Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Jan. 28 op-ed calling for Puerto Rican statehood accentuates the multibillionaire’s determination to try to claim the Democratic Party presidential nomination solely by focusing on urban dynamics, the only card he knows how to play. Half of all Puerto Ricans in stateside America live in New York, Florida, or New Jersey, and they overwhelmingly reside in big cities. Bloomberg’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, released Jan. 22, is similarly locked in on the needs of urban residents. By touting these priorities at the very moment the top five rival party candidates are furiously courting Iowans in the Heartland, Bloomberg again is showing just how sharply different a path he is charting to victory. Can it work?
New York State of Mind
It’s hard to believe many Midwesterners are being kept up late at night fraught with worry about the need to grant statehood to Puerto Rico. As a former megalopolis mayor, Bloomberg is used to throwing money at problems, but his op-ed deftly avoids mentioning the high cost island statehood would impose on American taxpayers. Puerto Ricans “don’t have the same funding as other Americans for essential programs, including Medicaid, even though Puerto Rico’s poverty rate, at almost 43%, is more than double that of the highest-poverty U.S. state,” Bloomberg wrote, seemingly oblivious to the meaning of his words. Bloomberg is calling for more federal welfare programs for a corruption-plagued island that would feature a staggeringly high percentage of its population clamoring for such services.
But this is not the only issue in which Bloomberg is appealing only to those already safely entwined in the blue urbanite cocoon. His infrastructure plan is unsurprisingly heavily tilted toward the concerns of city dwellers. The plan calls for large investments in public transit and high-speed rail construction and “alternative transportation projects” such as bike lanes. Bloomberg has long been obsessed with getting Americans out of their cars, and while that may play well in a congested city like New York, it means little to those in rural areas. “Americans increasingly prefer to live in communities where it’s easier to take transit, bike, or walk to get where they’re going,” a “Clean Transportation” plan released by Bloomberg on Jan. 17 reads, speaking the language of Big Apple urban renewal and rather speciously projecting it across the entirety of the nation.
Bloomberg’s approach may not fly in a general election but there certainly can be an argument made for it within a Democratic primary construct. Dems are indeed an urbanite party and, say this for him, Bloomberg is the only one being unabashedly honest about it. Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have assiduously attempted to position themselves as sturdy genuine Midwestern folk but the progressive sensibilities of the party today can best be found in a coffee bar in Brooklyn, not a blue-collar diner in Dubuque.
By writing off Iowa and New Hampshire and focusing on whale states like Texas and California in a March 3 Super Tuesday bonanza, Bloomberg is counting on his big-city bona fides hitting home with progressive primary voters. And why not? A casual glance at state-by-state election results in 2016 and 2018 consistently shows blue urban strongholds surrounded by a sea of outlying rural red. If the Dem voting bloc really is increasingly made up of insulated parochial cosmopolitans then Bloomberg’s strategy is sound, even if the candidate himself is not of the highest caliber. Guess what? They are. And so there is a chance.
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