A 2015 Mike Bloomberg appearance at the Aspen Institute shook up the presidential race on Tuesday, after a clip of those remarks resurfaced in which the current candidate for the Democratic nomination offers support for aggressive police tactics in minority neighborhoods.
Bloomberg’s remarks were called racist at the time of his speech, and were made more controversial because the Institute withheld the video from distribution. Independent podcaster Benjamin Dixon highlighted those comments in a series of tweets Monday night that went viral.
In the 2015 speech, Bloomberg addresses policing tactics during his time as mayor of New York City, saying more police were sent to minority neighborhoods because more crime happens there. He addressed firearm possession, and expressed his support for stop-and-frisk policies as a deterrent to gun violence. Those policies have been largely found to be akin to racial profiling and were ruled ilegal by a federal judge in 2013.
Bloomberg made a blanket statement that crime is most often associated with young minority males.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders... fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city,” Bloomberg told the Institute crowd.
He also said in the speech that to “get the guns out of the kids’ hands,” police must “throw ‘em against the wall and frisk ’em.”
Dixon produces his Benjamin Dixon Show daily. His Feb. 10 episode is titled “Bloomberg’s Racist, Classist Past.”
In researching the episode, Dixon said he took to the internet to do some basic research into Bloomberg’s law enforcement policies.
“Obviously he is synonymous with stop and frisk,” Dixon said.
But the podcaster, who also helped launch an online revival of Frederick Douglass’ North Star abolitionist magazine, said he was not expecting to turn over a bombshell that would catch the eye of the nation.
“It’s just my regular routine,” Dixon said. “I had every intention of researching Michael Bloomberg but had no idea what I would find. I was just looking at good content to put on the podcast.”
At first, Dixon saw references to the 2015 speech in Aspen from Dana Loesch, then spokeswoman from the NRA, calling Bloomberg’s remarks a threat to the second amendment rights of African Americans.
Dixon then found an Aspen Times article reporting that the Institute would not be sharing the video recording of the speech. However, the Times reporter, Karl Herchenroeder, had posted audio from covering the event to his personal YouTube account.
“In about two google searches (I found) the audio,” Dixion said.
In his podcast, Dixon led the episode with other references to Bloomberg’s record, including his endorsement for George W. Bush. He said the policing comments didn’t stand out at first.
“I do this every day so I am pretty desensitised to it. In my episode yesterday I didn’t put it in the number one clip,” Dixon said.
The more he thought about it, though, he decided the speech would have legs on its own. He said he made the decision to do his due diligence in emphasizing comments pertaining to stop and frisk policies. He cleaned up the audio and added it to a photo slideshow of Bloomberg, along with the written transcript of the comments.
“Hearing it is far more powerful than seeing the words written, so I felt like I needed to go back and at least share it,” Dixon said.
Dixon said the tone of the audio was casual and confident enough that he did not take it as a one off or a mistake by Bloomberg.
“To me it sounded like a deeply rooted philosophy and world view as to how he views minority men between the ages of 16 and 25. It flows from him seamlessly. There is both his deeply rooted philosophy as well as his governing principle which is to not understand the reason for poverty but to use the force of government to punish it,” Dixon said. “His governing policy is spend all your money on the police which is what he said directly in that quote.”
The series of tweets went viral, having been retweeted more than 11,000 times as of Tuesday evening. The New York Times, NPR, Politico, and CNN all ran stories during the day on the comments made at the Institute.
The CNN segment went after Dixon’s own political leanings, mentioning that he is a Bernie Sanders supporter.
Dixon is upfront that he does not support Bloomberg as a presidential candidate, but said that his own political leanings have no bearing on Bloomberg’s philosophy at the time of his speech.
“I don’t think he should be president because I don’t think someone should be able to buy the presidency, I think that is a unique threat to our democracy. Now that all of that is out of the way, did he not say it or did he say it?” Dixon said.
National reporting by websites such as the Washington Examiner and CNN called into question the source of the audio, and inaccurately referred to it as leaked audio, but the full speech has been available since it was first presented.
“It’s been on YouTube for five years hiding in plain sight,” Dixon said.
Herchenroeder, who is now an assistant editor at Communications Daily in Washington D.C., recorded the talk for his own use while covering it as a local news story at the time.
He said he started seeing the uptick on social media shortly after the clips were posted Monday night.
“It’s just been non stop. It was kinda like that in 2015. People are acting like this is the first time it’s gone viral. I feel like it’s gone viral once or twice before,” he said.
After Herchenroeder’s summary of the speech went to print, the comments about minorities got legs in national news. When Herchenroeder learned that the Institute would not be posting the speech to its website as it typically does, he uploaded his rudimentary recording on his own.
“Media outlets latched on to (the story). I noticed how much attention it was getting so I threw it on to YouTube,” Herchenroeder said.
In a statement provided to the Aspen Daily News on Tuesday, the Institute said the video was not distributed out of respect for the speaker.
“In February 2015, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at a public event of the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado. The standard practice of the Aspen Institute is to honor the wishes of our speakers related to the distribution of recordings after the fact. We did not distribute the video of this event in accordance with the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg’s staff,” the Institute’s statement says.
Herchenroeder said his research at the time turned up a similar narrative, though the Bloomberg campaign did not respond to his requests for comment.
“His team very clearly asked no one to distribute it,” Herchenroeder said. “We reached out to them and they never got back.”
Among those who retweeted the clip produced by Dixon yesterday was President Trump. He latched on to the #BloombergIsRacist hashtag, but his tweet has since been deleted.
“I didn’t expect the president to tweet out the audio today, that’s for sure,” Herchenroeder said.
Bloomberg issued a statement through his campaign website addressing the tweet from the president Tuesday afternoon.
“President Trump’s deleted tweet is the latest example of his endless efforts to divide Americans,” he wrote.
He addressed the stop and frisk practice of his police force as mayor of New York City, something he has apologized for multiple times as he entered the presidential race.
“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 concludes his statement by directing his comments to the President: “Between now and November, I will do everything I can to defeat you whether I am on the ballot or not.”
The runaway nature of the five-year-old audio dominated headlines on the day of the New Hampshire primaries, amidst growing Bloomberg popularity in national polling. Dixon speculates that the Bloomberg team did not want the Aspen Institute speech to be made available specifically due to the comments about crime and minorities.
“He knew what he said would be problematic if he ever had future aspirations,” Dixon said. “If you know you have problematic stuff out there don’t run for president. Because everything comes out. No matter how rich you are, everything comes out.”
And even though Herchenroeder has seen his reporting on the issue sweep the nation in the past, he said the headlines it’s making this time around on the presidential stage will be the most impactful wave.
“It’s crazy, and he is not going to be able to ignore this,” Herchenroeder said. “I feel like this is going to stay with him for the entire campaign.”