Former Republican New York City mayor and late-blooming Democratic presidential contender Mike Bloomberg is a big fan of rules and standards, just as long as they don’t have to apply to him. It’s why he bought himself an abolition of the city’s two-term mayoral limit when he wanted a third term, only to reverse the change as soon as he’d been sworn in for the third time. And why he proposed new campaign finance rules that coincidentally would have affected everyone but him.
His own rules for success, as seen in a recently rediscovered interview from 2011, emphasize uncompromising discipline:
Want to be a billionaire like Mike? Never go to the bathroom, never get food—never go anywhere, really. Unless, that is, you actually are Mike.
Where a normal elected official might feel obliged to stick around the place they were governing, Bloomberg as mayor had a habit of going missing from the city. More often than not, a Mayor Bloomberg absence meant that the billionaire was spending time in his Bermuda home.
In his third term, after he’d been unfindable during a major winter storm, it got to a point where people just wanted to know when he would and would not be in town, so lawmakers proposed a bill that would force a modicum of transparency around his jet-setting. From a New York Times article at the time:
A mandatory sign-out sheet for the billionaire mayor? City Hall seems apoplectic. But the clamor is unlikely to die down, largely because the mayor refuses to disclose where he and his top lieutenants were when his administration botched the cleanup of the Christmas weekend blizzard, creating confusion about who was in charge.
Not only did Bloomberg refuse to tell his constituents when he was or was not present in the city he was supposed to be governing, he seemed indignant at any attempted pushback. In 2011, Bloomberg’s spokesman told the Times that “the mayor is at work by 7:15 most mornings, and entitled to hours off and a private life” and that he is “always reachable and always in charge.”
But while the billionaire mayor might have been reachable, that didn’t mean he was easily findable.
Before he even became mayor, during his initial run for the office, Bloomberg’s first major endorsement came from the New York County Republican Committee. Bloomberg, however, was nowhere to be seen at the endorsement event, with his spokesman simply telling the New York Post that the candidate was “traveling.”
In 2002, Bloomberg got dinged for missing a number of funerals and memorial services for firefighters who had died in the aftermath of 9/11. In one instance, he’d chosen to attend the memorial service of a friend instead, but other times he reportedly sent the fire commissioner in his place regardless.
In 2003, Bloomberg created the Committee to Empower All New Yorkers with the goal of abolishing primaries and partisan elections. According to the New York Daily News, Bloomberg was also the committee’s sole donor, having put $2 million of his funds behind the effort. And yet, during the committee’s only news conference and its last chance to get New Yorkers on its side before the vote, Bloomberg was nowhere to be seen.
In 2005, despite implying earlier in the week that he’d be in attendance, Bloomberg skipped out on his city’s Easter parade. He was spotted golfing in Bermuda that same day.
In 2010, despite having near-perfect parade attendance in his first two terms, Bloomberg never showed for the annual Greek Independence Day parade. “When you’re elected three times, sometimes you take people for granted. I guess it’s not an election year,” one furious New York resident told the Post. “I’m upset Bloomberg didn’t show up, and we won’t forget it. This is a large community to overlook, but when it’s not an election year, it’s easy to forget who got you in office,” said another. No one at City Hall seemed to know where he might have gone.
Also in 2010, the sixth-largest snowstorm in New York’s history ravaged the city. And even though the Weather Service started issuing increasingly severe warnings well in advance, the Bloomberg administration inexplicably refused to declare it an emergency. Also unexplained were Bloomberg’s whereabouts for the first 24 hours of the storm. According to the Daily News, “Bloomberg was bashed for being AWOL with many people believing he was at his Bermuda getaway. The mayor’s office has never given a full accounting of where he was on Dec. 25.”
In December of 2013, while Bloomberg was once again golfing in Bermuda, a New York commuter train derailed, killing four people and injuring more than 60. Despite being told about the accident just 30 minutes after it occurred, Bloomberg decided to spend another four hours on the golf course before heading back to the city. According to amNewYork, when asked about his decision to stay later that evening, the mayor responded, “What can I do? I’m not a professional firefighter or a police officer. There’s nothing I can do.”
These are just the times his absences happened to coincide with a notable event. Exactly how often Bloomberg went MIA in total is unclear—he made sure of that. While it was difficult to pin down his movements precisely, in reviewing the flight records from his fleet of private jets in 2011, The Wall Street Journal found that his planes “flew to Bermuda, where Mr. Bloomberg owns a home, 16 times last year and 54 times in all from 2007 through 2010.” On 41 of those trips, “the aircraft left New York and spent all or part of the weekend in Bermuda.”
The trips didn’t slow even after Bloomberg called out the “chronic flight delays” at New York airports, noting that “the largest culprit of delays today is the over-scheduling of small airplanes by airlines.” Two years after he’d blamed airlines for overusing airport capacity, the Wall Street Journal piece about his flying habits pointed to Bloomberg himself as an ongoing and unrepentant culprit:
The largest single user of these scarce slots has been Bloomberg Services, FAA data show. Bloomberg planes departed or landed 853 times between August 2008 and the end of 2010. That is 8% of all general aviation movements at La Guardia during that period, but a tiny portion of all flights at the airport, which averages close to 1,000 daily aircraft movements.
Part of the wonder of the Bloomberg campaign has been the ex-mayor’s belief that a nation weary of Donald Trump will want to turn to a short-tempered, elderly, ultra-wealthy Manhattan tycoon with a history of bad relations with women and nonwhite communities. Add in the insistence on skipping events and jetting off somewhere warm to play golf all the time, and it’s even clearer what it means to beat Trump at his own game.