Chris Smith's interview with Mike Bloomberg in New York magazine made a huge splash this past weekend, mainly because of the fact that the Bloomberg called mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio a racist for "making an appeal using his family to gain support." De Blasio—who is white and has two biological children with his African-American wife—has, in fact, appeared at many campaign events with his family, and has aired commercials that feature his children prominently. When Smith pressed Bloomberg about using the word "racist," the outgoing mayor quickly retracted the insult, saying, "I do not think he himself is racist." Then adding, "It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote." So, basically, any time De Blasio's wife or children have appeared with him during the lead up to the election (which, appearances by candidate's families are par for the course during campaigns), it was only because De Blasio was using them to gain credibility with black voters, not because, you know, they're his family and they're standing with him as he runs for mayor. Which, well, bullshit. Obviously.
De Blasio and his family responded immediately, with De Blasio stating, "We have run a campaign about the ideas, about the issues, about how to move the city forward, and I'm very proud of that. I'm exceedingly proud of my family. And as you'll know, meeting every member of my family, they are each and every one strong and independent and make their own decisions." McCray also scorned the idea that she was being used by her husband as a "prop," saying, "Do I look like an inanimate object or a tool?" And the rest of the mayoral candidates, from Christine Quinn to William Thompson, publicly condemned Bloomberg's comment, while privately probably being pretty pissed that De Blasio—who has surged in popularity in recent weeks—essentially got another boost in the polls thanks to Bloomberg.
But while Bloomberg calling De Blasio a racist is ludicrous and insulting (I mean, is Quinn homophobic and only appealing to gay voters each time her partner joins her at an event? No. Ugh. No!), and while it is possibly the most inflammatory thing that Bloomberg said in this interview, it is also kind of easy to dismiss as a petulant remark coming from a mayor who is pissed off at the candidate who is running the most explicitly anti-Bloomberg campaign. It's not that Bloomberg really cares that De Blasio uses his son in a commercial, it's more that Bloomberg cares that this commercial targets stop-and-frisk and that Dante De Blasio praises his father as being the candidate who will actually be brave enough "to break from the Bloomberg years." Bloomberg's doesn't think De Blasio's a racist, he's just angry about De Blasio's anti-Bloomberg platform. And this baffles Bloomberg because he really, really does not think he's made one false move as mayor of this city. Or, probably, in his entire life.
And so when it comes to the most offensive part of this interview, it isn't even that Bloomberg called De Blasio racist. That's too absurd to even take seriously. No, what's much worse is that Bloomberg exemplifies all the worst stereotypes that many of us have of him as being an out-of-touch billionaire who only cares about the wealthiest people in this city. One of the things that Bloomberg acknowledges in this interview is that a lot of New Yorkers were unsure of what kind of mayor he would be because of his personal fortune. Bloomberg says that before he took office people wondered of him, "Does he put his pants on one leg at a time? Do they eat with their fingers? He takes the subway? He eats fried chicken in a diner? I’m shocked!" And, you know, maybe that's true to an extent. People wondered if a billionaire could relate to the problems of those who would never earn in a year what Bloomberg earns in a day. But that has nothing to do with caring about Bloomberg eating fried chicken. Pretending that this is what voters really value is reductive and simplistic.
Then again, a lot that Bloomberg has to say about the city's income inequality is reductive and simplistic. Bloomberg scoffs at the notion that the poor in this city really struggle, saying, "Air-conditioning in the schools, the subways. Are you crazy? Now, by most of the world’s standards, you ain’t poor. The old measure just looked at your income. It didn’t look at what services you need. I’m not being cavalier about it, but most places in the world our poor are wealthy." He goes on to deride De Blasio's claim that New York is "two cities," saying, "this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for services for the other." Yeah, that's right, poor people, you better not complain about your tough lot in life ever again, because, first, think about how much worse your life would be in Syria, and, second, you're riding on the coat tails of the rich and should be grateful for whatever crumbs they throw you. It's honestly hard to say whether this was Bloomberg speaking from the heart or if this was Bloomberg satirizing what an egomaniacal billionaire would say. Just kidding. It's not hard to say. The man is clearly an egomaniacal billionaire who can't stand any criticism and reads all of his negative press (hence his Fran Lebowitz dig: "Fran Lebowitz is the only life I haven't saved") and wishes Central Park of all things could be renamed for him (Central Park! what!) but who is at least in favor of promoting immigration to this city. Just, you know, not any kind of immigration. No, Bloomberg has a very specific kind of immigrant in mind that he wants to attract to New York.