By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
Recognizing the importance of the black vote and the reach of the Black Press of America, Democratic Presidential Candidate Mike Bloomberg last week delivered the largest single advertising buy to the Black Press in the 80-year history of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).
The NNPA is the national trade association that represents 230 black-owned newspapers and media companies throughout the nation.
The $3.5 million ad buy became official on Monday, Feb. 10 during Black History Month. It enables Bloomberg to continue his aggressive campaign for president with ads appearing in Black Press of America publications throughout the upcoming Super Tuesday states, as well as other key states where the black vote will be the determinative factor in the Democratic Party primaries.
Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin, who co-chairs Bloomberg’s campaign, said the deal is reflective of the former New York City mayor’s commitment toward building an inclusive economy.
“The Bloomberg campaign’s initiative is groundbreaking, and it goes to significantly increasing the economic health of African Americans by tripling their net worth,” said Mayor Benjamin. “The Bloomberg model is intentionally focused on creating a million new African American homeowners, 100,000 new African American-owned businesses, and $70 billion in federal capital to go in the 100 most challenged neighborhoods across the country.”
Benjamin added that the ad agreement counts as a recognition that, while some people only talk about accomplishing important initiatives, Bloomberg follows through. “Mike has a history and a record as mayor, CEO, and philanthropist, of getting things done,” Benjamin stated. “The ad buy not only is a show of respect to the incredible impact and importance of African American journalism but also it is Mike walking the walk when it comes to his investing in African American-owned businesses.”
“The ad buy not only is a show of respect to the incredible impact and importance of African American journalism but also it is Mike walking the walk when it comes to his investing in African American-owned businesses,” said South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin, who co-chairs Bloomberg’s campaign.
Steven N. Larkin, the NNPA advertising salesman who helped in negotiations with Bloomberg’s campaign, called the ad buy a “Historic partnership between Mike Bloomberg and the Black Press.”
Reaching black America in 2020 is critical for all presidential candidates, according to the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, emphasized, “It is appropriate and politically providential that candidates for the highest office in the nation recognize and sustain the significance of reaching African American voters through the Black Press of America via the NNPA. Mike Bloomberg has now stepped up to the plate with the commitment of his resources at this pivotal moment in history to affirm the importance of the black vote in 2020.”
The ad buy comes at a critical time for Bloomberg.
The Bloomberg campaign is waging an effort to engage black voters despite past controversies about race and criminal justice that critics have slammed as racist and disqualifying for higher office.
In 2013, the last year of former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s tenure, Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat who represents parts of Queens in New York City, called the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk policy “illegal” and “attacks on our communities.”
But in 2020, Meeks endorsed Bloomberg for president, a day after a video of Bloomberg’s past remarks defending the practice, which had disproportionately affected racial minorities, ricocheted around the internet.
In a brief interview with USA TODAY, Meeks said he accepted Bloomberg’s apology for what the congressman called “bad policy” that was “just trying to save lives.”
“I know you’re just trying to save lives, but it was in a bad way, right, and ultimately he realized it, and he’s apologized for it,” he said.
Meeks’ endorsement, and that of several other black lawmakers, suggest Bloomberg can change minds, something he’ll need if he wants to win the Democratic nomination.
Other than former Vice President Joe Biden, most of the other Democratic presidential candidates have struggled to garner support from black voters — a crucial voter base for the party.
Biden has the endorsement of 18 members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, a coalition of African American members of the House and Senate. But he’s faltered after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, and polling has shown declining levels of support among black voters, leaving an opening for another challenger in the so-called “moderate lane” of the Democratic primary.
That presents an opportunity for Bloomberg, whose four CBC endorsements are more than any other Democratic candidate in the race aside from Biden. Plus, in FiveThirtyEight’s average of national presidential polls, Bloomberg sits in third place, behind Sanders and Biden, even though Americans won’t be able to cast votes for Bloomberg until Super Tuesday, on March 3.
Bloomberg’s African American supporters were put to the test Tuesday when resurfaced video showed Bloomberg giving a candid defense of stop-and-frisk.
“We put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” Bloomberg said in the video. “Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”
As the video circulated online, it was amplified by a later-deleted tweet from President Donald Trump, who called Bloomberg a racist. Despite the attack, Trump defended the practice as a candidate in 2016.
The Bloomberg campaign released a statement following a prescheduled meeting with over a dozen African American faith leaders defending the former mayor.
“While Donald Trump was calling Mike Bloomberg a racist, Mike was continuing his conversation with African-American clergy from around the country,” the faith leaders said, citing Bloomberg’s “regret” over policies like stop-and-frisk, a program where New York City police officers routinely stopped and searched mostly black and Hispanic men for weapons.
Last week, Bloomberg rolled out a 26-state ad buy in network, cable, and local markets about his support for black-owned businesses as mayor of New York. And later that day, he unveiled “Mike for Black America” in Houston, Texas, alongside a group of a dozen black mayors, including the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner.
In his speech announcing the initiative to rally black voters, Bloomberg apologized again for stop-and-frisk and pledged to “right the wrongs of institutional racism,” telling the crowd, “I know I can’t change history. But what I can do is learn from my mistakes – and use those lessons to do right by black and brown communities who have suffered.”
Despite the controversy over the past comments, Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, told USA TODAY Bloomberg’s efforts showed “outreach” to black communities, something she thought was important.
“When you have candidates that ignore the realities of race, who fail to engage black voters, or fail to diversify their campaign staff — to have a candidate that is trying to bridge that gap has made some people take notice,” she said.
Brown-Dean noted that Bloomberg had been successful in obtaining the endorsements of current and former black mayors, including standout names like former New Haven, Connecticut, Mayor Toni Harp, who had been the city’s first black female mayor and the president of the African American Mayors Association.
USA Today contributed to this post