As presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has risen in Democratic primary polls — he’s currently in third place nationally according to RealClearPolitics’ polling average — he’s faced increasing scrutiny about his past.
In particular, Bloomberg has been challenged about allegations of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, and has been questioned about a number of lawsuits filed against him and his eponymous company regarding those issues. On Saturday, a new investigative report from the Washington Post’s Michael Kranish once again surfaced those concerns.
Drawing from previously unreleased court documents, depositions, and interviews with witnesses, Kranish’s reporting details vulgar and misogynistic comments Bloomberg allegedly made toward women. The report also features a former employee who says he heard one of the most notorious accusations against Bloomberg himself — that the former mayor once told a pregnant subordinate to “kill” her unborn child (Bloomberg has denied saying this).
And in a week in which Bloomberg was accused of being racist due to resurfaced comments about the stop-and-frisk program he once championed, Kranish’s work also highlights comments Bloomberg allegedly made that are startlingly degrading to African Americans; one lawsuit claims Bloomberg once advised an employee to find “some black who doesn’t have to speak English” to work as a nanny for her.
And these allegations could also intensify calls for Bloomberg to release former employees from nondisclosure agreements made regarding the lawsuits, something Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for in December.
Whether these concerns are shared by the moderate voters whom Bloomberg is targeting with his campaign is an open question, however.
Bloomberg has been accused of some shocking behavior toward women
Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a top saleswoman who worked for Bloomberg in his business information firm, sued him and his company in the ’90s for workplace discrimination. The Post published some of the details of the complaints mentioned in the lawsuits:
On April 11, 1995 at approximately 11:20 a.m., Bloomberg was having a photograph taken with two female Company salespeople and a group of N.Y.U. Business School students, in the company snack area. When Bloomberg noticed Garrison standing nearby, he asked, “Why didn’t they ask you to be in the picture? I guess they saw your face.” Continuing his penchant for ridiculing recently married women in his employ, Bloomberg asked plaintiff, “How’s married life? You married?” Plaintiff responded that her marriage was great and was going to get better in a few months: that she was pregnant, and the baby was due the following September. He responded to her “Kill it!” Plaintiff asked Bloomberg to repeat himself, and again he said, “Kill it!” and muttered, “Great! Number 16!” suggesting to plaintiff his unhappiness that sixteen women in the Company had maternity-related status. Then he walked away.
Bloomberg has denied accusations that he told her to “kill” the unborn child under oath, and he reached a confidential settlement with Garrison.
But the Post interviewed a former Bloomberg employee, David Zielenziger, who said that he personally witnessed the conversation. Zielenziger not only confirmed that he heard it, he said it was typical. “He talked kind of crudely about women all the time,” he told the Post.
The Post also obtained and published a notorious booklet compiled by a Bloomberg employee that allegedly contained some of his most degrading and profane comments around the workplace. Entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg,” the 32-page booklet contains crude boasts and jokes, such as the claim that his famous computer system “will do everything, including give you [oral sex]. I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business.”
In 2001, a Bloomberg spokesman admitted that the booklet contained “some of the things he might have said” and Bloomberg has apologized to people offended by the booklet. But what’s striking is that Bloomberg’s campaign today takes the stance that he never said anything in that booklet. “Mike simply did not say the things somebody wrote in this gag gift,” Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser told the Post.
Loeser also added a general blanket statement about Bloomberg’s past remarks that have stirred controversy: “Mike openly admits that his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life and some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.” It’s worth noting the lack of specificity of the statement given the number of accusations made against Bloomberg, and the fact that it is not an apology for his past behavior.
The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Vox.
In a Saturday tweet that seemed to address the Post article, however, Bloomberg wrote, “I would not be where I am today without the talented women around me. I’ve depended on their leadership, their advice and their contributions. As I’ve demonstrated throughout my career, I will always be a champion for women in the workplace.”
Garrison’s complaint also reportedly contains some allegations Bloomberg made racist remarks while at the office, including the remark about finding “some black” to serve as a nanny, and that the former mayor referred to Mexican clients as “jumping beans.”
Bloomberg faces increasing scrutiny on many fronts
Bloomberg’s behavior toward women is only one of many fronts on which he’s facing questions over whether it’s appropriate for him to seek the Democratic nomination.
He has also, as the New York Times’ Alexander Burns, Nicholas Kulish, Lazaro Gamio, and Karl Russell have reported, faced questions about the appropriateness of his charitable and political contributions, and the influence those gifts have given him. Those reporters noted: Bloomberg’s “political and philanthropic spending has also secured the allegiance or cooperation of powerful institutions and leaders within the Democratic Party who might take issue with parts of his record were they not so reliant on his largess.”
And in recent days, the candidate has had to defend himself against allegations he is racist following a progressive podcaster resurfacing a 2015 speech. Bloomberg gave the speech defending New York’s stop-and-frisk program (which was declared unconstitutional in 2013), in which he said, “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25.”
A clip of that speech went viral, and led to #BloombergIsRacist trending for much of the day Tuesday.
Bloomberg has apologized for supporting the program in recent months, and did so again Thursday, saying, “I defended it, looking back, for too long because I didn’t understand then the unintended pain it was causing to young black and brown families and their kids. … I apologize.”
The effectiveness of these apologies — and what, if any, damage to Bloomberg’s campaign these controversies are inflicting — remains to be seen.
For now, Bloomberg remains strikingly popular among black voters; a recent Quinnipiac poll, for instance, found he is the second most popular candidate among that demographic group, behind only former Vice President Joe Biden. And he has won the endorsements of a number of prominent black and women politicians, including Rep. Lucy McBath, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Many of the concerns about the former mayor appear to come from progressive candidates (like Warren’s call for Bloomberg to release those bound by NDAs) and their surrogates (like Sanders surrogate Shaun King’s critiques of Bloomberg on race, sex, and religion). It is not clear that moderate voters share these concerns — particularly given Bloomberg’s poll numbers — meaning the candidate’s moment of truth is likely to come on Super Tuesday.