Chris Smith's very well executed interview with Michael Bloomberg in New York has received a lot of press for the mayor's remarks about Bill De Blasio, one of the candidates hoping to succeed him. But the Q&A is more interesting for what it reveals about Bloomberg: namely, that he has not changed one iota since becoming mayor, and remains just as distant and sheltered as ever. First, the De Blasio excerpt:
Then there’s Bill de Blasio, who’s become the Democratic front-runner. He has in some ways been running a class-warfare campaign—
Class-warfare and racist.
Well, no, no, I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist. It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.
Some commentators have pointed out that Bloomberg himself has been known to make appeals to voters based on his own Jewish background. A fair point! But what this portion of the conversation displays to an even greater degree, and which the rest of the interview makes absundantly clear, is how limited Bloomberg's entire worldview and universe remain a decade after he faced criticism for this very shortcoming. The striking thing here is simply his use of the word "racist": Would anyone who spent even limited with people who had experienced real racism use the word with such glibness? The same issue shows up in his discussion of stop-and-frisk:
Stop-and-frisk has also been a big issue. Three years from now, do you think the policy will be largely the same, substantially changed, or scrapped?
I don’t know. I think that if crime starts tweaking up the tiniest bit, there’s going to be enormous pressure.
How do you square that view with the ruling last month that it is unconstitutional?
The judge is just wrong. We have not racial-profiled, we’ve gone where the crime is. I don’t have any doubts that she will be reversed right away. The question is, will our successor continue the battle? I cannot get involved in the next administration, nor should I. But for something like that I would certainly make my views known.
What would you say?
The sad thing, which nobody’s willing to talk about, is that most of our crime is in two neighborhoods: southeast Bronx, central Brooklyn. All minority males 15 to 25. We’ve got to do something about that. And unless you get the guns out of their hands, you’re not going to ever be able to do anything.
Most politicians, confronted with questions like these, might at least make an effort to discuss the tradeoffs entailed in a policy like stop-and-frisk. Bloomberg, who weirdly and backhandedly acknowledges that the policy does target minorities, seems incapable of doing so. Again, it's always tricky to try and analyze why someone is the way he is, but it's hard to imagine that a man who expended any effort in getting to know people who had been unfairly stopped or frisked would not make at least a cursory effort to explain the downsides of the policy.
Other parts of the interview are equally revealing. Here was my favorite bit:
Does the future of journalism include you owning the Financial Times or the New York Times?
The Financial Times is not for sale. The New York Times is certainly not for sale. But I’ve always said if you read Bloomberg Businessweek and The Economist cover to cover every week, you will know more than if you read the newspapers every day. And it’s probably true. And I think I’d say that about Businessweek even if it wasn’t owned by Bloomberg.
Whatever one thinks of the virtues of either of these magazines, only someone living in an extremely small bubble could make the above statement. (Moreover, Bloomberg and the Economist both, I have noticed, have the tiresome trait of presenting their establishment, fiscally conservative and socially liberal politics as bold and brave, which is additionally amusing considering that everyone Bloomberg meets must have the same opinions.)
Bloomberg's essentially successful mayoralty certainly makes up for a number of his defects. But he is a cautionary tale for people who hope that elected officials will fundamentally change in office. Sometimes they do. But all of this mayor's weaknesses were visible a decade ago, and they are equally glaring today.
Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.