Raimondo makes the pitch for Bloomberg
Rhode Island governor calls billionaire businessman Democrats’ best hope
IS A WEALTHY businessman from New York the right presidential candidate to defeat another wealthy businessman from New York?
In the eyes of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, national co-chair of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Democratic presidential campaign, the answer is yes. She says Bloomberg is the man to beat Donald Trump.
“These guys couldn’t be more different from one another,” Raimondo said, ticking off a list of Bloomberg’s qualities: his business success, his record supporting abortion rights, his push to address climate change, and his support for gun control. “It’s true they’re both wealthy guys from New York City, but the comparison ends there.”
Raimondo, a centrist Democrat in the Bloomberg mold, visited Boston on Tuesday where she made a pitch for Bloomberg during a lunch with legislators, lobbyists, and Democratic operatives. She sat down with CommonWealth in the afternoon at the offices of political strategist Will Keyser, who is working on Bloomberg’s Massachusetts campaign.
In a Democratic race where the front-runner is Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, Raimondo, a Yale Law School graduate who founded a venture capital firm, is a natural surrogate to defend Bloomberg’s market-based message.
Asked how the US got to a place where democratic socialism is vying with capitalism as an appealing model for some Democratic voters, Raimondo acknowledged that capitalism, as it is playing out today, is not working for lots of Americans. “Too many people are working 60, 70 hours a week and living in poverty, don’t have health care, don’t have security,” she said. “There’s way too much economic insecurity and that has I believe bred a certain amount of anger, resentment and frustration, which you then see playing out in our politics.”
But Raimondo said she believes the right path to fix the economy is one Bloomberg believes in: Higher taxes on the wealthy used to fund big investments in public education, higher education, infrastructure and health care to improve opportunities for everyone.
“At the end of the day, capitalism, properly organized, grows the pie…it’s what’s made America great,” Raimondo said. “There’s this lurch toward socialism. It doesn’t work.”
Raimondo contrasted Bloomberg with Sanders, who won the first three presidential nominating contests. “What you’re hearing from Sen. Sanders is, blow it all up, blow up the Affordable Care Act and replace it with Medicare for all, blow up the Democratic Party, blow up capitalism and embrace a socialist form of government,” she said. “Mike says, hey, you have health care you like, you ought to be able to keep it, but for the millions of Americans who don’t have it, we need a public option.”
Raimondo got to know Bloomberg when she was Rhode Island state treasurer, a job she held from 2011 to 2015, and asked him for a meeting to talk about economic development.
Bloomberg’s entry has not exactly been met with a warm welcome from the Democrats in the race.
In last week’s debate in Nevada, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, after torching Bloomberg over past comments disparaging women, said Democrats “take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.” Sanders, meanwhile, said billionaires simply should not exist.
Bloomberg responded by saying he worked hard for his wealth and is giving it away.
Forbes estimates that Bloomberg, who was the founder and CEO of the media and financial services company that bears his name, has a net worth of over $60 billion.
Raimondo said Bloomberg made his money “through a lot of hard work, a lot of luck, and good schools” and that he believes everyone ought to have a chance at success. She stressed his record as a philanthropist and his platform that includes making college affordable.
Bloomberg is self-funding his presidential campaign and has already spent more than $400 million.
Raimondo batted back the idea that Bloomberg is trying to buy the election, noting that he is building a field campaign in all but the four early voting states. But since he’s doing that with lavish spending on campaign staff, critics would say Raimondo was only helping to make their point, not refuting it.
In Massachusetts, former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis is chairing Bloomberg’s campaign. He has 60 staffers here and six field offices, according to an email sent Sunday by his campaign. Although he touts his roots growing up in Medford, he has garnered few Massachusetts endorsements.
Raimondo said she believes money in politics “is a problem,” and the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates, “was a horrible decision and should be overturned.”
But she seemed to argue that Bloomberg’s billions might be an exception in light of exceptional times. Raimondo said the Trump presidency represents a crisis for the country and “Mike has the resources to be able to run a top notch campaign.”
Raimondo echoed Bloomberg’s contention that by self-funding his campaign, he won’t owe anything to anyone “other than a duty to work hard, be honest and do a good job.”Bloomberg has recently faced scrutiny over a history of making sexist and demeaning comments about women. Multiple lawsuits were filed by women alleging sexual harassment or gender discrimination by Bloomberg or his company. After coming under fire in a recent presidential debate, Bloomberg agreed to release three women from nondisclosure agreements related to complaints they made regarding Bloomberg’s comments.
Raimondo said any allegation of sexual harassment must be taken seriously, women need to be listened to, and any workplace must have zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination. “Bloomberg believes that,” she said. “I’ve worked with him closely for 10 years, I know him, I trust him. My experience with him is that he respects women, promotes women.” Raimondo said she is pleased Bloomberg decided to release the women from the nondisclosure agreements. “Voters need to know there’s nothing there, and he does have a good record as it relates to supporting women,” she said.