South Carolina Mayor's Decision To Back Bloomberg

Feb 29, 2020
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One name we haven't heard much here in South Carolina is that of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That's because he is not on the ballot in South Carolina. Still, Bloomberg managed to snag an important endorsement from the mayor of Columbia, Stephen Benjamin. Benjamin is the city's first black mayor and a long-serving one. He's been in office since 2010. It took some time to get onto his schedule between city commitments, political events and family commitments, but when we did, he gave us his best pitch.

STEPHEN BENJAMIN: While all the other candidates who've been spending all their time in just four states - we could focus intently on the Super Tuesday states, where Super Tuesday and beyond - about 96% of all the delegates would be apportioned - realize that we're not trying to elect the president of Iowa or New Hampshire or Nevada or South Carolina. We're trying to elect the president of the United states. And I wouldn't let participation on one of the ballots or a lack of participation determine who I had selected.

MARTIN: OK. But how did you get to know him? How did you know that he was your guy?

BENJAMIN: I've had opportunities over the last 10 years or so to serve as mayor of the city side by side with Mike Bloomberg, with Pete Buttigieg. I believe that mayors get things done. And I'm a strong believer in public sector executive authority and actually not just talking about things or even introducing bills but actually having to solve problems. And I watched Mike Bloomberg not just in his role as a mayor but building a business from scratch into a global brand and certainly even more compelled by his philanthropy, not the size of it but the focus of it and the fact that he took on tough issues that everyone else ran away from. If it's global climate change, if it's ending gun violence, if it's taking on tobacco and vaping - took on the tough challenges and oftentimes won those challenges.

MARTIN: Do you - it's not a secret. It's become very obvious now after the last two debates that some people are just furious about the mayor. I don't think it's just a matter of competition, but I think it's a matter of - they just feel that he represents what Democrats should be against I guess this is the best way I can to sort of describe what I hear from them. Do you agree with me? I mean, just some of the candidates just seem furious. Do you share my perception of it?

BENJAMIN: I can't - he's been very disciplined not to speak about other candidates. And that's all I...

MARTIN: I'm not talking about other - I'm talking about the reaction that he seems to evoke...

BENJAMIN: Well, I will say this.

MARTIN: ...And why do you think that is?

BENJAMIN: I will say this. Mike Bloomberg grew up in Massachusetts in a home that his parents were not allowed to buy because they were Jewish. Their Irish lawyer had to go buy the home and then sell it to the Bloombergs. His father died young. His father never earned more than $6,000 a year. Today, that's about $50,000.

MARTIN: And your point is what?

BENJAMIN: That he represents the American dream. I strongly believe that this idea - that wealth is a bad thing. We ought not glorify wealth, and we ought not vilify wealth. And there's a swing in the party right now that feels that way. And I just think it's wrong. I think it's counterproductive. I believe that it will spell many years of losing campaigns for the Democratic party if we embrace that philosophy.

MARTIN: I think the concern that some people have - I can't speak to people who, as you put it, just seem to have, like, a visceral response to his extreme wealth. But there are those who articulate a concern that he, like Donald Trump, says he's a billionaire - we don't know because we've never seen his taxes - but that he will be unaccountable. I mean, I think the argument is it's not that he's a bad person per se but that that level of extreme wealth insulates you from the accountability...

BENJAMIN: I know.

MARTIN: ...That a person who has to raise money from other people would have. What do you say to that?

BENJAMIN: I think the fact that he decided not to raise funds means that he works only for the American people, that he'll be held accountable to them every election cycle just as anyone else would. We should be encouraging people to do well, and we should encourage people once they do well to do well by others.

MARTIN: That was the mayor of Columbia, S.C., Stephen Benjamin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.