California looks at billionaire Michael Bloomberg with skepticism and indifference

Democratic presidential candidate Michael R. Bloomberg.
Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg discusses his presidential run at a Norfolk, Va., news conference.
(Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Richard Springwater was out gathering provisions for a Thanksgiving feast — 20 people, he’ll bake, his wife will cook — when he paused near the city’s waterfront to consider Michael R. Bloomberg and his money-gushing run for the White House.

He understands why the former New York City mayor elbowed his way into the crowded Democratic race: doubts that any of the other 17 candidates are capable of beating President Trump.

But Springwater fears that Bloomberg may unsettle the race, handing the nomination to the more left-leaning Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, thus costing Democrats the White House.

Richard Springwater
Richard Springwater worries that Bloomberg’s entry into the race could end up helping President Trump.
(Mark Z. Barabak/Los Angeles TImes)

“I’m a little concerned,” said Springwater, 68, a retired real estate developer.

With his sudden and splashy entry into the race, Bloomberg is pursuing a strategy others have tried and failed at before. He’s skipping the mob scene surrounding the early contests and building his effort around victories starting in early March, on so-called Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states will vote in a coast-to-coast electoral extravaganza.

None loom as large as California.

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The state, which offers the most delegates, is bigger than many countries, with a huge electorate and citizenry not particularly attuned to politics. The best way to get known is through television advertising — and a lot of it — though the cost is through the roof. That makes it prohibitive for most candidates but not Bloomberg, whose estimated net worth exceeds $54 billion.

Already he has dashed off checks for nearly $40 million in TV spots, about $4 million of it in California, where he has been ubiquitous on the airwaves in recent days.

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg meets with Nancy Guy
Bloomberg visits with Virginia House Delegate-Elect Nancy Guy during a campaign stop in Norfolk, Va.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Still, for all the advertising and hype surrounding his candidacy, especially back East, Bloomberg’s announcement barely registered on the state’s political Richter scale.

“I just know he’s a finance guy from New York,” said Michael Paleno, 56, a real estate appraiser from West Los Angeles.


“Never heard of him,” said college student Daniel Pearce, 20, as he hung out at a mall in Riverside.

“Who?” asked Nelby Bustamante, 49, as she sat on a park bench in San Francisco between job interviews.

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Vast wealth is what makes the 77-year-old Bloomberg a viable, if long-shot, candidate for president.

It was also the single attribute repeatedly cited in dozens of voter interviews across the state, for reasons both good and bad.

Zane Lowry
Zane Lowry gives Bloomberg credit for funding his own campaign.
(Melanie Mason/Los Angeles TImes)

Zane Lowry, 27, is leaning toward Warren and Vermont Sen. Sanders in California’s March 3 primary. But he appreciates the fact Bloomberg has promised to pay for his campaign with his own money and accept no outside donations.

“It’s nice to know he’s not necessarily beholden to special interests,” Lowry said over morning coffee in Culver City, a sentiment that was echoed by others.

Ben Garcia sees no problem with Bloomberg running and sinking a fortune into the race; that, he said, is competition.

“The naysayers are claiming he shouldn’t be able to buy the presidency. Says who?” demanded Garcia, 53, a L.A County sheriff’s administrator. “The guy who’s already in the race trying to win the presidency?” An independent, Garcia has yet to choose a 2020 candidate.

Others, though, felt they detected more than a small whiff of arrogance. California, after all, has a decades-long history of spurning the well-to-do, among them the free-spending gubernatorial hopefuls Al Checchi and Meg Whitman.

Morgan McGlothan
Morgan McGlothan, 23, of Inglewood.
(Tyrone Beason/Los Angeles Times)

The mere mention of Bloomberg made Inglewood’s Morgan McGlothan put her head in her hands.

“Who cares?” said the 23-year-old barista and self-described progressive. “I’m not even interested in what he has to say. We’re already so far into the race. Get over yourself.”

Jay Brown wasn’t as quick to dismiss Bloomberg, though the billionaire businessman has something to prove before the 72-year-old Democrat would consider voting for him.

“I don’t know anything about him. I just know he’s filthy rich,” said the owner of King of Curls, a black hair and apparel boutique in Sacramento. Brown continued as portraits of Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley and Malcolm X looked on.

“He’s like the super-rich that was here at the beginning of this country,” Brown said, “and he’s still from that line of thinking. So he would have to do something to show that he’s for the people.”

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A handful cited aspects of Bloomberg’s record as mayor, in particular concerns over the stop-and-frisk anti-crime policy that heavily targeted black and brown New Yorkers. (He recently apologized.)

“It didn’t really affect the crime rate,” said Rey Camoras, 52, a San Diego software developer, who was visiting downtown Los Angeles while his wife had a medical appointment. “All it did was make the lives of people of color more difficult in the city.” The political independent is deciding between Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.


(Springwater, the retired San Francisco developer, is deciding between Buttigieg and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.)

A few commended Bloomberg for the many millions of dollars he spent promoting liberal causes, such as gun control and addressing climate change.

Rick Spickelmier would like to see him continue those efforts and, so far as the 2020 race is concerned, use his TV ads to weaken the president and help some other Democrat running against him next November.

“My hope is they tend to be more anti-Trump than pro-Bloomberg,” said Spickelmier, a 60-year-old independent and self-described middle-of-the-roader, who leans toward former Vice President Joe Biden.

There was plenty more unsolicited advice on how Bloomberg could better spend his fortune.

Give, say, a million dollars to some blue-collar worker and he would transform that person’s life completely, said Joel Perales, 34, an independent from East Los Angeles, who was installing a new fan hood at the Eggslut food stand in Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market. He ruled out Bloomberg and is looking instead at Hawaii’s Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Up the coast, in Ventura, Esther Brombart offered her 2 cents.

The 70-year-old retired preschool teacher, who was visiting from San Diego, dismissed Bloomberg and his extravagant candidacy out of hand. “I just wish his money would go to help the poor, the homeless, the hungry,” she said.


Brombart is sticking with Warren.

Barabak reported from San Francisco and Gomez from Los Angeles and Ventura. Times staff writers Tyrone Beason, Jeffrey Bercovici, Anita Chabria, Michael Finnegan, Melanie Mason, Seema Mehta and Matt Pearce contributed to this report along with Hafsa Fathima and Celina Tebor of the San Diego Union-Tribune.