Michael Bloomberg, according to Forbes Magazine the 9th richest man in the world with a net worth this year of $54.7 billion, isn’t just the real billionaire candidate for President in 2020 (Donald Trump’s net worth is almost certainly not counted in the billions, and could be negative for all we know, since he won’t release his tax records) Bloomberg is also the billionaires’ candidate for president. That is to say, he’s not just rich, he’s their man.
Bloomberg, who owns 88% of the giant media company Bloomberg LLC, where most of his wealth is in the form of that company’s stock, has seen his wealth grow from $4.5 billion in 2001 when he first ran for public office seeking and winning election as mayor of New York City, to $36 billion by the time he left that office after a third term in 2013. It would seem a neat trick to increase one’s wealth four-fold to such a staggering sum while receiving a Big Apple mayor’s salary of just some $250,000 a year, but Bloomberg didn’t take a salary, receiving instead at his request only $1 per year for his services during those three terms.
That might seem harmless enough (even generous at first glance), but let’s remember that during those years, New York had to survive through the Fiscal Crisis — a crisis largely brought on by the criminal behavior and limitless greed of the denizens of Wall Street and the giant banks, most of which had their corporate headquarters only a few blocks south of City Hall and the Mayor’s office. During that crisis, the Mayor hammered public employee pay, threatened to lay off teachers during bargaining with the city’s teachers’ union, cut spending on school construction for a burgeoning student population, and pushed the state government to limit public employee unions’ right to strike.
Oh, he also called for the state to shift control over city worker pensions from Albany to the City, the better to slash them, and suggested last year that paying taxes would be good for poor people, and would help them live longer (seriously!).
Did Mayor Bloomberg put any pressure on the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., to prosecute those giant global banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase and Citicorp and their top executives for mortgage fraud? Nope! Not a word from him on that. In fact the only bank Vance indicted in that period for mortgage fraud was one of the city’s tiniest bank, Abacus Bank, a family-owned institution in Chinatown that, it turned out, made only FHA insured loans with a 20% down payment requirement, and that had the lowest default rate of any bank in the nation (his case against the bank and several of its loan officers, went down to ignominious defeat as jurors acquitted with a not-guilty verdict on all 150 counts! You can see the whole story here in the Academy-Award nominated film “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.” The beautiful film, by director Steven James, makes wonderful Christmas viewing in lieu of Capra’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”).
The one thing this wealthiest of men (in 2011 while he was having his police harass and ultimately crush and evict the Occupy Movement from Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park his $19.5 billion in net assets made him America’s 12th richest person) also never did during his tenure was offer to plunk some of his obscene wealth down to help the city’s struggling working-class city employees weather the man-made storm that was battering the city’s finances. Significantly, he did drop $1.8 billion as a donation to Johns Hopkins, a hardly struggling private university based in Baltimore, but nothing for New York City Schools, or even, if he were so enamored of higher ed, for the always struggling City University of New York. (That kind of money could have allowed the city’s storied university system to return to its roots of providing all city residents free college educations, as was the case until the 1960s.)
As our tragically departed and sorely missed ThisCantBeHappening co-founder Charles M. Young (known for years to avid readers of Rolling Stone magazine as “The Reverend,” Chuck died tragically of brain cancer in 2014) wrote in a hilarious recounting of a phone conversation he had with a “push-poll” caller working for Bloomberg, he could solve the city’s budget problems if he wanted to. All of them. Here’s part of that conversation:
Caller: Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to avoid raising taxes…
Young: Why should I give a crap?
Caller: Sir, do you strongly approve, somewhat approve…
Young: Let me ask you a question…It’s your turn to answer my question. Do you know how much Mayor Mike Bloomberg is worth?
Caller: No, I don’t.
Young: I’ve seen different estimates, but it’s probably about $18 billion. You can put on your survey that I strongly disapprove of that.
Caller: The statement is this, sir: Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to avoid raising taxes on the middle class by taking control of the city union pension plans from the state legislature.
Young: Didn’t I already answer that?
Caller: No, sir.
Young: Strongly disapprove. $18 billion. You know what Mayor Mike could do with that all that money in his wallet? Mayor Bloomberg could cover the entire budget gap all by himself, and still have $14 billion to live on. How bad could his life be with a mere $14 billion to spend? Would his daughter have to give up even one of her dressage ponies?
Caller: If we could just continue, sir.
Young: I mean, what’s the point of having the 23rd richest guy in the world as mayor if he doesn’t help us out? … I want you to type this opinion into your computer: Mayor Mike should cover the budget gap with $4 billion of his own money, and then he should take the other $14 billion and give it to people who have no pension at all, and then he should jump off the George Washington Bridge, and then I won’t spit on his grave. How’s that for an opinion?
Democratic voters should keep Chuck Young’s comical but currently very apt opinion of Bloomberg in mind as the 2020 primary season gets closer. The Democratic National Committee poobahs are no doubt delighted that a guy with enough money to fund the entire presidential national campaign out of his own pocket without even noticing a dent in his holdings is in the running. (The 2016 presidential and congressional election combined for both parties cost $6.5 billion. Bloomberg could have funded the whole damned thing and not missed the money.) Not just would Democratic party leaders be freed from having to grovel this year to get funding from Bloomberg and the rest of the billionaire set, but that crowd, upon which the Democratic Party has come to depend primarily for its campaign underwriting, would be happy should Bloomberg succeed in becoming the party’s nominee, to know that one of their own — a real, not illusory, billionaire and a predictable one — could be sitting in the White House running things on their behalf.
Clearly Bloomberg is not the People’s candidate. His history of slamming public workers and of taxing the middle class instead of the rich make that clear. So too did his cracking down severely on dissent (his NYPD’s violent night-time rousting of the Wall Street Occupation provided the model for similar violent crushing of Occupy encampments across the country), and his making Wall Street and Lower Manhattan the most video-surveilled jurisdiction in America.
The truth is, if Bloomberg were to win the nomination and then the presidential election, the US will have completed its self-willed decline into becoming not a Third World country, but simply a larger version of the Sultanate of Brunei. The only difference would be that instead of the national religion being Islam, it would be Freemarketism.
On the other hand, there is one bright side to a Bloomberg plutocra-candidacy. He and his money should suck the air out of all the conservative candidates running for the party’s nod, from Biden and Buttigieg to Klobuchar. That together with a sinking Warren could set up a likely head-to-head between Sanders and Bloomberg. In that matching, it’s hard to imagine Bloomberg buying his way to the top or even to a brokered convention where he could buy the support of the Super Delegates.