A short and uneventful meeting in Chicago with a Michael Bloomberg supporter raises questions about presidential candidates who want the Black vote but spend little to no time campaigning in our community.
By Erick Johnson
The interview started at 1:33 p.m. at the Henry L. English Business Entrepreneurial Center in South Shore. The meeting was just 49 minutes long. The lunch menu was turkey and roast beef sandwiches and shrimp pasta. The room was filled with journalists and publishers representing Chicago’s Black Press.
Mayor Steve Benjamin from Columbia, South Carolina was there to speak about his support of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
Journalists had just one chance to ask a question. Benjamin had a flight to catch to another city.
Bloomberg himself was not there. He’s rising in national polls and is being viewed as the only candidate with the skills and resources to defeat incumbent President Donald Trump in November.
Despite his immense network of supporters Bloomberg needs the Black vote to win the Democratic nomination. In the past three weeks Bloomberg opened two campaign offices, on the South and West Sides. He didn’t come to either grand opening.
Bloomberg did come to Chicago on January 8, where he made a 40-minute speech at Olive-Harvey College on the Far South Side. But there were hardly any Blacks in the crowd. I was the only journalist from Chicago’s Black Press. I found out about Bloomberg’s visit in the Chicago Sun Times.
At a meeting with the Black Press, I wanted to express this concern, along with a question, but I was cut off, so Benjamin could make his flight.
I left that meeting shaking my head. I felt like Bloomberg, through one of his messengers, made his message known without facing the Black Press or the residents of color in Chicago.
There’s little time left for Bloomberg to repent. The Illinois Primary is March 17. Tuesday’s short meeting with his prominent Black supporter felt more like a campaign “Stop-and-Dis’,” a take on the racist policies Bloomberg perpetrated on minorities when he served as New York mayor for 12 years.
Though it has weakened the past several years, Chicago’s Black electorate still wields tremendous power among Illinois’ Democratic voters. Illinois has the sixth largest number of delegates (155) out of the 50 states.
Tuesday’s meeting left me wondering whether Bloomberg is really sincere as he courts the Black vote.
He is not the only Democratic presidential candidate who raises questions of pandering to Black voters.
Chicago is a major city with a powerful Black electorate. Yet few of the Democratic contenders have offices here, except for Bloomberg.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the candidate who is highly favored among Black voters, hasn’t stepped a foot in Black Chicago. With other primaries leading up to Super Tuesday, Black Chicago will likely be just a stop for Democratic candidates. Many will spend more time in the bigger delegate state of Florida, whose primary is also March 17.
Late last summer, Pete Buttigieg, another candidate who is desperate to win Black voters, gave a speech at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville, where most of the attendees were white. I was the only member of Chicago’s Black Press who attended, after learning about it in the Sun Times. Sound familiar?
Bloomberg has spent a record $400 million on his campaign. This includes a $10 million, 60-second Super Bowl advertisement supporting gun control legislation. Bernie Sanders is leading in the polls, but Bloomberg is gaining momentum after flooding television markets with millions of dollars of political advertisements.
To his credit, Bloomberg has been generous to charities through his philanthropy foundation. Bloomberg, who is worth $64 billion, donated $3.3 billion to charities in 2019, which was more than the previous five years combined. A chunk of the money was spent on charities and social movements in cities where he eventually received the endorsement of the mayor, according to a New York Times investigation of Bloomberg Philanthropies charities.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has supported nearly 200 cities with grants and other assistance worth $350 million. Many Bloomberg charities employees have also joined his campaign and are now reaching out to mayors of the cities that received the grants for their backing of Bloomberg’s campaign. Benjamin doesn’t have any financial ties to Bloomberg, but he endorsed Bloomberg over Black Senators Kamala Harris (California) and Corey Booker (New Jersey) when they were among 18 Democratic candidates in the presidential race.
In 2018 under Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Bloomberg Philanthropies donated $1 million to create the ArtHouse in Gary, Indiana. Today, Freeman-Wilson is among many former and current mayors who have endorsed Bloomberg.
When Bloomberg announced his presidential campaign last November, two prominent Democratic leaders with direct ties to the foundation quickly renounced their support for then front runner Joe Biden. They are former Mayor Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia, who was a paid adviser to Bloomberg’s What Works Cities initiative. Another defector, former Mayor Manny Diaz of Miami was a paid board member at Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Benjamin has not been linked to Bloomberg Philanthropies. The Associated Press reported that Benjamin was present when Bloomberg apologized on November 17, 2019, before the predominately Black megachurch, the Christian Cultural Center, in Brookyln, New York for escalating the city’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy. The number of police stops multiplied sevenfold, surging to 685,724 in 2011 from 97,296 in 2002, according to the New York Times.
Many Blacks believe Bloomberg’s apology was disingenuous as it came more than seven years after he left office.
Many of the arrests were Blacks and Latinos, who were often stopped with little or no reason, and searched. Many felt harassed, and humiliated while under surveillance.
Police did not find any guns or weapons in nearly 90 percent of the stops.
During Bloomberg’s 12 years in office, from 2001 to 2012, the New York City police department made five million street stops. In 2013, a federal judge ruled in a lawsuit the city lost, that the stops were unconstitutional.
In his meeting with Chicago’s Black Press, Benjamin did not mention this fact as he touted the positive results of the “Stop-and-Frisk” policy, saying crime went down in neighborhoods, contradicting several studies that showed that nothing changed.
Benjamin said he chose to support Bloomberg because he is a great businessman and distinguished public servant with a distinguished record of philanthropy.
Journalists were given black folders that had Bloomberg’s campaign logo on the front. Inside was his Greenwood Initiative, an economic justice plan that aims to create 100,000 Black-owned businesses in American cities. Bloomberg’s plan also seeks to invest $70 billion in funding and technical support to turn around 100 of America’s most disadvantaged cities.
“Over the last eight years, he’s done more to end gun violence in the country than probably any other individual not running for president,” Benjamin said. “I think it’s an indication of where his head is and where his heart is.”
Although this was the focus of the interview, the “Stop-and-Frisk” issue kept resurfacing as well as Bloomberg’s late apology to Blacks.
“A lot of times when incumbents run, it’s always predicated on what we or I will do when we win,” said Carl West, publisher of TBT News.
“Well, in this case because there has been admitted damage done, we want to be assured that even if by chance your candidate does not win, he still will walk the path of trying to right his wrong,” West concluded.