Former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg has been on quite the spending spree lately in his unconventional bid to land the Democratic nomination for president.
Last week, Bloomberg’s reach made itself evident less than a mile from the Oak Park/Austin border, when the candidate opened a campaign office at 5607 W. Division St. in Austin on Feb. 12.
A campaign spokesperson said that, as of last week, the Austin office was one of about 10 across the state (on the same day as the Austin office opening, the campaign was opening an office in the South Side Chatham community). It’s likely the only presidential campaign office on the West Side, which is nonetheless no stranger to presidential campaign offices.
In 2016, would-be Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton opened a campaign office inside of Genesis on the Avenue, an office building located at 5811 W. Chicago Ave., just a few blocks east of Oak Park.
Bloomberg wasn’t at the opening on Feb. 12, but one of a growing list of high-profile surrogates attended: Karen Freeman-Wilson, the former two-term mayor Gary, Indiana, and currently president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
“While we have a lot of great candidates who have a lot of great ideas, we’ve got to get someone who can take the president on heads up,” Freeman-Wilson said during her stump speech. “The soul of our nation is at stake.”
The office opening comes as Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk past dominates national headlines. The mayor has expressed a degree of penitence for the controversial policy, which according to the New York Times “allows police officers to detain someone for questioning on the street, in public housing projects or in private buildings where landlords request police patrols.”
After Bloomberg took office in 2002, the “number of stops multiplied sevenfold, peaking with 685,724 in 2011 and then tumbling to 191,851 in 2013. During Mr. Bloomberg’s three terms, the police recorded 5,081,689 stops,” the New York Times reported.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, black and Latinx communities were “the overwhelming target” of the tactic, even though roughly “nine of out 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent.” In 2013, a federal judge in New York ruled that the practice violated citizens’ constitutional rights.
Bloomberg had been a vigorous defender of the policy up until November 2019, just before he announced his presidential bid.
In Chicago, particularly in minority communities like Austin, stop-and-frisk has been even more pervasive than in New York City, according to City Lab.
“In just a four-month period in 2014, Chicagoans were stopped and frisked at four times the rate at which New Yorkers were in 2011, when the practice was at its peak in New York City,” the publication reported.
Julie Kaviar, Bloomberg’s communications director in Illinois, said that the former mayor has worked to rectify his role in stop-and-frisk’s expansion by “being in communities like Austin and Chatham, having those challenging conversations and showing that we are investing in positive outcomes.
“One thing he did in New York was create a program that became President Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ and so having those social services tied with mentoring services to help people build out of poverty and talking about the root public health causes of gun violence is critical to our commitment,” she said.