'My story might have turned out very differently if I had been black': Michael Bloomberg
The speech is part of an effort to build support in black and brown communities.
Mike Bloomberg, a candidate who kicked off his campaign with an apology for discriminatory stop-and-frisk policing when he was mayor of New York City, continued efforts to build support in black and brown communities with a speech on racial wealth disparities -- and an acknowledgement of his own white privilege -- in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the Sunday of Martin Luther King Jr., weekend.
"As someone who has been very lucky in life, I often say my story would only have been possible in America -- and that's true," Bloomberg said, speaking before a crowd that spilled over into a second room. "But I also know that my story might have turned out very differently if I had been black, and that more black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth, had they been white."
He could not have built his business or enjoyed the same success under the conditions facing black Americans, Bloomberg said, acknowledging that as he built his fortune, he was still aware that it was within a socioeconomic framework meant to gird him from exploitation -- a luxury others did not have.
The location where Bloomberg has chose to deliver the speech is significant -- though inspired by one of the lesser-known pages of history. He'll be speaking in a Tulsa neighborhood that once was home to an affluent black community thriving with black-owned businesses and known as "Black Wall Street," until it was burned to the ground by a mob of white rioters in 1921.
"It was one of the deadliest and ugliest attacks in American history -- but like most Americans, I had never heard of it. I remember thinking, 'How is it possible that high schools and colleges don't teach this?'" Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg's focus on the Tulsa Massacre in his speech opening led into his plans for addressing racial inequality, along with continuous acknowledgement that he, a white male billionaire, would never be where he is today if he were black.
"What happened during that period was part of a continuum of violence that black Americans faced -- even after the end of slavery -- violence that denied them their lives, their liberty and their pursuit of happiness, the cornerstones of the American dream," the former New York mayor said.
Despite having their businesses and homes destroyed, many of the black residents of the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, where the riots happened, were also arrested and murdered. Historical accounts estimate between 100 to 300 people were killed.
Though he didn't promise reparations in the speech, he nodded to the argument for enacting them.
"A theft of labor and a transfer of wealth -- enshrined in law and enforced by violence. And the impact of that theft over a period of centuries has meant an enormous loss of wealth for individuals and families, across generations -- a kind of compound interest in reverse. Well, it's past time to say enough and to damn well do something about it," Bloomberg said in the speech.
The mayor's stance on reparations, according to his campaign, begins and ends with his support for the House bill that most Democratic candidates are behind, which calls for a study to learn more about the possible impacts and methods of implementing reparations.
As part of his address, Bloomberg unveiled his plan for narrowing the racial wealth gap, which focuses on identifying broad solutions rather than on numbers and detailed cost breakdowns, according to a senior adviser who worked on the policy.
The three major goals in the racial wealth plan, called the "Greenwood Initiative," are increasing home ownership to 1 million more African Americans, getting more capital to 100,000 more entrepreneurs -- specifically black women, who make up the fastest-growing group of new entrepreneurs -- and flooding 100 impoverished neighborhoods in the country with $70 billion for pilot programs and community investments.
Stop and frisk, the controversial policing strategy that Bloomberg apologized for because of its disproportionate effect on black and brown men in New York City while he was mayor, is not mentioned in the plan, though Bloomberg addressed it head on in his speech.
"Now, as all of you know, in my determination to reduce gun violence, we employed a common big city police practice called stop and frisk, and that resulted in far too many innocent people being stopped. And when I realized that, we took action," Bloomberg said. The former mayor apologized for the policy shortly before declaring his run, though he stood by by his record until as recently as January 2019, when he was asked about it during a Naval Academy conference.
In Tulsa, Bloomberg told the crowd that despite cutting down on stop and frisk by 95% before he left office, he still knows he "was wrong."
"I was wrong not to act faster and sooner to cut the stops, and I've apologized to New Yorkers for that," Bloomberg said. "I've always believed though that leadership involves listening to diverse opinions and acknowledging when you didn't get them right. And learning from it. And that's what I've always tried to do."
