Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Stop And Frisk' Follows Bloomberg From NYC To Presidential Campaign


Back in the United States and the presidential nomination contest. A core part of Michael Bloomberg's pitch to voters is that when he was mayor of New York City, he got things done. And that is true; he did. But some of what he did divided New Yorkers, and they are still divided today. Here's Matthew Schuerman from member station WNYC.


MATTHEW SCHUERMAN, BYLINE: Mike Bloomberg's legacy is visible from just about any street corner in Manhattan.


SCHUERMAN: Bikes zoom by in their own lanes. Restaurants all have letters in their windows - A, B or C - to note how well they did on health inspections. And construction of new offices and apartments is booming. When Bloomberg took office in 2002, as a Republican, it was less than four months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. More than 100,000 jobs and $2 billion in tax revenues had been lost.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We cannot afford to fight with each other; we must work together.

SCHUERMAN: During his first years in office, there were deep cuts to the city's budget. Bloomberg closed firehouses, reduced senior services and raised property taxes by 18%. But soon the economy turned around; the city was booming - until the Great Recession hit in 2008. New York voters had twice backed ballot measures limiting the city's mayor to two terms, but Bloomberg engineered a third term for himself on the justification that only he could save the city from financial ruin.

JOHN MOLLENKOPF: He was clearly the most capable manager, at least in my living experience, for Mayor Koch on in terms of being able to run City Hall.

SCHUERMAN: Political scientist John Mollenkopf from the City University of New York.

MOLLENKOPF: The mayor's practice was to pick really strong people to run the agencies and then not to look too much over their shoulder and to listen to their advice and to empower them.

SCHUERMAN: Yet it was one of those advisers who got Bloomberg much of the negative scrutiny his administration faced.


BLOOMBERG: At Bellevue Hospital, with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, chief of the...

SCHUERMAN: Kelly believed stopping and frisking people on the street would deter them from carrying around guns. Over Bloomberg's 12 years, the NYPD made more than 5 million stops. Some black and Latino males were stopped multiple times, often for vague reasons. Anthony Henry was an eighth-grader when he encountered police on his way to school in 2012.

ANTHONY HENRY: Yeah, I was walking. A big jeep came out, like, five cops came out, and they all, like - they had me on the get. Like - be like, put your hands up and stuff. They checked me and took my bookbag. They threw all my books on the floor, just checking my books and all that.

SCHUERMAN: Bloomberg only pulled back from the stop-and-frisk policy after it seemed like he would lose a federal lawsuit. A year later, a judge ruled the stops were racially discriminatory. Bloomberg appealed the decision.


BLOOMBERG: I worry for my kids, and I worry for your kids. I worry for you, and I worry for me.

SCHUERMAN: Bloomberg defended stop and frisk well after he left office in 2013. Then, when he launched his presidential campaign last November, one of Bloomberg's first appearances was at a Brooklyn church to apologize for the tactic.


BLOOMBERG: Our focus was on saving lives. The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that, and the overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino.

SCHUERMAN: Much of Bloomberg's legacy was repudiated by his successor, Bill de Blasio. He reduced stop and frisk and addressed the affordability crisis that had grown dramatically under Bloomberg. Meanwhile, crime has continued its historic decline, and the city has grown ever more prosperous.

For NPR News, I'm Matthew Schuerman in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matthew Schuerman
Matthew Schuerman has been a contract editor at NPR's Weekend Edition since October 2021, overseeing a wide range of interviews on politics, the economy, the war in Ukraine, books, music and movies. He also occasionally contributes his own stories to the network. Previously, he worked at New York Public Radio for 13 years as reporter, editor and senior editor, and before that at The New York Observer, Village Voice, Worth and Fortune. Born in Chicago and educated at Harvard College and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, he now lives in the New York City area.