San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo raises eyebrows with Mike Bloomberg endorsement
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo testified on Capitol Hill in October before the judiciary committee's energy subcommittee in this file photo. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s announcement Tuesday that he’s endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, just one week after his last pick, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., dropped out of the race is raising eyebrows from critics.

Some are questioning the Silicon Valley mayor for backing a billionaire after Harris dropped out because she didn’t have enough capital to continue running her campaign, citing that she couldn’t compete with billionaires like Bloomberg.

“I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign,” wrote Harris in a blog post. “And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete.”

Assemblymember Ash Kalra has been vocal about the mayor’s endorsement, calling the presidential hopeful a billionaire trying to buy his way into the election.

“The answer to an autocratic billionaire in the White House is not a billionaire trying to buy the election because he is afraid of the popularity of the Sanders and Warren campaigns’ efforts to demand billionaires to pay their fair share,” said Kalra, who has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “It is the wealthy elites like Trump and Bloomberg that have created the oppressive economic state we are in where the very few have hoarded the wealth and power over the millions struggling to get by.”

“Billionaire Bloomberg is not the antidote to the poisonous Trump ascension, he is the cause,” Kalra added.

But at a press conference Tuesday, the mayor told San José Spotlight that the move was not as big a shift as some critics have perceived.

“I supported Kamala Harris for the same reason that I support Mike Bloomberg and that is — we’ve got the biggest bully in the history of the planet occupying the White House and I want to support those who can take down bullies,” Liccardo said. “Kamala Harris has shown through her career that she’s willing to take on bullies and Mike Bloomberg has shown time and time again that he’s willing to take on big oil, he’s willing to take on the gun industry, he’s willing to take on big soda — Coke and Pepsi — with initiatives throughout the country, and for years now he has been doing all he can to create opportunities for cities to take on their biggest challenges.”

Defining his legacy as a tough-on-crime lawmaker, Bloomberg as mayor pushed policies such as “stop and frisk,” in which police officers disproportionately targeted African American and Latino residents across New York City. The end of his tenure was marred with controversy over the policing practice, which a federal judge in 2013 deemed unconstitutional for being discriminatory.

A little more than five years ago, Bloomberg argued the city didn’t get a fair trial, and repeatedly credited ‘stop and frisk’ for lowering crime rates in the city. Ahead of his run for the presidency just weeks ago, Bloomberg apologized, saying his former policing strategy was “wrong.”

Still, the controversial policing strategy poses a risk to the presidential hopeful, said Garrick Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University, who added that Liccardo runs the risk of attaching himself to Bloomberg. As the mayor of San Jose, where a significant chunk of the city’s residents are Latino and Asian, Liccardo faces a tough challenge in convincing minority voters that Bloomberg’s apology is genuine, considering Bloomberg’s policy negatively affected people of color for more than a decade.

“As a mayor in a really racially and ethnically diverse city, to be endorsing a mayor that’s also become synonymous with some of the worst aspects of policing in the United States in recent history… that’s going to be something that Bloomberg is certainly going to have to answer to during this campaign and anyone who endorses him is also going to have to do that as well,” Percival added.

Liccardo, however, believes Bloomberg is being truthful, and that his honesty will push the campaign forward.

“Mike Bloomberg today recognizes that as he has publicly asserted when he said, ‘I was wrong to do it,’” Liccardo said. “I believe him when he says he genuinely believes it was wrong to do it. I recognize he was doing it because he believed it would reduce crime, and the truth is — he did reduce gun violence substantially in New York and all crime. Nonetheless, I think as he recognizes today, I also believe, stop and frisk was the wrong path.”

But Kalra said the former mayor is “out of touch” with what San Jose families need.

“The answer to the corrupt, immoral Trump presidency is not a former Republican New York City mayor who was as out of touch with the problems of ordinary families then as he is today,” the state legislator said. “His policies that instituted stop and frisk, opposed minimum wage increases, allowed rents to skyrocket and created some of the most egregious income inequality in the nation are counter to what struggling Americans need in a president to uplift all of us.”

There are still at least 10 other candidates running against Bloomberg with three months left until the California primary. But endorsements are best issued around this point in the campaign season, Percival said, as voters are starting to pay more attention to the race.

Liccardo, as the first California endorsement and co-chair for the campaign, will advise the presidential candidate and serve as a surrogate, according to Bloomberg’s 2020 team. The newest Democrat to enter the race has praised Liccardo’s clean energy proposals, highlighting that addressing climate change will be one of his top priorities as president.

Bloomberg’s campaign is skipping the first four states in the primary process — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Instead, Bloomberg is focusing his efforts on the 14 states holding their primaries on Super Tuesday, which will include California. Liccardo and the other California campaign officials may play key roles in Bloomberg’s run if he’s counting on California to get enough delegates to win the nomination. And although Bloomberg is entering the race late, Percival said he might have an edge in the Golden State.

“To run a competitive race in California you have to be able to spend money on television ads and that’s something that he’s been able to do,” Percival said. “He’s going to invest a lot of money to reach as many people as possible without doing a lot of this kind of door-to-door campaigning.”

Liccardo has a stake in who ends up in the White House as San Jose, like other cities, relies on the federal government for funding and investments in local government, transportation and safety, among other vital city needs.

City leaders are increasingly becoming more connected to national politics, and the two mayors share a pro-business, pro-growth vision of governance that may have drawn them together. But despite his heavy involvement on Bloomberg’s campaign, the San Jose mayor told San José Spotlight he has no aspirations to join the presidential hopeful in Washington, D.C.

“I think my wife would divorce me if I ran for another office in Washington,” Liccardo said.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter. Contact Elizabeth Mendez at elizabeth.ambriz@gmail.com or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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