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Bloomberg seeks to move past the 'stop and frisk' controversy

Bloomberg News — By Mark Niquette Bloomberg News

Feb. 12-- CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.-Michael Bloomberg sought Wednesday to move past a controversy about comments he made in 2015 that crime in minority communities justified stop-and-frisk policing when he was New York mayor. He predicted black voters will still support him.

"Those words don't reflect the way that I've governed, or the way that I run my company or the way that I live," Bloomberg told reporters after a campaign stop Wednesday in Chattanooga, Tenn. He said he was reelected twice in one of the most diverse U.S. cities. "I think we're going to do very well in the African American community."

An audio from 2015 surfaced on Monday in which Bloomberg defended his stop-and-frisk policing policy. In clips of a speech given at the Aspen Institute, Bloomberg says the best way to reduce gun violence among minorities was to "throw them up against the wall and frisk them."

That prompted another round of apologies by Bloomberg, who has said the policy lowered the city's murder rate. He now says he came to decide late in his final term as mayor the policy wasn't effective and should have ended it sooner, and that he thinks voters will be able to look at his broader record on issues affecting minorities.

A federal court ruled in 2013 the policy was unconstitutional.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News).

Hours after the audio was posted on Twitter, his campaign held a conference call with the Black Economic Alliance, which garnered an apology from Bloomberg, and a meeting with 20 African American faith leaders who backed him.

On Wednesday, his campaign announced endorsements by three members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, who was named a co-chairman of Bloomberg's Black America National Leadership Council; Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, who became a gun-control activist after her 17-year-old son was shot and killed in 2012; and Rep. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has campaigned for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, criticized Bloomberg's record as mayor and said Democrats would be making a mistake to support him for the party's presidential nomination."

I think quite a few things happened under him as mayor," she told reporters at the Capitol. "Frankly, we all know 'stop and frisk'-that was my family, and that was my community, and that was my neighborhood, and we know this was a policy that decimated a lot of families."

Ocasio-Cortez said his apologies weren't enough. "So, are those folks going to get their records expunged with a tweet? They're not," she said.

The Bloomberg campaign declined to comment on Ocasio-Cortez's remarks.

But Bloomberg faced a friendly crowd in Chattanooga.

"I know what racism looks like," Elenora Woods, president of the Chattanooga NAACP said in introducing him at a campaign stop there. "I know what it looks like, and that's not Mike Bloomberg."

While his Democratic rivals are now turning their attention to the next two contests in Nevada and South Carolina, Bloomberg is holding rallies with the start of early voting in Tennessee on Wednesday and in North Carolina on Thursday, two states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3. Bloomberg is skipping the contests in February to focus on the races in March, when more than 60% of the pledged delegates needed for the Democratic nomination will be awarded.

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There was an overflow crowd at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center where he spoke in Chattanooga, and Bloomberg addressed about 400 people outside. He even acknowledged the handful of protesters with signs such as, "My vote is not for sale." A protester also jumped on stage inside before Bloomberg spoke complaining about a "plutocracy," apparently referring to Bloomberg self-financing his campaign, before being escorted off.

Bloomberg obliquely referred to Sanders, who won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

"We don't need a revolution. We want evolution, and we need a nominee who can deliver it," he said. He also referred indirectly to Sanders' Medicare for All plan by saying he would achieve universal health care coverage "without a massive tax hike on the middle class and without forcing people to give up their private insurance."

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Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bloomberg refused to answer questions about the rest of the Democratic race, including low-polling candidates who are staying in.

"If they want to stay in they should stay in," Bloomberg said. "I'm not here to tell anybody what to do."

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Bloomberg has been rising in polls where he places third nationally in the RealClearPolitics average of recent national polls, at 14.2%, behind Sanders at 23.6% and Joe Biden at 19.2%. Polls suggest Bloomberg is pulling support that previously went to Biden, including among black voters.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday before the audio tape surfaced showed that Bloomberg's support among black voters jumped 15 percentage points since an earlier poll on Jan. 28, from 7% to 22%. Biden's once-overwhelming advantage among the same voter pool dropped from 49% to 27%.

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(With assistance from Billy House.)

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