The campaign said they plan to address the disproportionate injustices created by stop and frisk in a policy form through a separate criminal justice plan that's still being finalized, according to a senior adviser.
As for Bloomberg's record on housing while he was mayor, some describe a tale of two cities. In his effort to rebuild the city's economy after 9/11 and then after the Great Recession, Bloomberg created affordable housing and rezoning initiatives. But independent data throughout the years reveals that residents of color were displaced during his efforts to rebuild the city.
The campaign did not provide a cost for the home ownership goal in the latest plan, though it focuses on down payment assistance and changing the way credit scores are evaluated so it's easier for people to be eligible for a mortgage.
By comparison, the candidates who have housing plans largely focus on funds to build new housing, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., whose plan would cost $500 billion; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose plan calls for around $430 billion; and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose plan calls for $2.5 trillion.
Bloomberg's plan to double black businesses from around 100,000 to 200,000 also doesn't come with a price tag.
Buttigieg's plan for investing in minority entrepreneurs calls for $10 billion from the government, matched by $10 billion from private investors, while Warren's plan on the same issue calls for $7 billion from the government.
Front-runner Joe Biden, the former Vice President to Barack Obama, does not list a housing plan on his website, nor does he have a specific plan to address racial wealth disparities.
But in Tulsa -- which is not a common campaign stop at this point in the race -- most of the voters who came out to see Bloomberg hadn't attended events for the other front-runners.
Warren, who grew up in Oklahoma and held an event in Oklahoma City in December, is the only candidate in the top tier to have visited the state ahead of Bloomberg, who is running a nontraditional campaign due to his late entry to the race. He is skipping out on the early states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, where most of the candidates are currently spending their time.
Tracie Chandler, a retired history teacher, said that could provide an advantage. Having not seen other 2020 candidates in person, she walked away from Bloomberg's speech feeling inspired to volunteer for the campaign -- and, as a black voter, said she felt receptive to his willingness to apologize for stop and frisk.
"What I was happy about is that he addressed the elephant in the room. And that's the way you do with things -- you don't run and hide from it. You don't allow somebody else to bring it up first. And then you own it," said Chandler. "And he apologized for it. What else is there to be said?"
Chandler was also receptive to Bloomberg's acknowledgement of how being white has facilitated his upward mobility.
"I mean it's a fact," said Chandler, who said she'd heard of Bloomberg mostly through the ads he's been blanketing the country with, spending around $200 million of his own money. "A lot of white people do not understand that they are privileged. We fear for our lives, especially here in Tulsa, just driving down the street."
But other Tulsa voters felt that Bloomberg's admissions -- and the ideas he put forth to create change -- didn't separate him from the pack.
As he walked by her to shake hands with attendees, Tulsa resident Shelley Thomas told Bloomberg she liked his speech, but that he should understand the many layers of disparity that are affecting the black community in her city.
"You can't talk about economic initiatives without understanding the role of health care disparities, environmental justice -- all of that is interrelated," she said, adding that she was worried that his broad ideas for improvement at the national level wouldn't "trickle down." Thomas, 53, is currently unemployed, despite her experience as an attorney and a health care executive, a struggle she said is compounded by the racial disparities in Tulsa. She sat next to her longtime friend Paul Jackson, 52, a veteran who is also currently unemployed.
Jackson, who previously worked in operations in the energy industry but has been out of work for over a year, said the ideas "sounded good" but he was hungry to see "how it really manifests itself."
"I will say that it seems like we've heard it all before," said Jackson, who, like Thomas, has lived in Tulsa most of his life.
"They talk about reparations or they talk about the black plight or they're talking about the historical oppression that we've gone through, and they all come and they all say about the same thing -- 'We understand the plight, we want to help,'" Jackson said. "We've heard it all before. I don't know that we've ever seen it."
ABC News' Briana Stewart contributed to this report.
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