Despite a late entry into the Democratic Party's 2020 primary, billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is raking in support for his presidential campaign from several significant North Carolina officials.
Bloomberg has secured 157 endorsements from current and former mayors throughout the country at this point in his unorthodox presidential bid, which he is funding on his own dime. Seven of those mayoral endorsements come from North Carolina, according to the Bloomberg campaign, including from Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and two former Raleigh mayors.
Baldwin and Lyles did not respond to requests for comment on their support for Bloomberg.
The state’s House and Senate Democratic leaders, Rep. Darren Jackson and Senator Dan Blue, recently endorsed Bloomberg’s bid for commander-in-chief. North Carolina figureheads like Bev Perdue, the state’s first female governor, have also thrown their weight behind him. She introduced Bloomberg at a Raleigh rally last month.
A High Point University poll released Monday showed Bloomberg in second place with 18 percent of the vote in the North Carolina Democratic primary, trailing 13 points behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Bloomberg’s wealth has benefited local governments across the U.S. for years, and North Carolina is no exception. In 2018, Durham won a $1 million grant to fund a program for decreasing car usage in the city from the Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge. The annual mayors competition challenges city leaders across the nation to develop innovative initiatives for their cities. Winning proposals are rewarded with funds.
Bloomberg’s philanthropic empire also includes the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a yearlong program that trains mayors throughout the world in professional development with a focus on local government.
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel and Lyles, the Charlotte mayor who recently endorsed Bloomberg, both participated in the program in 2018.
Bloomberg has visited Charlotte, Wilmington and Raleigh on the campaign trail in recent weeks, and his campaign opened an office in Chapel Hill in January. Bloomberg's field office in Charlotte was his first in the country.
Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker has also endorsed Bloomberg, praising the candidate’s work with Mayors Against Illegal Guns — a coalition of mayors demanding gun safety legislation that Bloomberg launched with former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2006.
“No other big city mayor was doing anything to involve other cities,” Meeker said. “To me, it was constructive, and it was something that, while the (National Rifle Association) was mad about it, it didn’t really rile up the pro-gun people.”
Don Hardy, mayor of the predominantly-Black town Kinston, N.C., announced his endorsement of Bloomberg last month. An African-American newspaper in Charlotte, The Charlotte Post, also endorsed Bloomberg last week.
The endorsements came as public criticism swarmed Bloomberg over the stop-and-frisk policy he massively expanded during his three terms as mayor of New York City.
“In his era, in the 90s, you had the crack epidemic, you had crime at 600 murders a year,” Hardy said. “When you’re put into a seat and your crime rate is out of the sky, you have to put something in position in order to reduce crime or your city will be taken over by those folks creating those heinous crimes.”
Stop-and-frisk allowed the New York City Police Department to interrogate and search citizens in the street. In 2013, the policy was struck down by a federal judge, who found that the practice disproportionately targets racial minorities.
Bloomberg has apologized for the program, as well as for leaked comments in which he described minority males as being more likely to commit crimes. Bloomberg surrogates have signaled a willingness to forgive the mayor, pointing to his accomplishments with education reform and job creation in New York as examples of his effectiveness as a leader.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger has not endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate, but she spoke highly of Bloomberg in an interview with WCHL’s Chapelboro radio show last month.
“He’s a mayor that gets things done,” Hemminger said in the interview. “He listens to things, he gets it organized and he moves forward.”
Bill Saffo, Democratic mayor of Wilmington, endorsed Bloomberg at a rally on Saturday. He said mayors in particular identify with Bloomberg because of the bipartisan nature of their jobs.
“Mayors, and I’m a little bit partial in saying this, that's our job, is to work across party lines with advocacy groups, with neighborhood associations, with different layers of government, and get things accomplished,” Saffo said. “We don’t have the luxury of passing the buck. We have to get it accomplished.”
But not every local North Carolina official is in Bloomberg’s camp. Carrboro Town Council Member Damon Seils has endorsed Bernie Sanders, citing the independent senator’s diverse coalition of supporters and consistent track record.
“Sen. Sanders has been fighting for racial justice and economic justice for decades, and he’s been consistent,” Seils said. “I think he’s alone among the candidates in the primary in his level of consistency on these issues.”
Durham City Council Member Javiera Caballero has also endorsed Sanders. Jillian Johnson, Durham’s mayor pro tempore, is a co-chair for Sanders’ campaign operation in North Carolina.
The Democratic primary field has narrowed in recent days, with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer announcing their withdrawals from the race. Buttigieg and Klobuchar have since endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign.
Bloomberg has yet to appear on a Democratic ticket this primary, making the slew of states voting on Super Tuesday an important landmark for his campaign’s viability.
Polls open on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m. for the North Carolina primary and are open till 7:30 p.m. Fourteen states in total will vote on Tuesday, painting a clearer picture of the Democratic nomination frontrunners.
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