Michael Bloomberg is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination despite being first elected mayor of New York City as a Republican, and later switching his party affiliation to independent.
Indeed, he announced his re-registration as a Democrat in October 2019 — just weeks before unveiling his presidential bid.
That history and the billionaire businessman’s penchant for donating to Republicans has led to consternation among some Democrats who wonder whether Bloomberg is really one of them.
So is he?
“He’s never been as good a Democrat as Ronald Reagan was a Republican,” Jim Frasier, former member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, told PolitiFact. “He’s every bit as good a Democrat as Bernie Sanders is.”
In 1980, Reagan was elected president as a Republican, after having spent much of his early political life as a Democrat. In 2016, Sanders was runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination, though he hasn’t always identified as a member of the party.
Bloomberg’s campaign didn’t offer comment for this article. But in a June 2018 column, Bloomberg explained why he was supporting Democrats in their attempts to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives that year.
"I’ve never much liked political parties," Bloomberg wrote. "I’ve always believed that we should put country before party. Too many politicians practice the reverse, with terrible consequences for the American people."
Bloomberg, who turned 78 on Feb. 14, said in announcing his re-registration that he has been a Democrat most of his life. But he moved to the GOP in 2001, when he ran to succeed Republican Rudy Giuliani as New York’s mayor, the first of his three successful campaigns. About midway into his 12-year tenure, in 2007, he became an independent.
Bloomberg’s form of bipartisanship, seen by some as a pattern of contradictions, can be confusing:
- On one day in 2010, Bloomberg gave speeches for Washington, D.C.’s Democratic mayor and a Democrat running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania — and held a fundraiser for a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Delaware.
- In 2016, he spoke for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention — but also spent millions to help re-elect U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican.
- In 2018, he wrote the op-ed announcing he was supporting a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House. Eight days later he held a fundraiser for a Republican House member, Peter King of New York.
Bloomberg will have to answer questions about his GOP past and about supporting positions not backed by most Democrats, said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat in the swing state of Wisconsin and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Bloomberg addressed one such issue a week before announcing his bid, apologizing for his support as mayor of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. It led to the disproportionate detentions of black and Latino people across the city.
But despite such questions, Pocan, who is supporting Sanders, is open to unconventional Democrats.
"I never try to exclude anyone," Pocan said in an interview. "If they say they’re a Democrat, they can show it with their values. And that’s what primaries are for, for voters to make that determination.
"You can call yourself a member of the Hello Kitty party, right? You can say whatever affiliation you see yourself as," he added. "But at the end of the day, if you talk about universal health care, you talk about college affordability, you talk about climate change, then you’re talking about issues that Democrats care about, and that’s what’s going to make people vote for you."
“The man is eminently qualified, certainly by today’s standards, to be president of the United States,” said Frasier, the former DNC member and a Tulsa lawyer who is supporting Biden. “I’m not offended by (Bloomberg’s party switch) at all. It just raises my eyebrow of suspicion.”
On one stance, Frasier has no quibbles: Bloomberg’s pledge to pay for nearly 500 staffers on his presidential campaign to continue working through November to support whoever wins the nomination.
“That is one hell of a promise,” he said, “and it makes my old jaws water.”