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Bloomberg's 'racist' remark reveals much

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
September 9, 2013 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Errol Louis says Mayor Michael Blooomberg's remark about Bill de Blasio's campaign seems to have helped de Blasio.
Errol Louis says Mayor Michael Blooomberg's remark about Bill de Blasio's campaign seems to have helped de Blasio.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: In interview NY Mayor Bloomberg called de Blasio's campaign "racist"
  • His comment that de Blasio using mixed-race family in campaign backfired, Louis says
  • He says de Blasio campaigns to upend many Bloomberg policies, mayor likely chafing at this
  • Louis: If de Blasio wins primary, it will signal Bloomberg's 12-year tenure truly coming to close

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- New York City has seen a jarring last-minute twist in the race for mayor, in which the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, may have given a crucial boost to the person he would probably least like to see succeed him in City Hall.

Bill de Blasio, who surged into the lead among the Democrats running for mayor, has been campaigning for months as a progressive bent on governing in a way that alters or reverses many of Bloomberg's cherished policies -- starting with de Blasio's proposal to raise taxes on households earning $500,000 or more per year. De Blasio, who is married to a black woman, has also made a series of campaign ads that include his biracial teenage children.

Bloomberg, in a magazine interview, dismissed de Blasio's campaign as "class warfare and racist."

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

Asked to explain the inflammatory charge, Bloomberg said de Blasio is "making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it's pretty obvious to anyone watching what he's been doing. I do not think he himself is racist. It's comparable to me pointing out I'm Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote."

The comment is, on its face, questionable. Click here and look at the videos for yourself. If de Blasio is using his telegenic family to good effect, it's no different from what candidates have been doing for centuries.

If the comment was intended to halt de Blasio's momentum, it surely failed -- and appears to have backfired -- with the most relevant audience, the active Democratic base likely to turn out on primary day. In fact, within hours of publication of the mayor's remarks, de Blasio was using the dust-up as part of a fund-raising appeal to supporters.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sided with de Blasio as well. "The comments that were reported clearly are out of line and have no place in our political discourse," Cuomo told reporters. "There's plenty of substantive issues to be discussing without raising unnecessary and inflammatory topics."

The dust-up is more than just an ill-timed misstatement by Bloomberg. It may also illustrate his frustration and impatience after months of bashing by the Democratic mayoral candidates.

A self-made billionaire who is the wealthiest person in New York, Bloomberg does not suffer fools gladly. "Hizzoner has a few choice words for you if he doesn't like your policy idea, but his words of choice are usually variations of dumb and stupid," the Daily News noted earlier this year.

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"Mayor Bloomberg has the unlovely habit of hearing all sides of a question -- for about 60 seconds, when he trots out his personal thought-stopper: 'Let's get serious,'" columnist Richard Brookhiser noted in 2005. "This means that he is serious, you are not. He is smart, you are dumb. He has billions, you do not."

Keep in mind that this bracing assessment by Brookhiser comes from a nationally known conservative who was explaining why he intended to vote for Bloomberg. This is not a warm and cuddly mayor. But New Yorkers are looking for someone who is more empathetic: In a recent poll, 65% of New Yorkers said they want the city to move in a different direction. And a comparable percentage said that an endorsement from Bloomberg would have no effect or make them less likely to support a candidate.

In addition to swallowing that tough reality, Bloomberg has recently encountered setbacks that foreshadow the dropping of the final curtain on his administration at the end of the year.

Over Bloomberg's strenuous objections, federal courts have appointed monitors to oversee hiring in the city's fire department (which is currently 3.4% black) and to reduce and restructure the police department's use of stop-and-frisk tactics. The normally toothless City Council overrode two Bloomberg vetoes to create an NYPD inspector general and to make it easier for citizens to sue if they think the police have illegally profiled them.

De Blasio championed virtually all of the lawsuits and legislation that led to additional oversight of Bloomberg's agencies, and specifically campaigned on his opposition to Bloomberg. And de Blasio's call to tax the city's wealthy -- with the proceeds used to pay for pre-kindergarten and afterschool programs for children -- is anathema to the mayor, who called the plan "about as dumb a policy as anyone could think of."

That sort of dismissive comment means one thing coming from a billionaire at the helm of city government. But if, as expected, de Blasio finishes first in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, it will signal something else entirely: the tolling of the bell making clear that the 12-year reign of Michael Bloomberg is, unmistakably, coming to a close.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

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