability to win over Republican-lite supporters who are likely holding their noses at the prospects of four more years of President Donald Trump.
Ambitious from the start
Michael Reubens Bloomberg was born in 1942 into a middle-class family living in Medford, Massachusetts — a quiet suburban town on the outskirts of Boston. “He wanted to be the boss of whatever we were working on,” his late mother Charlotte told a biographer in 2009. “He wanted to run everything.”
That early ambition followed him to Wall Street in 1966 when he started working for Salomon Brothers with an MBA under his belt — his initial degree is in engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
He was made a partner in six years. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until, in 1981, he fell out with his colleagues. The details are fuzzy on why Bloomberg was sacked, but he did use the golden handshake to set up the financial data and news organisation that carries his name and is synonymous with media analysis and insight into the financial world, trading bond and commodity markets around the globe — and news and politics too.
Just don’t expect Bloomberg journalists to cover Bloomberg the candidate. The organisation has said it will shy away from covering its boss, which is likely a smart job-saving measure for the individual journalists and editors concerned if not the source for much criticism from others in the Democratic race. And yes, even the subject of presidential tweets too from an Oval Office that dismisses non-Fox News content as “fake news”.
What isn’t fake, however, is that Bloomberg is the sixth-richest man in America.
So money, yes. Charisma? The jury is out even though he has never lost an election he fought. Certainly he has political acumen — running for mayor of New York, he switched his allegiances from Democrat to Republican. He won the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani who was then respected for the manner in which he united the city after the terror attacks just months before. And he spent millions of his own dollars to win.
Around the same time as he campaigned for the mayor’s office, he also began a relationship with Diana Taylor, the former New York State Superintendent of Banks and Wall Street executive, since 2000. He has two daughters, Emma and Georgina Bloomberg.
Once in office he raised taxes, cut costs and earned the reputation as an effective killjoy.
The New York Post dubbed him “Gloomberg” as he stopped smoking in bars, took on transport unions and took a tough line on street vendors and hawkers.
But New York City finances improved, the city thrived and crime rates fell, laying the groundwork for him to win a second term in 2005 with a 20 per cent winning margin over his nearest rival.
A couple of years later he quit the Republican party, ran for a third term on an independent ticket based on centrism and pragmatism. “In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data,” became a favourite mantra at City Hall.
His 12 years as mayor and his pragmatic policies brought him back to Democrat ranks and the head of anti-gun lobby borne out of his hard line policies on policing in the city. At the heart of this was a “stop and frisk” policy that blacks and visible minorities in the city said targeted them disproportionately.
It’s a policy that today his Democrat rivals view as a weakness when it comes to gaining support in the race for party’s nomination.
A federal court struck down the “stop and frisk” policy as unconstitutional racial profiling. Bloomberg continued to support it.
A different tune
“We put all the cops in minority neighbourhoods,” he said. “Yes. That’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is … The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.”
Now that he’s running for the White House, he has changed his tune. In February, his campaign launched an effort to reach black voters, admitting that he was wrong about “stop and frisk” and pledging to invest $70 billion in fighting for economic justice if elected.
“Throughout my career,” Bloomberg said, “I’ve tried to do the right thing. Not the popular thing or the politically correct thing, but the right thing.”