A recording of former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defending stop-and-frisk policing in minority neighborhoods — “that’s where the real crime is,” he is heard saying — is tripping up the Democratic presidential hopeful just as he was making gains with black voters.
The 5-year-old recording popped up as voters began casting ballots Tuesday in New Hampshire’s primary, where Mr. Bloomberg was not on the ballot but was increasingly being talked about as an attractive alternative to the other 2020 Democratic contenders.
In a 2015 speech at the Aspen Institute, Mr. Bloomberg discussed his rationale for the stop-and-frisk strategy that reduced crime in New York but became a national symbol of racial profiling and police brutality.
Mr. Bloomberg is heard saying that the way to lower the violence-related death rate among young minority men is to “throw them up against the walls and frisk them” and confiscate their guns.
“Ninety-five percent of murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O.,” Mr. Bloomberg is heard saying. “You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16-25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city … And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of people that are getting killed.”
The audio was released by podcaster Benjamin Dixon.
Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of Bloomberg News, entered the Democratic race late but quickly gained traction with a self-funded ad blitz that has cost $250 million for TV and radio spots so far.
Voters frustrated by the lack of star power in the still-crowded Democratic field increasingly see Mr. Bloomberg as a formidable challenger to President Trump.
But the recording is likely to test the media mogul’s viability with black voters who some say are the backbone of the Democratic electorate. And it surfaced just as the race heads to South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary that is dominated by black voters.
“It does seem unusual it would come today. It might be to try to get the double-benefit of wounding Bloomberg by also taking attention away from whoever wins tonight,” Richard L. Pacelle Jr., a political science professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, said shortly before the polls closed in New Hampshire.
He pointed to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden as the biggest beneficiary of the leaked audio.
Mr. Biden, who was expecting a poor showing in New Hampshire, left Tuesday for South Carolina where he is banking on strong support among black voters in the state’s Feb. 29 primary to save his flagging campaign.
In the audio recording, Mr. Bloomberg said urban crime-fighting required cities to “spend the money” and “put a lot of cops in the streets,” particularly in minority neighborhoods.
“So one of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true,” he said. “Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”
Mr. Bloomberg apologized, saying he inherited the policing strategy but conceded it was overused.
“By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement.
He said his past comments do not reflect his commitment to racial equality and criminal justice reform
“In contrast, President Trump inherited a country marching towards greater equality and divided us with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric. The challenge of the moment is clear: we must confront this president and do everything we can to defeat him,” Mr. Bloomberg added.
Richard E. Vatz, a professor at Towson University, said politicians such as Mr. Bloomberg who have been in the public eye for decades often struggle to reconcile prior political positions rendered untenable by shifting attitudes over the years.
“He should suffer politically for the political expedience of reversing policies to run for new offices, and he should certainly not be held harmless for the rhetorical affronts, such as saying an outrageous oversimplification that male minorities constitute the entire criminal class,” Mr. Vatz said.
The audio was publicized after a poll released Monday showed a double-digit increase in support from black primary voters for the New York billionaire.
Mr. Bloomberg picked up 15 points among black Democratic primary voters in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, garnering 22% support out of the Democratic candidate pool compared to his 7% from just two weeks ago.
Mr. Bloomberg has focused his campaign on Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a dozen states hold primaries. Despite his late entry into the race, he sits in fourth place among Democrats nationally, according to the Real Clear Politics average.
His surge seems to have caught the attention of Mr. Trump and his Republican allies, who pounced on the remarks and circulated copies of the audio recording.
“WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!” Mr. Trump commented. The tweet was quickly deleted.
Speaking from the Oval Office, Mr. Trump decided to lean into the controversy as he spoke to reporters from the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, accusing Mr. Bloomberg of pandering to black voters when he apologized in November for his stop-and-frisk policies.
“You watch go back to the church where he apologized for everything he ever did practically,” Mr. Trump said. “And he looked pathetic. Our country doesn’t need that kind of leadership.”
The Republican National Committee also hit Mr. Bloomberg in a press release, using the comments as an opportunity to tout the president’s near record-low unemployment numbers for black workers, rising wages and criminal justice reform accomplishments.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale also tweeted out the Bloomberg 2015 audio noting, “All the money in the world can’t undo this.”
Mr. Parscale also tweeted a 2013 radio interview in which Mr. Bloomberg said police “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”
⦁ Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.