Why Is Bloomberg's Long History of Egregious Sexism Getting a Pass?
The surging Democratic presidential candidate has fielded some 40 sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits brought against him and his organizations over decades.
In December 2015, employees at Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control organization funded by Mike Bloomberg, arrived at work to find a holiday gift on their desks from their employer: the former mayor’s 1997 autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg. Flipping through the book, staffers found themselves uncomfortably reading their billionaire founder’s boasts about keeping “a girlfriend in every city” and other womanizing exploits as a Wall Street up-and-comer.
“A few people started immediately going through it and sending the cringe-iest parts around on email chains,” one former Everytown employee told me. “Hardly the most controversial things he’s said, but it’s still a bad look.”
Indeed, Bloomberg’s casual boasts about his sex life in his own autobiography are now some of the least problematic parts of the his candidacy for president. In recent days, the former New York City mayor’s track record on race is undergoing renewed scrutiny: Bloomberg oversaw and expanded the racist and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” program, and a newly unearthed video shows him blaming the end of a racially discriminatory housing practice known as “redlining” for the 2008 economic recession. But it takes a telling amount of gall and cluelessness to gift a book with anecdotes about your own womanizing to employees at your gun safety non-profit in the year 2015, especially for a politician with presidential ambitions who has been vigorously denying allegations of misogyny throughout his entire career—including some 40 sex discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits brought against him and his organizations by 64 women over the past several decades.
Bloomberg’s sexism, like that of fellow New York City billionaire Donald Trump, has been prolific and well-documented, but for some reason, the stories about him don’t seem to have taken hold. He is still being embraced by the Democratic establishment as a viable option for its presidential nominee. He surged to third place in several 2020 polls this week; the Democratic National Committee changed its rules to allow him to participate in the next primary debate; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said his presence in the primary is a “positive one.”
All this, despite what’s already been reported and alleged for decades about Bloomberg’s behavior. As a recap, here are some examples: Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a former sales representative at Bloomberg LP, alleged in a 1997 lawsuit (one of four separate lawsuits in a two-year period) that when then-CEO Mike Bloomberg found out she was pregnant, he told her, “Kill it!” and “Great! Number 16!”—an apparent reference to the number of pregnant women or women on maternity leave at his company. She also alleged that when Bloomberg saw her engagement ring, he commented, “What is the guy dumb and blind? What the hell is he marrying you for?” and that he once pointed to another female employee and told Garrison, “If you looked like that, I’d do you in a second.” Bloomberg denied having said most of those things, but reportedly left Garrison a voicemail saying that if he did say them, he “didn’t mean it.”
Bloomberg once described his life as a single billionaire bachelor in New York City to a reporter as being a “wet dream.” "I like theater, dining and chasing women," he said. On a radio show in 2003, he said that he would “really want to have” Jennifer Lopez, which he later explained away as wanting to “have dinner” with her. A top aide said Bloomberg frequently remarked “nice tits” upon seeing attractive women. Employees of his in 1990 put together an entire booklet of his some of his more egregious comments, including, "If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they'd go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale's,” and, of the computer terminal that made him a billionaire, “It will do everything, including give you [oral sex]. I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business."
More recently, Bloomberg defended his longtime close pal Charlie Rose, who was fired from CBS and PBS in 2017 after multiple women alleged that he made unwanted sexual advances on his female colleagues and subordinates. "The stuff I read about is disgraceful—I don't know how true all of it is," Bloomberg told the New York Times. “I never saw anything and we have no record, we've checked very carefully.”
Bloomberg then took that opportunity to cast doubt on the #MeToo movement as a whole, saying the public should “let the court system decide” whether a man is guilty. "You know, is it true?" he said. "You look at people that say it is, but we have a system where you have—presumption of innocence is the basis of it." (He didn’t give men of color the same benefit of the doubt in 2015 when he was recorded as saying that minorities were arrested at a disproportional rate "because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods," and because “ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O.”) Rose, coincidentally, had once described his constant banter with Bloomberg about women in the office (which they shared in the 90s) as “a locker room thing”—the same defense Trump used to excuse his having boasted about “grabbing” women “by the pussy.”
Bloomberg’s campaign, in reckoning with his long history of toxic frat-boy behavior, is essentially asking voters to try and focus on his political values instead. "Mike Bloomberg has supported and empowered women throughout his career—from appointing women to the very top positions in his mayoral administration to supporting women candidates for higher office to an industry-leading 26-weeks of paid family leave at his company," Julie Wood, a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, told ABC News in October. "At the same time, Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong. He believes his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life." Of course, at least through 2015, he was leading his life in such a way that he proudly passed out a narrative of his sexual exploits to the young people he hired to combat gun violence.
If the Democratic Party wants to claim the moral high-ground on issues of misogyny and sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it has a moral obligation to reject as its highest leader a man who talks about women much in the same way Trump does. A half-hearted apology for behavior so egregious that it sparked 40 lawsuits by women is a bandaid on a bullet wound.