Bloomberg addresses 2015 stop-and-frisk remarks on campaign trail

WASHINGTON – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg again apologized for the “stop and frisk” policing conducted during his tenure, amid an uproar over remarks he made in 2015 defending the policy, which resurfaced this week. 

At a campaign event Wednesday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bloomberg called the stop-and-frisk policy “the one thing out of my 12 years in City Hall that I sort of regret.” 

Bloomberg told reporters “we weren’t on top of things and we didn’t understand just how impactful it was on men of color who got stopped. We did bring the murder rate down, but it got out of hand and I didn’t stop it fast enough, and I apologize for it.” 

The billionaire media mogul first apologized for the stop-and-frisk tactics just before he announced his candidacy in November.

“I can’t change history, however, today I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” Bloomberg said during an address at a predominantly black church. 

Critics like current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were not persuaded by the apology for the policy, which Bloomberg had continued to defend for years after leaving office, and after a federal judge in 2013 ruled the practice as implemented by the New York Police Department constituted “a form of racial profiling.”

But the subject did not become a major campaign issue until audio of his comments from a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute was circulated widely on social media Tuesday.

“Ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O.” he says in the recording. “You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities,16 to 21. That’s true in New York, it’s true in virtually every city in America.”

In the audio, Bloomberg acknowledges that minorities were arrested at a disproportional rate “because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods.” And he said that was done “because that’s where all the crime is.” 

In response to the social media uproar over the comments, Bloomberg issued a statement saying he “inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk,” which was first implemented under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He said the policy had become “overused” and that “by the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner.” 

“I regret that and I have apologized – and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities,” he said in the statement. “But this issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.” 

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Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Bloomberg did not directly apologize for the 2015 remarks, but said, “I don’t think those words reflect how I led the most diverse city in the nation.”

“It was five years ago,” he said. “And it’s just not the way that I think, and it doesn’t reflect what I do every day.”

He added that “all big police departments do the same thing” and that New York “still does stop-and-frisk.” 

Bloomberg has climbed rapidly in recent polls, including in African-American support, though no poll has yet been conducted since his 2015 comments resurfaced. An Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday found Bloomberg with 17% support among black voters, which trailed only former Vice President Joe Biden (38%) and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (19%).

And a Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday found him in third place overall with 22% support among blacks, which trailed only Biden who had 27%. 

At least one of his Democratic rivals has seized on the 2015 remarks as evidence that Bloomberg is out step with the party’s base. 

Fellow billionaire Tom Steyer called the former mayor’s comments “extremely disturbing” and called on his fellow candidates to disavow what he called the “racist stereotypes” Bloomberg uses. 

The Associated Press reported that Nina Turner, a national co-chair for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, said the comments reveal Bloomberg’s “true nature” and called for him to drop out of the race. 

President Donald Trump, who has also expressed support for stop-and-frisk, tweeted and then deleted a post calling Bloomberg a “TOTAL RACIST.” 

But other candidates have so far resisted directly condemning Bloomberg remarks. 

When asked about Bloomberg’s comments, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told MSNBC, “I’m not going to focus on him. I’m going to focus on me.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden told Politico he might bring stop-and-frisk up at the upcoming Democratic debate in Las Vegas. 

Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activists and leading stop-and-frisk critic, said on MSNBC that  the audio of his remarks could do political damage because “this is racial language coming out of his mouth.” 

But he said it might not hurt him too badly with black voters because “every candidate in this race has a race problem.” 

Since the audio resurfaced, Bloomberg has secured endorsements from three members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York, Lucy McBath of Georgia and Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands. 

Bloomberg also got the endorsement of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is African-American, on Thursday. 

“As mayor, Mike embraced New York’s diversity and made smart investments that brought better infrastructure and greater opportunity to all five boroughs,” Turner said. 

While introducing Bloomberg at the event in Chattanooga, the head of the city’s NAACP chapter, Dr. Elenora Woods, said. “I know what racism looks like. I know what it looks like, and that’s not Mike Bloomberg.” 

Defending his track record on race Wednesday, Bloomberg pointed to his three terms running the diverse city of New York. 

“Take a look at what we did in New York City for 12 years. We pulled people together,” he said Wednesday. “I can pull people together. I create teams.” 

And he pitched himself as someone who could accomplish the thing that most polls have found matters most to Democratic voters. 

“Most importantly, I’m the one who can beat Donald Trump,” he said. 

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; The Associated Press