Here’s a roundup of some of his false and misleading claims.
“I certainly supported Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He says no, but I was there both times for them, thank you very much.”
— CNN town hall, Feb. 26, 2020
Bloomberg did not endorse any candidate in 2008. He wrote an op-ed for Bloomberg View in the waning days of the 2012 campaign endorsing Obama, but later called it “backhanded” at a Goldman Sachs event in 2016.
“The second Obama election, I wrote a very backhanded endorsement of Obama, saying I thought he hadn’t done the right thing, hadn’t done, hadn’t been good at things that I think are important,” Bloomberg said, according to a recording of his remarks obtained by CNN.
The mayor had been critical of both Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. He decided to back Obama shortly after Hurricane Sandy hammered New York and parts of the East Coast, calling climate change an urgent issue. A Bloomberg campaign official said the former mayor voted for Obama both times and that the 2012 endorsement “was designed to flip or lock down voters who still hadn’t committed to Obama by the last days of the campaign.”
Nevertheless, the endorsement included sharp words for Obama. “Rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it,” Bloomberg wrote.
“If I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I’m really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with stop-and-frisk. When I got into office, there were 650 murders a year in New York City. And I thought that my first responsibility was to give people the right to live. That’s the basic right of everything. And we started it. We adopted a policy which had been in place. The policy that all big police departments use of stop-and-frisk. What happened, however, was it got out of control. And when we discovered, I discovered, that we were doing many, many, too many stop-and-frisks, we cut 95 percent of it out.”
This is Bloomberg’s stock response to questions about his stop-and-frisk record. His claim that he cut 95 percent of stop-and-frisk actions, which disproportionately targeted black and Hispanic men in New York while he was mayor, relies on a selective parsing of the data.
He inherited the city’s stop-and-frisk policy from his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, but it was the Bloomberg administration that ramped up the practice by New York police. Stop-and-frisk actions increased nearly 600 percent in Bloomberg’s first 10 years as mayor, reaching a high point of about 686,000 in 2011.
The 95 percent figure comes from taking the quarterly high point of 203,500 stops in the first quarter of 2012 and comparing that with 12,485 stops in the fourth quarter of 2013. His math curiously leaves out the huge numbers from 2011.
Bloomberg said he discovered that stop-and-frisk had gotten out of control and then ramped it down, yet he continued to defend the policy for years after leaving office, disowning it only days before he joined the presidential race in November. His administration was buffeted by lawsuits challenging the practice, and a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the way New York police officers were conducting the stops was unconstitutional. It was in the face of those legal challenges that New York reduced stop-and-frisk actions under Bloomberg.
“The police only went in when the mosque or imam asked us to go in.”
“We sent some officers into some mosques to listen to the sermon that the imam gave. The courts ruled it was exactly within the law and that’s the kind of thing we should be doing.”
Bloomberg: “We had 3,000 people killed in one, few minutes.”
Judy Woodruff, PBS: “But it wasn’t a religion that killed them.”
Bloomberg: “No, but all of the people came from the same place, and all came — were from a place that happened to be one religion.”
— Exchange on “NewsHour,” Feb. 27
These comments are blatantly false. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division conducted widespread surveillance of Muslim communities and individuals within 100 miles of the city.
“The department has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as ‘rakers,’ into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program,” according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning series from the Associated Press. “They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as ‘mosque crawlers,’ to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.
“Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.”
The police monitored Muslim students across the Northeast, even beyond the 100-mile radius, including the Muslim student associations at numerous colleges and universities in New York City, New Jersey and other states.
The New York Police Department acknowledged in court that the spying program from its “Demographics Unit” never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.
New York City eventually settled three federal lawsuits filed by Muslim plaintiffs and other groups after the AP’s reporting. The city did not admit to misconduct or constitutional violations as part of those settlements. However, it agreed to a prohibition on investigations on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or national origin and to a civilian appointee to monitor compliance. The third settlement required New York City to pay more than $1 million in damages and legal fees to Muslim groups, businesses and individuals.
