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The 32-page booklet that is haunting Mike Bloomberg

Seconds — literally! — into the ninth presidential debate on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Elizabeth Warren dropped a rhetorical bomb on Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” said the Massachusetts senator. “A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”

At which point almost every viewer said something like: Wait, did he actually say that????

The answer to that question appears to be, well, maybe?

Both of the quotes attributed to Bloomberg by Warren come from a 32-page booklet/pamphlet gifted to the billionaire by employees on the occasion of his 48th birthday in 1990. The book was entitled “The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit & Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg,” and was the handiwork, according to The Washington Post, of Elisabeth DeMarse, who was the former chief marketing officer at Bloomberg LP.

(The quote mentioned by Warren is attributed to Bloomberg talking about the British royal family. “The Royal Family — what a bunch of misfits — a gay, an architect, that horsey faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad,” he allegedly said.)

As far as I can tell, the existence of the “Portable Bloomberg” went public in September 2001, just months before the November election, when someone sent a photocopied version of it to Michael Wolff, then of New York Magazine, who, of course, wrote about it. Here’s how Wolff described it:

“A smoking gun of sorts: an actual example of literal hard-ass words … this document seemed to contain verbatim boss-words — the actual substance of the theoretical charisma.”

The provenance of the actual quotes has always been difficult to ascertain. The editor’s note of the “Portable Bloomberg” reads this way: “Yes, these are all actual quotes. No, nothing had been embellished or exaggerated. And yes, some things were too outrageous to include.”

And when Wolff got a hold of DeMarse back in 2001, she confirmed several of the quotes from the book that he read to her — all the while distancing her role in all of it. (“There were other people who helped,” DeMarse told Wolff. “It was an office project.”)

Bloomberg himself has said lots of different things about the book — and the veracity of the quotes in it. At the time of Wolff’s story, Bloomberg dismissed the quotes as ”a bunch of gags” and ”borscht belt jokes,” he also told The New York Times he didn’t remember saying them.

When the Post informed the Bloomberg campaign of its plan to post the “Portable Bloomberg” in its entirety online, campaign spokesman Stu Loeser said that “Mike simply did not say the things somebody wrote in this gag gift” before adding: “Mike openly admits that his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life and some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong.”

That’s roughly the same statement Loeser issued to The New York Times last fall when the paper wrote about Bloomberg’s history of demeaning comments about women. “Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong,” Loeser told the Times. “He believes his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life.”

CNN reported Wednesday that a number of allegations of sexist and misogynistic behavior loom over Bloomberg’s candidacy, including claims from the 1990s that prior to a male colleague’s wedding, Bloomberg told a group of female employees to “line up to give him a blow job as a wedding present”; that he would regularly direct comments like “look at that nice piece of ass” at women in the office; and that upon learning that a female employee was expecting a baby, he responded: “Kill it!”

Bloomberg, through his representatives, has denied making the “kill it” comment and other comments laid out in at least two lawsuits but has also acknowledged that he has made comments that do not align with his values.

In Wednesday’s debate, Bloomberg didn’t directly respond to the early attack from Warren, although later in the debate when discussing non-disclosure agreements some women have signed with his company, he did say this: “None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told. And let me just — and let me — there’s agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that’s up to them.”

Bloomberg’s allies will dismiss the “Portable Bloomberg” as old news, water under the bridge. And they will note that Wolff’s so-called “smoking gun” didn’t stop Bloomberg from being elected mayor in 2001 or reelected twice more.

To which I would note two things:

1) The “Portable Bloomberg” story broke in New York City on September 7, 2001. (The Times story cited above ran in the September 8 paper.) Four days later, terrorists attacked New York City — knocking down two buildings at the World Trade Center, a moment that fundamentally altered not just New York City but the country for years (and decades) to come. The “Portable Bloomberg” story effectively disappeared, in a way it absolutely would not have if something as catastrophic as 9/11 hadn’t happened. (Bloomberg was trailing in the polls in the days leading up to the election, but closed the gap in time to win narrowly in 2001).

2) This is a presidential race, not a mayoral race. Yes, I know New York City is the most populated city in the country. And that there was tons of coverage of not only Bloomberg’s first race but his 2005 and 2009 reelection wins too. But the expectation of voters when you are running for president is simply different. As is the media crush.

Make no mistake: Bloomberg is just as rich today as he was before Wednesday’s debate. (Heck, he’s probably even slightly richer!) And he will continue to spend heavily on TV ads targeted at Super Tuesday states and beyond. He’s not going anywhere in this race.

But if Bloomberg’s poll numbers take a hit or he is never able to re-create the momentum he had going into Wednesday night’s debate, he wouldn’t be wrong to blame the contents of the “Portable Bloomberg” for his troubles.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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