As other Democratic presidential candidates briefly departed a freezing Iowa ahead of next month’s caucuses, Michael Bloomberg was hosting a large and grand rally at the Sheraton in Midtown Manhattan, the first big hometown event for the former mayor since he announced his campaign nearly two months ago. The theme: women for Mike.
As pop hits spun by a DJ blared — from Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” to Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” — the titular women for Mike, wearing campaign T-shirts and waving signs, some of which had been made up to look handcrafted, flooded the stage, hyping the crowd up. A small brass ensemble played briefly. The ballroom was bathed in pink and blue light. Attendees clutched glasses of wine and ate hors d’œuvres; the event even had a coat check. A campaign aide stopped by the press tables during the event to tell reporters that over 1,000 people were confirmed to be in attendance.
It wasn’t a typical primary season event, in other words. Bloomberg, of course, is not a typical primary candidate; he announced his candidacy a little less than two months ago, long after his opponents in the Democratic field, and, a committed centrist, he hasn’t always been a Democrat. He conducted his first and second campaigns for mayor of New York as a Republican and his third as an independent. Bloomberg toyed with running for president in the past, but only made good on the idea this cycle, and has stormed into the campaign with a shock-and-awe approach, using his enormous fortune to fund a massive advertising campaign and hire, as of now, 1,000 staffers.
Several women surrogates took turns speaking as warm-up acts to Bloomberg, including the actress Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen in Goodfellas and Dr. Melfi, Tony Soprano’s therapist, in The Sopranos. She exhorted the crowd to “teach your children about Mike Bloomberg” — “rise up ladies, our future depends on it.” Former Manhattan borough president C. Virginia Fields and Shenee Johnson, the mother of a 17-year-old boy who was killed by gun violence, also spoke.
Bloomberg’s partner Diana Taylor gave a brief speech on his behalf, sporting a campaign T-shirt. "I have spent the last 20 years of my life with Michael Bloomberg,” she said wryly. “You could say I’m the first 'woman for Mike.'" Fatima Shama, a former New York City official who is working for Bloomberg’s campaign, took a selfie with the crowd while giving her remarks, then instructed the audience on which hashtag to use to share it.
Slickly produced campaign videos appeared as interstitials throughout the introductory speeches, including one that featured an appearance by Judge Judy, another Bloomberg supporter.
Bloomberg took the stage to enthusiastic cheers and strolled to the lectern, where he mentioned that he had used that same Sheraton ballroom for an election night victory party for one of his mayoral campaigns. Bloomberg pitched himself as the candidate best prepared to defeat Donald Trump and restore sanity.
“My whole career I’ve been a doer and a problem solver,” Bloomberg said. He promised “less talk, less partisanship, less division, less tweeting — in fact, what about no tweeting from the Oval Office ever again?”
His anti-tweeting rhetoric struck an odd note after his social media team spent all of Tuesday night, as other candidates debated in Iowa, tweeting a series of head-scratching missives, including a photoshop of Bloomberg’s face on a meatball.
Bloomberg’s wealth is the reason he can self-fund his campaign and hold impressive events like the one on Wednesday — but it also means he can’t take part in primary debates under DNC rules, which require a certain number of individual donors for a campaign to qualify. This has only compounded the strange feeling of being on a parallel track that Bloomberg’s campaign exudes; while his opponents duke it out with each other, he simply doesn’t have to, playing by a script all his own. Can you buy an election? No, but apparently you can buy independence from a party structure and quotidian campaign spats.
In his remarks, Bloomberg said his next stops were to be in California, Utah and Washington DC — again an unusual move for a candidate competing in a primary two weeks before the caucuses.
But Bloomberg’s strategy appears to be exactly that — to not run a primary campaign at all, and to act as though he’s in a general election. His campaign strategy reportedly hinges on states whose primaries are held later, essentially skipping the early states other Democrats are so focused on.
And he’s said his campaign will remain active even if he doesn’t win the nomination, directing his campaign’s resources toward defeating Trump regardless of who the nominee is.
This fact was heartening for his supporters like Andrea Shapiro Davis, who worked in Bloomberg’s administration as his director of appointments. Davis was at the rally in a campaign T-shirt and holding a sign.
“Mike Bloomberg is dedicated to changing the trajectory of this country in such a big way that he is putting his money behind supporting the Democratic nominee, whoever that is,” Davis said. “Donald Trump has got to go, and Mike Bloomberg is gonna do whatever he can to make sure that Donald Trump is out.”
She wasn’t the only supporter there with a direct connection to Bloomberg; I spoke with several women who had worked for him or knew someone who did, and who appeared to feel a fierce personal loyalty to him. Yolanda Jimenez, who served as the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence in his administration for 12 years, praised Bloomberg for his support of the work her office did and said Bloomberg “cares about women. I’ve seen him take ownership of that issue, [about] women who have been victimized, and him supporting women. That’s why I’m here. If he was able to do it in New York, he can do it across the country."
But the “Women for Mike” rally came amid recent stories that have raised questions about Bloomberg’s treatment of women who worked for his company. Resisting the cultural pull of #MeToo, he is refusing to release women who sued the company or him personally from their nondisclosure agreements, saying earlier on Wednesday, “We don't have anything to hide. But we made legal agreements which both sides wanted to keep things from coming out. They have a right to do that.” Court filings reportedly include accusations that Bloomberg himself made harassing remarks.
If Bloomberg was bothered by the stories, he didn’t show it. “On my first day in office, I will reverse the damage President Trump has done to women’s rights,” he declared onstage.