Bloomberg contended that, after reviewing the surveillance program, “the courts ruled it was exactly within the law.” Campaign spokeswoman Julie Wood pointed to a 2014 ruling by a federal judge in New Jersey who had dismissed one of the lawsuits. An appeals court reversed that ruling the next year, writing of the surveillance program: “We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind.” In the end, the lawsuit, Hasan v. City of New York, was among the three settlements.
In defending the program, Bloomberg claimed on PBS that all of the 9/11 attackers “came from the same place.” Of the 19 hijackers who carried out the terrorist strikes, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Lebanon and the tactical leader, Mohamed Atta, was from Egypt.
Bloomberg: “In ’09, I testified and gave a speech before the mayors’ conference in Washington advocating it and trying to get all the mayors to sign on. And I think at that time I wrote an article praising Obamacare. It was either in the New York Post or the Daily News. So the facts are, I was there.”
Biden: “Didn’t you call it a disgrace, though, Mr. Mayor?”
Bloomberg: “Let me finish, thank you. I was in favor of it. I thought it didn’t do — go as far as we should.”
Bloomberg has been critical of the Affordable Care Act, though one of his main sticking points is that it does not go far enough in providing access to health care. As mayor, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News supporting Obama’s call for a public option in 2009. The proposal was left out of the final legislation after then-Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) threatened a filibuster.
While Republicans were trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act during President Trump’s first year in office, Bloomberg said he favored some of their ideas such as high-risk insurance pools and capping the tax exclusion for businesses that provide coverage for employees. In a 2017 op-ed for the New York Post, he wrote: “The Affordable Care Act has provided health care coverage to millions more Americans, but there are still some 30 million with no insurance. Premiums are too high. The individual mandate isn’t encouraging enough people to buy into the system. Some of its regulations and taxes make little sense.”
Biden accurately noted that Bloomberg once called Obamacare a disgrace, though overall his criticisms have been nuanced.
In a 2010 speech at Dartmouth College, Bloomberg said: “We passed a health-care bill that does absolutely nothing to fix the big health-care problems in this country. It is just a disgrace. The president, in all fairness, started out by pointing out what the big problems were, but then turned it over to Congress, which didn’t pay any attention to any of those big problems and just created another program that’s going to cost a lot of money.”
“I got into this race only 10 or 12 weeks ago. We have been working on our tax returns. I’ve said they’ll be out. … And when I was mayor of New York, we had our tax returns out 12 years in a row.”
— Democratic primary debate, Feb. 25, 2020
Bloomberg, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $55 billion, did not “release” his tax returns while he was mayor in the traditional sense of the word. He allowed reporters to view redacted versions in which numbers were replaced by letter categories going from “A” to “G,” which covered $500,000 or more. The last release, in 2013, showed Bloomberg paid taxes of at least $1.5 million at the federal, state and local levels and at least $1.5 million to foreign governments.
The redactions appear throughout, and the abundance of “G’s” in Bloomberg’s forms means it’s possible to see only minimum thresholds and not totals for his tax payments and income sources. His advisers said at the time that releasing full tax returns would put Bloomberg’s media corporation at a competitive disadvantage. Bloomberg did not divest from Bloomberg LP while he was mayor from 2002 through 2013, though he ceded the chief executive role. (He now says he would order the sale of his company if elected.)
Many candidates and officeholders release full, unredacted versions of their tax returns for public consumption, so there’s a big difference between what Bloomberg did and the norm. Trump, meanwhile, has declined to release his tax returns or divest from his company.
The Pinocchio Test
You won’t learn this from his ads: When Bloomberg gets tough questions about his past positions, his responses are often misleading.
Bloomberg said he was “there both times” when the question was his support for Obama, but the mayor did not endorse anyone for president in 2008 and called his 2012 endorsement of Obama “backhanded.” His claim of a 95 percent reduction in stop-and-frisk actions relies on cherry-picked statistics and obscures a sharp increase in these tactics in 2011. Bloomberg’s comments about Muslim surveillance, Obamacare and prior releases of his tax returns all revise history in some way.
The surveillance claim by itself would be worthy of Four Pinocchios, but overall Bloomberg’s spin merits Three Pinocchios.
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