(The Root) — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a tough week. At least, tough compared to most weeks for the white, straight male billionaire who runs one of the world’s leading cities, and by most accounts has led a fairly charmed life that usually involves getting his way — even if that means paying for the privilege.
But the Bloomberg who has been praised in progressive circles for his advocacy on gun control is in danger of having his legacy eclipsed by another Bloomberg who does not inspire progressive admiration, but shame. The mayor’s obsession with maintaining stop and frisk, a policy that both civil rights activists and a federal judge have deemed discriminatory in execution, a conclusion that all data collected on the subject supports, has cast him as someone who is racially insensitive at best, and subtly racist at worst. Now his reaction to the recent ruling by federal judge Shira Scheindlin, who found stop and frisk unconstitutional, is renewing questions of whether or not the mayor is not only racially insensitive but also insensitive when it comes to gender issues.
During an appearance on his weekly radio show, he was repeatedly condescending and dismissive of Scheindlin’s ruling, qualifications and role as a jurist, referring to her as “some woman” who was unqualified to make such a ruling. “Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it,” he said. He went on to add that she knows “absolutely zero” about policing. According to a report in the New York Daily News, Scheindlin is actually far more qualified on the legalities of stop and frisk than the mayor. She “has a master’s degree from Columbia University and a law degree from Cornell University, was a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn and general counsel to the city Department of Investigation before becoming a judge.”
The mayor’s comments are just the latest in a series of gaffes that denote a measure of tone deafness, particularly when it comes to addressing underrepresented communities. He was criticized for complimenting the physical attributes of a female stranger at an event in crass terms. Though the story was relayed by others in attendance, he later denied it. He did not, however, deny reports that he regularly critiques the appearance of New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, with a news story noting that he criticizes her hair color on occasion and gets upset when she does not wear high heels.
Quinn is the highest-ranking woman in New York City government and running to succeed Bloomberg as mayor. In most industries outside of entertainment or perhaps a job at Hooters, a man in a workplace position of power telling a female employee to dye her hair to his liking and put on sexier shoes would be considered flirting with the line of sexual harassment if not crossing it altogether.
Then there were his comments about stop and frisk that essentially condoned racial profiling and even extolled its virtues. He said, “There is this business, there’s one newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying, ‘Oh, it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group.’ That may be, but it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murder. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” He has further reinforced the perception that he sees poor people of color as criminals in the making by expressing support for fingerprinting those who live in New York public housing.
I have written before that I believe the word “racist” is thrown around too casually at times, but I should be more specific. I think the word is thrown around too casually against certain people, usually conservatives whose politics, which are rarely minority-friendly, make them easy targets. But I also think the word is at times used too sparingly against people in certain groups, usually limousine liberals who write checks to the right causes, which seems to buy them a get-out-of-jail-free card when they say or do something offensive. Bloomberg has given a great deal to philanthropic causes benefiting at-risk minority youth.
And Paula Deen had black friends.
That doesn’t mean either one of them gets a pass for appalling behavior.