Commentary: When It Comes to de Blasio, Bloomberg Is Tone Deaf

The New York City mayor’s criticism of Bill de Blasio’s campaign as “racist” has drawn wide and appropriate outcry.

Posted: 09/09/2013 12:30 PM EDT

In New York City, there seem to be moments in the final terms of mayors where they come up with wild and irrational statements.

In 1988, toward the end of Ed Koch’s third term as mayor, he weighed in on Jesse Jackson’s historic campaign for presidency by observing that Jewish New Yorkers would have to be “crazy” to vote for the African-American civil rights leader.

Now it’s apparently Michael Bloomberg’s moment with the outlandish comments. In an interview, published over the weekend in New York magazine, the mayor said he considered it racist of mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio to highlight his mixed-race family in ads. The Democratic candidate, whose wife is Black, ran a campaign ad criticizing the police department’s stop-and-frisk program that featured de Blasio's teenage son, Dante, who wears a large Afro.

The New York City mayor stopped short of calling de Blasio himself a racist. But went on to describe just why he considers the de Blasio campaign to be violating some sort of code of conduct. “It’s comparable to me pointing out that I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote.”

Where does he come up with this stuff? The explanations that have been tossed around still don’t explain such recklessness.

Some suggest that they are the musings of a man in his final days in office, who will say anything, no matter how preposterous, to remain relevant. Well, several of Bloomberg’s recent statements have not made him look so much relevant as they have portrayed him as, well, foolish. After all, this was the man who suggested recently that too many white New Yorkers were detained in the city’s stop-and-frisk program and that African-American citizens were not stopped frequently enough.

Others have suggested that the mayor had become frustrated by the plunging political prospects of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whom Bloomberg has all but presented the keys to City Hall in his desire to see her succeed him. These pundits have suggested that Bloomberg, forlorn by the ascent of de Blasio in the polls, sought to paint him as a dangerous choice and, by extension, Quinn as a responsible one.

But his critique of de Blasio has had the opposite effect. It has galvanized New Yorkers to criticize Bloomberg and look with sympathy toward de Blasio for getting unfairly pummeled by the billionaire mayor. Bloomberg’s criticism of de Blasio was roundly and appropriately criticized by a wide range of New Yorkers, including Quinn. In large measure, Bloomberg bestowed a tremendous gift to de Blasio just days before the primary by his unjust and bizarre statement.

The most disconcerting part of the Bloomberg critique is that it is so utterly tone deaf in suggesting that de Blasio was playing racial politics. The fact is that de Blasio’s ad was not focusing on the race of his family members, but on the unconstitutional policies of the Bloomberg administration that make young Black and brown New Yorkers prey for any police officer who wants to stop them. It was an ad that looked at a central issue facing many who live in New York. It was not some cavalier effort to engage in racial politics.

The best strategy for Bloomberg now would be take the next three months before returning to the life of a private citizen to relax and resist the temptation to add his voice to much in the way of public discourse.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photos from left:  AP Photo/John Minchillo, File,  Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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