“It probably all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” Bloomberg, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said in a lecture at Georgetown University in September 2008. “Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighborhoods and said, ‘People in these neighborhoods are poor, they’re not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don’t go into those areas.’ ”
“And then Congress got involved — local elected officials, as well — and said, ‘Oh that’s not fair, these people should be able to get credit,’ ” he continued. “And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn’t as good as you would like.”
Bloomberg’s comments, which referred to a practice under which specific neighborhoods were for decades marked off by red lines on maps and subsequently starved of investment, were first reported by The Associated Press.
They drew condemnation and emerged as he was still struggling to address the fallout for comments he made in 2015 about stop-and-frisk policing, a tactic that his administration used disproportionately against black people and Latinos and that he defended for years. In those remarks, which resurfaced this week, he argued that “95% of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one MO” — specifically, he said, they were “male, minorities, 16 to 25.”
On Thursday morning, a spokesman for his campaign sought to reframe the former mayor’s comments on redlining while citing his record and the housing plan he has rolled out as a presidential candidate. One of Bloomberg’s initiatives seeks to build wealth for black Americans through increased homeownership.
“Mike’s saying that something bad — the financial crisis — followed something good, which is the fight against redlining he was part of as mayor,” the spokesman, Stu Loeser , said in a statement.
Bloomberg, a billionaire media executive who is self-funding his campaign, has faced newly intense scrutiny over his record even as his enormous outlay of cash has lifted him in national polls. After spending months campaigning essentially in a vacuum, entering the race late and focusing on delegate-rich states that begin voting in March rather than on the early nominating contests that take place in February, Bloomberg is increasingly competing in the same arena as the other candidates, and they are pushing back more against him.
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Among those who sharply criticized Bloomberg for the redlining comments was Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has released a housing plan calling for a down-payment assistance program aimed at giving a leg up to home buyers who live in formerly redlined neighborhoods.
“I’m surprised that someone running for the Democratic nomination thinks the economy would be better off if we just let banks be more overtly racist,” Warren wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “We need to confront the shameful legacy of discrimination, not lie about it like Mike Bloomberg has done.”
She added: “The end of redlining didn’t cause the 2008 crash. Out-of-control greed by Wall Street and big banks, and the corruption that lets them control our government, caused the crash. Predatory lenders steered families of color into the worst loans and those families lost billions.”
In an interview on ABC’s “The View” on Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden mentioned redlining as he discussed the prospect of sharing a debate stage with Bloomberg for the first time next week in Nevada.
“I’m going to get a chance to debate Mayor Bloomberg,” Biden said. “I’m going to get a chance to debate him on everything from redlining to stop-and-frisk to a whole range of other things.”
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Bloomberg has sought to ward off the criticism over his record on race, apologizing Tuesday for “taking too long to understand the impact” that stop-and-frisk policing “had on Black and Latino communities.” His statement, which noted that he “inherited” the policing tactic before cutting it back, omitted the role he played in expanding stop-and-frisk, and ignored that the decline he cited was partly the result of litigation and political pressure.
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In his statement Thursday, Loeser, the Bloomberg spokesman, said: “Because he knows how important it is to keep people in their homes, Mike attacked predatory lending as mayor and helped other cities craft innovative strategies to reduce evictions as a philanthropist. And Mike has detailed plans for how he will help a million more black families buy a house, and counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis as president.”
In recent days, Bloomberg has won endorsements from a number of prominent black politicians, including Mayors Sylvester Turner of Houston and Aja Brown of Compton, California, and Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York and Lucy McBath of Georgia.
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At campaign stops, some black voters expressed a willingness to look past his history with stop-and-frisk policing.
“I don’t hold that against him,” said Samuel Washington, 65, who attended a Bloomberg rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Wednesday. “At the time there were a whole lot of murders and he apologized for it. It takes a real man to apologize.”
The critiques of Bloomberg’s comments on housing point to an issue that is at the heart of his lengthy tenure as New York’s mayor. During his three terms, Bloomberg oversaw vast redevelopment as well as widening inequality, leading his successor, Bill de Blasio, to paint New York as a “tale of two cities.”
More broadly, affordable housing advocates agreed that predatory lending practices, not the end of redlining, were responsible for the 2008 economic crisis. Though Bloomberg’s comments echoed conservative talking points that were popular at the time, experts noted that most of the problematic subprime loans went to people who were already homeowners who paid their loans on time, not new home buyers who were overreaching.
Pinning the crisis on the end of redlining was “a very inaccurate description” that “really mischaracterizes the dynamics of what was happening,” said Debby Goldberg, the vice president of housing policy at the National Fair Housing Alliance, a nonprofit group.
“I would have expected somebody who had their finger on the pulse of what was happening in New York and cities and neighborhoods elsewhere to have had a more sophisticated analysis at the time,” she said. “And now it’s clear it completely missed the mark of what was actually going on.”
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There is no shortage of material from Bloomberg’s past for his opponents — and the media — to comb through. Having spent more than two decades in the public eye, as a prominent businessman, then as a blunt-speaking city leader and philanthropist, Bloomberg has weighed in on countless charged topics, often in comfortable settings that tended to encourage candor.
Within Bloomberg’s campaign, there is a general recognition that his candidacy has entered a new and more adversarial phase, when he will be treated by his rivals as a direct threat rather than a distant, multibillion-dollar curiosity. The hope among his advisers is that Democratic voters who see him as the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump will be inclined to take a forgiving view of the elements of his record and persona that they find troubling.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .