Supporters of Mike Bloomberg's presidential bid, helped open his Memphis office on Thursday (Feb. 6) at 516 Tennessee Street, Suite 404, Memphis, TN 38103. (Photo: Erica R. Williams)

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has carved out his own lane in pursuit of the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, opened his Bluff City headquarters on Thursday.

Early voting in the Tennessee Presidential Preference Primary begins Wednesday (Feb. 12) and runs through Feb. 25.

Bloomberg, a billionaire directing millions of dollars of his own money into a presidential bid, is bypassing the Democratic nomination in the four early states, choosing to zero in on “Super Tuesday,” when delegates are at stake in Tennessee and 13 other states.

State Rep. Larry Miller takes a stand with Tim O’Brien, Mike Bloomberg’s senior advisor. (Photo: Erica R. Williams)

Dozens of local supporters gathered downtown for the grand opening of Bloomberg’s local headquarters. The ceremony was hosted by his senior advisor, Tim O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, author and political commentator.

Elected officials attending the kick-off included State Rep. Larry Miller (District 88) and State Rep. London Lamar (District 91,) who serves as outreach director for Bloomberg 2020 in Tennessee.

“Mr. Bloomberg’s economic policies for black communities – if implemented – I feel will be the best for cities like Memphis,” Lamar said. “Right now we are at a very critical time in America where how we move forward as a country will be watched by the rest of the world and the values and issues that we support.

“Are we going to continue supporting a president who spreads divisive behavior like Trump? Or are we going to support a candidate like Bloomberg, who has the track record and experience of running a city that is the 9th largest economy in the world and that has allowed people of all backgrounds to thrive economically and socially?”

O’Brien addressed the crowd during the kick-off. He detailed Bloomberg’s experience and outlined plans such as the Greenwood Initiative, which is a strategy aimed at creating generational wealth for African Americans.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with The New Tri-State Defender, O’Brien spoke candidly about racism, reparations and what he believes it will take to beat President Donald Trump.

The New Tri-State Defender: Mr. Bloomberg … unveiled his healthcare plan here last December. Additionally, he’s been endorsed by the City Mayor, Jim Strickland. Why is the Bloomberg campaign focusing heavily on Memphis?

Tim O’Brien: Our view is that every voter should know that we are in their community and that we care about their issues locally. The people in our field offices are all locally staffed. This isn’t a bunch of New Yorkers who are shooting in telling people what to do. It’s important for us to have people running the offices who know the communities.

I think voters have gotten tired of politicians showing up on Election Day saying give me your vote and then they never see them again. One thing we are trying to do is to be present in Memphis and other communities. We want to build an authentic national network that unites people.

TSD: The Greenwood Initiative has laid out a detailed plan of how Mr. Bloomberg hopes to create generational wealth and drive economic empowerment for Black Americans. Some candidates have shied away from creating comprehensive plans for specific racial groups, considering them divisive. Why did Mr. Bloomberg decide to target African Americans?

O’Brien: Mike believes in the power of targeted initiatives – whether the problem is gun violence or the loss of economic opportunity. He’s very specific about identifying a problem and attacking it. I think the African-American experience, like the Native-American experience is different from all others because there is a way in which racism, exclusion and segregation were imposed on those two populations of Americans in a very purposeful, horrible and ultimately counterproductive way.

TSD: The Greenwood initiative … was named after Greenwood, Okla., the neighborhood that was once considered the Black Wall Street in the 20th century. In January, Mr. Bloomberg delivered a speech there unveiling the initiative. What’s the power behind the name?

O’Brien: I am so proud of Mayor Bloomberg’s Greenwood speech that he gave in Tulsa. As you know, Greenwood in the 1920s was known as the Black Wall Street; but there were race riots were black business owners were murdered and their businesses were burnt down. These were people who were prosperous on their own, but racism stopped that. So it was important for Mike to do the speech there.

He talked about white privilege and how he is a white man and had access to mentors and resources that people of color didn’t have because of the color of their skin. He was candid in discussing that because he is a white man, he knew that he had a leg up in the world. He also outlined what he would do as president to address the historical injustices and current inequalities.

TSD: What are some of the ways Mr. Bloomberg is hoping to eradicate, or at least decrease these inequalities?

