I worked for Mike Bloomberg. Here's why progressives should consider him seriously.

Steven Strauss, Opinion columnist

This isn’t a column on why Mike Bloomberg is the perfect candidate. I was a critic of Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy, pointing out that we didn’t treat bank CEOs (involved in the 2008 financial crisis) as harshly as innocent young black men on the streets of New York City. I was glad when Bloomberg admitted he was wrong and said he was sorry. I worked in the Bloomberg administration on economic development, and I never doubted for a minute Bloomberg’s intentions on stop-and-frisk were good, because he wanted to save lives — especially black lives — from shooting deaths.

Many progressives dismiss Bloomberg’s candidacy as a vanity project, or presume he’s out of touch with the challenges facing ordinary Americans. Let me make the case for why progressives should give Bloomberg’s candidacy serious consideration.

Early fighter against climate change

Climate change is one of the defining issues of our times. If we don’t take action, many people will suffer — especially the poor (disproportionately people of color) and those living in the global south

Bloomberg was an early supporter of taking steps to prevent, or at least lessen the damage from, man-made climate change. He has advocated for closing all coal-fired power plants in the United States by 2030 and (of course) not building any new ones. He has already committed to donating $500 million of his own money to achieve these goals.

He has also pushed for clean renewables as replacements to supply our energy needs. His goals aren’t recent rhetoric for political purposes. Bloomberg has advocated for a clean economy since becoming New York’s mayor in 2002 with initiatives such as PlaNYC. He has willingly faced serious flak — from the coal industry and the GOP — as a result. 

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg campaigns in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 30, 2020.

Bloomberg is also a longtime advocate for increased gun regulation. About 60% of gun deaths are suicides and almost all the rest are homicides. People killed by guns in America are disproportionately black. Both as mayor and as a private citizen, Bloomberg has consistently advocated for more and tighter gun regulation. He hasn’t been afraid of taking on the powerful National Rifle Association to move forward with what he thinks is right and beneficial for our nation.

Smoking is bad for your health, and in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg pushed for and achieved passage of one of the first and most comprehensive anti-smoking laws in the United States. He increased taxes on cigarettes and raised the legal age to buy them.

Editorial Board: Rejecting Michael Bloomberg just because he's worth billions of dollars makes no sense

Bloomberg was also a major and consistent advocate of healthier eating. He fought the restaurant industry to require restaurant chains to post calorie counts for food items, pushed to get fresh produce into food deserts and highlighted the dangers of obesity. When Bloomberg says America’s health would be a priority for him, believe him. He has the policy chops to make substantial progress in this area.

On immigration, Bloomberg has consistently supported fixing our broken system and tried to make immigrants feel welcome. It’s easy to make fun of Bloomberg’s speeches in Spanish, but he actually took the trouble to learn the language in order to better communicate with the city's Hispanic citizens.

Turning New York City into a tech hub

One of the best decisions Bloomberg made for New York (and one I was heavily involved with) was to focus on the technology sector for economic growth. While the best decisions seem obvious in retrospect, Bloomberg (and the deputy mayor for economic development, Robert Lieber) faced controversy and opposition to initiatives that led to the city’s emergence as a tech hub and brought the Cornell Tech campus in. Their persistence prepared New York for economic growth (rather than stagnation) in the 21st century.

Bloomberg also paid attention the quality of daily life, from new and renovated parks to information access and government responsiveness for ordinary New Yorkers. One of his first initiatives was to create the NYC 311 service; it now handles about 40 million requests a year.

Judge Judy: America is fractured, but Michael Bloomberg can help us heal

A self-made billionaire, Bloomberg has literally given billions of dollars of his own money for issues progressives claim to care about. You can tell a lot about people by the enemies they make. Bloomberg’s political enemies include the GOP establishment, the NRA, the tobacco industry, the coal industry, some junk food makers and many other special interest groups that don’t put the health, safety and security of our nation and its people first.

The NRA has an entire website devoted to criticizing Bloomberg.

Bloomberg consistently has done what he believes to be right and best for Americans and for our nation. Sometimes he has been wrong, and sometimes when he's wrong, he has been stubborn in his views. But he has always been willing to take on tough tasks — and resist special interests — for what he believes will improve people’s lives now and in the future.

In 2020, I’m a one-issue voter: Four more years of Trump would be devastating for our country. I’ll support the Democratic Party nominee, whoever it is. And if it's Bloomberg, he should get full support from Democrats, including progressives. 

Steven Strauss is a lecturer and visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, an economic development specialist and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him Twitter: @Steven_Strauss

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020 Democrats: Mike Bloomberg deserves serious look from progressives