Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk comments put campaign at risk

Michael Bloomberg has spent as much as $500 million trying to buy the presidency and has been getting a decent return on his money. The former New York mayor is making a move in national polls, hitting 15 percent in a recent Quinnipiac survey, good enough for third place in the Democratic field.

Amid lots of buzz about his unorthodox strategy and rising chances, the poll is the first solid sign of a sweet spot. It’s timely, too, coming as Joe Biden limps out of New Hampshire and draws closer to the inevitable collapse, opening a lane for Bloomy.

All of which made Tuesday a rotten time to have a bad day. The emergence of a 2015 recording where Bloomberg forcefully defended stop, question and frisk is causing a political uproar.

Most critics argue the recording will make it difficult for him to attract far-left liberals and black voters, and some think it could be fatal to his chances. I don’t think that’s true, but in the short term, the episode does prove another point: Money is no substitute for authenticity.

These days, that’s the real political gold. Bloomberg had it, and squandered it in a pander bid.

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The recording comes from an Aspen Institute event more than a year after Bloomberg ended his 12-year tenure at City Hall. His comments are raw, even crude, but they accurately reflect his views then, a view that did not waver until he decided to seek the presidency.

Suddenly, last November, on the eve of his launch, he appeared at a predominately black Brooklyn church to renounce his past.

“I can’t change history,” he told the congregation. “However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.”

Bloomberg’s change of heart looked scripted and phony and was unnecessary. He was a successful mayor without seriously compromising his blunt style, and New Yorkers generally liked that about him, even when they disagreed.

A numbers guy, he was a bit like television Detective Joe Friday from “Dragnet,” who wanted “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Perhaps even more important, stop-and-frisk was a hugely successful tool that helped Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly improve upon the dramatic anti-crime success of the Giuliani administration and made everything else possible, including economic growth. The key was preventing crime, not just reacting to it, which made it a lifesaver for thousands of people, many of them black and Latino males who otherwise would have been murdered.

As Bloomberg said in the Aspen recording, “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the walls and frisk them. And they start, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get caught.’ So they don’t bring the gun. They still have a gun. But they leave it at home.”

That idea helped revolutionize urban policing, and Bloomberg even took to calling cops “first preventers” instead of first responders.

He was such an evangelist that in 2012, he told an education audience that the crime reductions he and Giuliani achieved over 19 years had redefined the mayoralty.

“New Yorkers expect the streets to be the safest of any big city in the country,” he said, “and voters, I think, will not elect any future mayor who isn’t committed to that goal.”

You can read more here. 

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