O’Brien: One of those ways is a new federal agency that would target 100 pre-selected, low-income communities – many of which are communities of color – for a special public investment. It will be $70 billion over 10 years to help fund small businesses, doubling the number of black-owned small businesses from 50,000 to 100,000 thousands, raising the number of African-American home owners to one million, and really endowing the federal agency with real power to go in these places and make changes.

Some of that ties into reparations. He is in favor of reparations but thinks it needs to be targeted investments. If you are going to do it, let’s use the money well to create a real foundation of growth and opportunities for people.

TSD: The basis of the Greenwood Initiative is tackling systematic discrimination head-on. Mr. Bloomberg has been criticized for his implementation and even doubling down on the benefits of the stop-and-frisk policy. Some have deemed it an aggressive policing strategy that led to the disproportionate stopping of black and Latino people across the city. He recently apologized for implementing the policy. What changed now?

O’Brien: I think Mike stood by stop-and-frisk too long and he should have apologized a long time ago and I think he deeply regrets that. Now he has to prove to people through his actions and his public career that he’s not only about stop-and-frisk and did other things as mayor.

I think the underlining question is, “Did this white mayor drive white thoughts down the throats of black people?” And my answer to that is, the program was operated that way but that’s not the way Mike operates as mayor.

In fact, the incarceration rate in New York dropped by over 30 percent when he was mayor. If stop-and-frisk was an effort to throw people in jail, the incarceration doesn’t reflect that. What they were trying to do was get guns off the streets, but it was a bad program. And he has to continuously apologize, but I don’t think it defines who he was as a mayor because of all the other things he was able to do.

TSD: What are some of the examples that stand out to you that define his mayoral term?

O’Brien: Mike implemented the “Young Men’s Initiative” that allowed young people of color to get integrated in the job mentoring network and it was so successful that Barack Obama modeled  his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative after it. Mike also diversified the New York Police Department. And he had the most progressive immigration policy of any big city mayor and even set up programs for them to get integrated into the community.

State Rep. London Lamar is outreach director for Bloomberg 2020 in Tennessee. (Photo: Erica R. Williams)

TSD: One of the things that Rep. Lamar stated is that, “If Mr. Bloomberg can run New York, he can run this nation.” In your opinion, what about his experience as mayor makes him qualified to be president?

O’Brien: The population, the size of the city budget, the size of the bureaucracy and the makeup of racial diversity; it’s almost like being a governor really.

TSD: You’ve mentioned that the upcoming 2020 presidential election is the most important elections of our lives. Why do you believe that?

O’Brien: This election will be about character and confidence and Trump is sorely lacking in both. He’s a racist and a bigot and dangerous. Mike is none of those things. Mike is the most highly competent person in this race and he’s highly compassionate.

TSD: Let’s talk about the compassion and how you think it translates to creating change for the American people.

O’Brien: I think it comes from his experiences growing up. His family is Jewish and when he was younger, they moved into a community where they were not welcomed to live. They had to hire a lawyer to buy the house for them because no one would sell it to them.

He’s told me a few times about his father donating to the NAACP. And as a little white kid, he didn’t understand at the time why his father was giving money to the organization; but his father said to him at the time, “If one of us is targeted, all of us are targeted.”

When he went to college, he couldn’t afford to go and had to work his way through college and get student loans. Still, he knows that he was able to do certain things because of his leg up or this white privilege. It’s rare to get a guy who is extremely wealthy but also cares about the issues struggling people are dealing with.

TSD: During the last presidential election in 2016, about 60 percent of voters in Shelby County actually made it to the polls. How do you plan to engage local voters, and address the issues that matter to them?

O’Brien: We are going to meet them on their doorsteps. And not with empty promises, but with evidence that we have plans to make their lives better with policies that Mike has implemented in the past. We are now in 48 states and territories with 2,000 people on the ground. And all of these offices will be opened up for a year to really be a part of cities and communities.

This isn’t just a rich guy in it for a vanity run. The reality is that this big machine we’re building, Mike’s going to put at the foot of the Democratic Party or whoever the nominee is, even if it’s not him because he thinks any Democrat is better than Donald Trump.

TSD: As Mr. Bloomberg’s senior advisor, why do you believe that he’s the best presidential candidate for the people of Memphis, and, of course, the United States?

O’Brien: I believe that Mike is the only one who can beat Donald trump in November. And I don’t want my children, family and friends growing up in Donald Trump’s world anymore.