Is Mayor Pete Running for Mike Bloomberg’s Cabinet?

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A long, damning news story about Michael Bloomberg in The Washington Post this past weekend ends with an odd vignette designed to make the reader think the reporter isn’t entirely out to get his subject.

Bloomberg, according to a former colleague, “changed a lot through the ‘90s” and eventually was “as fair to women as he was to men.”

That’s after yards of material suggesting Bloomberg often made vulgar and demeaning comments to female employees and criticized them for marrying or getting pregnant.

The headline is that Bloomberg, according to allegations in a 1997 lawsuit, once asked a female employee who had just announced that she was pregnant if she intended to “kill it.”

“Plaintiff understood the statements of Bloomberg to mean that she should have an abortion in order to keep her job,” the woman’s lawyer wrote in an amended complaint (dated February 24, 1998) in a subsequent sex discrimination lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York of U.S. District Court.

Bloomberg denied the claim during the lawsuit, which he settled in 2000.

The story has been public (though not front-and-center) since Bloomberg first ran for mayor of New York City in 2001.

But The Washington Post added over the weekend comments from a man who worked for Bloomberg’s company at the time who says he remembers the incident.

David Zielenziger told the newspaper he had gone to the company’s “rather elaborate coffee bar” on the 15th floor of its Manhattan office one afternoon around the same time as a female sales employee, Sekiko Sarrai Garrison, a Japanese citizen who handled lucrative accounts in Japan for the company.

“She had mentioned to some of her girlfriends and others that she was pregnant, and Mike had just gone there, too, to get some coffee. And kind of when she mentioned that, the girlfriends were kind of congratulating her, and Mike said, ‘Are you going to kill it?’ And that kind of shut everybody up,” Zielenziger said, according to an audio recording of his comments posted on the Washington Post web site with the story.

There’s a lot more in the lawsuit – claims of vulgar and racially charged comments and financial repercussions for women who got married or had babies.

The Washington Post story (published Saturday, February 15) also has a lot more than just the one lawsuit – references to multiple lawsuits, including claims from former employees that they got squeezed out of their job at Bloomberg’s company when they got older or got sick.

But the “kill it” comment jumps off the page.

“Who would say such a thing?” Zielenziger said.

Yes – and what would you say about it, if you were, hypothetically, running as a so-called “moderate” in the Democratic presidential primary? Let’s say that the subject of this story were another so-called “moderate” running against you? Let’s say this other so-called “moderate” had billions of dollars and had joined the race partly because he thought you and your fellow “moderates” can’t win?

And let’s say this “moderate” challenger is leading you in the polls in two crucial upcoming states? (Let’s call them “Nevada” and “South Carolina.”)

Chris Wallace of Fox News this past weekend asked Buttagieg if he were “troubled” by allegations of sexism and racism against Bloomberg, his apparent opponent.

Here’s what the other former mayor in the race did with that softball:

“Well, I think he’s going to have to answer for that and speak to it,” Buttagieg said.

Really? You don’t say.

But Pete wasn’t done.

“Look, this is a time when voters are looking for a president who can lead us out of the days when it was just commonplace or accepted to have these kinds of sexist and discriminatory attitudes. Right now, this is our chance to do something different,” he said.

If you look closely, there’s no criticism of Bloomberg in that statement. It’s almost as if Pete has hit the fast forward button, and sees a future where he doesn’t want to have to walk back any negative comments against the fellow who just nominated him to something.

Instead, Buttagieg quickly shifted to Donald Trump.

“Obviously, there is no comparison to this president and the way that he has treated and talked about women and people of color, and continues to do so to this day,” Buttagieg said.

He’s right – there is no comparison. There’s no evidence Trump ever suggested that any woman who worked for him abort her own baby. This allegation has a unique ugliness.

“But we in our party hold ourselves to the highest standard,” Buttagieg continued.

Would that be the standard of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, John Edwards … ?

But here’s the money quote:

“And it is going to be critical for us to have a nominee who can authentically lead, and who can show growth on these challenges.”

Assuming this means anything – and that’s not always a given with Buttagieg – it suggests that the eventual Democratic nominee needn’t have clean hands when it comes to sexual harassment and worse, but rather must show he “can authentically lead” and “can show growth.”

Could that – theoretically, now – include someone who “changed a lot through the ‘90s” and eventually was “as fair to women as he was to men”?

First question for Mayor Pete during the Democratic debate on Wednesday night:

”Mr. Buttagieg, are you running against Mike Bloomberg?”