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Bloomberg missed the mark on South Side

Speech failed to connect with Blacks at rally largely attended by whites

By Erick Johnson

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is the 8th richest person on the planet with a fortune estimated at $57.1 billion. His wealth has spared him from doing any fundraising for his presidential campaign. He will spend at least $150 million on television and internet ads. He has a $10 million ad that will air during the Super Bowl.

On Wednesday, January 8, Bloomberg brought his presidential campaign to Olive-Harvey College on Chicago’s Far South Side.

It’s a neighborhood that has far less wealth and affluence than Bloomberg. So does most of Black Chicago, which has long suffered from poverty, disinvestment, little affordable housing and the many police brutality issues that have impacted Blacks in the last several years.

None of these were mentioned in Bloomberg’s speech.

Instead, Bloomberg gave a generic 25-minute sermon that could have been given by any of the Democratic presidential candidates. What clearly was missing was any reference to the struggles of people of color in Chicago.

The rally at Olive-Harvey was held inside a large auto shop garage where students learn the vocational trade of repairing vehicles while earning college credit. Most of the students are Black. Hardly any of them were among the largely white crowd that came to see Bloomberg promote his All-In Economy campaign, which aims to include people from all socioeconomic backgrounds in succeeding in America’s economic market.

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A LARGELY WHITE crowd listens to Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg during a rally January 8 at the Olive-Harvey College on the Far South Side. (Photo by Erick Johnson)

There were few Blacks in the crowd. Those who were present were security personnel and school administrators who stood throughout the event. Most seats were filled by white, middle-aged people and white seniors.

There were no Black leaders from any government entity in the city, county or state.

There were 10 Blacks out of 25 people sitting on the stage behind Bloomberg. It was a much-needed move to show diversity, but well into Bloomberg’s 25-minute speech they looked more like props.

It was the second visit to the South Side by a Democratic presidential candidate in six months.

Last August, fellow Democratic contender Pete Buttigieg came to Bronzeville’s Harold Washington Cultural Center, where most of those who filled the 1,000 seats in the auditorium were white.

Bloomberg’s visit had more people of color but not enough for a candidate who needs Black voters in his campaign to win the White House.

At the rally, Bloomberg criticized President Donald Trump for giving massive tax breaks to the nation’s wealthy citizens during his first term in office. He also wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and expand the earned income tax credit.

“I think we need to replace Donald Trump. He’s counting on the economy to lift him to victory and he’s hoping to face a career politician who’s never created any jobs,” Bloomberg said. “Well, let me tell you, I’m going to take him over the economy and I won’t let him get away with selling the American people with more empty promises.”

Bloomberg talked about how he boosted jobs and the economy as mayor of New York City for 12 years.

In November, Bloomberg at a Black church in New York apologized for his infamous “Stop and Frisk” policy that led to hundreds of thousands of Blacks and Latino residents being stopped and arrested by police for no reason. Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson tweeted how many Blacks felt about the apology. “It’s too late for fake apologies.”

Perhaps Bloomberg’s advisors should have told him how police issues are important to Chicago, given the history of police misconduct on America’s second largest police force.

The city had a “Stop and Frisk” policy which ceased in 2015 with a landmark settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which found that 250,000 people in Chicago were stopped and arrested for no reason. About 72 percent of them were Black.

There is also the consent decree signed in 2018 and the U.S. Justice Department report that found that the Chicago Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of racially profiling and harassing Blacks and Latinos in Chicago.

None of these were mentioned in Bloomberg’s speech.

To many Blacks, Bloomberg shares the same credibility problems on police issues with Buttigieg, who is still struggling to connect with Blacks seven years after he, as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, fired the city’s first Black police chief.

When Hillary Clinton spoke at the Parkway Ballroom in Bronzeville during her presidential campaign in 2016, she constantly drew cheers and applause as she spoke on police misconduct, mental health challenges among Blacks in Chicago, and the underserved neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. She won the Democratic nomination and the Black voters of Chicago.

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