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Politics

With Open Checkbook, Bloomberg Turns To Charlotte City Council Member

bloomberg.jpg
Steve Harrison
/
WFAE
Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell is the North Carolina field director for Michael Bloomberg's campaign

Here’s what a typical field office for a presidential candidate looks like: It’s about 800 square feet. Hidden on the second floor of a shopping center, with signs taped to an outside door, directing people inside.

This office – for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – was mostly empty one day this week, except for a couple of college-age supporters.

Then there is Michael Bloomberg’s Charlotte office. 

It’s 17,000 square feet and in the heart of uptown – on North Tryon Street. 

It looks like a corporate headquarters.

Bloomberg has spent more than $300 million on TV and digital ads in Super Tuesday states, according to Axios. And he’s spending heavily on a ground game in North Carolina – opening 10 offices in the state, and already hiring 124 paid staff.

Leading that effort in North Carolina is Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell, the Bloomberg field director for the state. 

In an interview at the Charlotte office – on the executive level -- Mitchell talked about Bloomberg's spending spree, hiring a liaison for the Latino community. And for the LGBTQ community. And for veterans.

"So I picked up all the talent," Mitchell said. "I got (former City Council candidate) Jorge Millares. Jorge is heading up my Latino (outreach). He ran for Council. I had to pick people who had relationships and great credibility. It’s a sprint for us."

In his nearly 20 years on City Council, Mitchell has never been known as a political partisan. And while he talks about the importance of defeating President Donald Trump in 2020, he was one of six council members who voted to bring the Republican National Convention to Charlotte -- over the objections of many Democratic activists.

Mitchell says he's spent more than $5 million of Bloomberg's money so far in the state. That’s not on advertising -- just rent, salaries and signs.

"I was given one direction: 'You need to win. We need to win North Carolina,'" he said.

Mitchell has taken a leave from his business development job at a construction company to take his position with Bloomberg. He says working for Bloomberg is "the best job I’ve ever had."

Mitchell started working for the campaign at the end of November. Through the end of 2019, he was paid $7,800, according to Bloomberg’s campaign finance report. 

And he says his ties with the state’s African American community are a big asset to the Bloomberg campaign.

"I’m a North Carolina Central graduate, (that's an) HBCU," he said. "And it has helped me get into Winston Salem State. Through the CIAA relationships I can go to Elizabeth City. And you’re right, they remember me as, 'You are the guy who brought CIAA. You’re a good guy.'"

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Bloomberg’s support has risen among black voters nationally, from 7% last month to 22%.

Former vice president Joe Biden’s support in that same demographic has fallen from 49% to 27%.

In North Carolina, black voters will make up about one-third of the Democratic primary electorate.

"I’m going to give you the area that I think we need to improve on," Mitchell said. "They want to hear from him. Directly. So we get a lot of demands: 'When is he coming to Charlotte? When can we see him?'"

Bloomberg made an appearance in Raleigh on Thursday. And this week, the campaign has been dealing with a resurfaced 2015 recording of Bloomberg defending the New York Police Department’s "Stop and Frisk" policy, which overwhelmingly impacted blacks and Latinos. The former mayor said they were affected because “that’s where all the crime is.”

Bloomberg has previously apologized for "Stop and Frisk."

"It’s been a tough road," Mitchell said. "Because the African American community, for us, 'Stop and Frisk' – and it’s a generational thing – cause you see those 55-plus they understand it was about policy. Those who are 35 and under (they don't like it)."

South Carolina’s primary is in a little more than two weeks, on Feb. 29. North Carolina votes on March 3.

Even if Bloomberg doesn’t win the nomination, Mitchell and his team will keep working through November – on Bloomberg’s dime. He has said he will continue spending his fortune to defeat President Trump.

Go behind the headlines with WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison in his weekly newsletter “Inside Politics.”Steve will provide insight about and analysis of local and statewide politics. Readers will gain an understanding of political news on the horizon and why it matters. 

While you're at it, go ahead and take a listen to our companion podcast:Inside Politics: The RNC in Charlotte, hosted by Steve Harrison and Lisa Worf.