Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg stepped out of American television screens and into a lavishly choreographed rally in Philadelphia on Tuesday, showcasing how his unorthodox campaign for president is spending big in populous states while competitors are mired in caucus chaos elsewhere.
The event at the National Constitution Center across from the Liberty Bell had the feel of an old rich dude's self-produced record release party, with features not normally, if ever, seen at a presidential primary rally: An over-the-top light show that culminated with a neon “WE LIKE MIKE” scrawled across the wall; an a capella group warm-up from President Donald Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania; and plenty of free T-shirts, wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Promising he would ban tweeting from the Oval Office, Bloomberg declared himself the “un-Trump” -- and the spectacle of the rally seemed to reinforce that. (The food at last week’s Jersey Shore Trump event consisted of $5 hot dogs.)
Bloomberg dropped $200 million on the campaign before 2019 even ended, and he humble-bragged about his fortune with the loudest applause line of the night: “People ask me: Do you really want a general election between two New York billionaires?’ To which I say: ‘Who’s the other one?’”
By skipping the early voting states and focusing on those with big delegate hauls — he was in California and Michigan this week before jetting to Pennsylvania — Bloomberg is making a bet on his name recognition and enormous wealth. In Pennsylvania, a state that twice went for President Barack Obama before flipping to Trump, he’s also banking that the swing-y Philadelphia suburbs will lead him to a general election victory. By next week he’ll have eight field offices in the state, the largest campaign infrastructure of any candidate, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Bloomberg fans who lined several hundred deep to get into the rally could be described as New York-adjacent -- several grew up in the city, and they were familiar with Bloomberg’s time as mayor. They cited Bloomberg’s business acumen, stewardship of New York, and post-mayoral philanthropic work on gun control and climate change.
“He did a great job as mayor in New York City and we think he can do the same for the United States,” said Jack Treatman, 62. “He’s very progressive yet very realistic. I just hope he can convince many different types of people to come together.”
Treatman wasn’t bothered by Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policing policy, which disproportionately affected young black boys and men. That policy was also in place in Philadelphia under the former mayor, Michael Nutter, who is Bloomberg’s campaign chairman. “I have to say it was effective, and [there was] a whole wave of residential development after a lot of neighborhoods I would never go to before became usable,” Treatman said. “So gentrification has its pluses and minuses, but as a civil liberties issue it doesnt give me pause.”
Philadelphian James Harris, a black retiree who hails from Brooklyn, said if officers treat those they stop with respect, then those stop-and-frisk interactions are nothing more than annoyances.
“You can say if you’ve been mayor of New York for 12 years, in a way, with all the diversity of ethnicities, you’ve been president,” he said.
Nutter introduced Bloomberg with a sort of enthusiasm that he rarely displayed during his two terms in office in Philadelphia. He literally dropped the mic after his introduction.
By contrast, Bloomberg’s remarks were staid.
“Never before in our history has our country faced a greater internal threat from a president who does not respect the Constitution, and a senate who will not protect it,” Bloomberg said, referring to impeachment. He added: “I got into this race 10 weeks ago because I was deeply concerned that Donald Trump was on track to win the election, and I could not sit by and let that happen.”
This week Bloomberg doubled his spending on TV ads and he is expanding his field staff to more than 2,000 people, according to The New York Times. Both nationally and in Pennsylvania, Bloomberg is already polling ahead of Mayor Pete Buttegeig and Senator Amy Klobuchar, who have both been in the race far longer.
“He’s not grandiose, he’s not full of personality or anything like that, but he’s a serious person who can get the job done,” said Sam Menaged, a native New Yorker now in the Philadelphia suburbs who wants a centrist to face Trump. He said he was definitely all-in on Bloomberg.