Published July 29, 2007
NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks his mind and that is a big part of his cachet in anything-goes New York.
But new details from a sexual harassment lawsuit he settled in 2000 and other racy comments over the years show how his blunt style could prove a liability if he runs for president as an independent.
Before his election as mayor in 2001, Bloomberg was the target of a sexual harassment suit by a female executive who accused him of making repeated raunchy sexual comments while he was chief executive of his financial company, Bloomberg LP.
Among the allegations in the complaint:
—Bloomberg asked the woman who sued if she was giving her boyfriend "good" oral sex.
—He said "I'd like to do that" and "That's a great piece of a—" to describe women in the office.
—When he found out the woman was pregnant, he told her "Kill it!" and said "Great! Number 16!" — an apparent reference to the number of women in the company who were pregnant or had maternity-related status.
Bloomberg denied the accusations. Both sides were barred from commenting because of confidentiality agreements. Stu Loeser, the mayor's spokesman, said Friday he had no comment for this story.
The suit was a minor annoyance for Bloomberg during the mayoral race in 2001; opponents in that first race tried, with little success, to draw attention to the allegations. It was not an issue in his 2005 re-election campaign.
But the suit and other potential embarrassments resulting from Bloomberg's tendency to speak his mind are largely unknown to the rest of the country and are certain to be re-examined if the billionaire media mogul undertakes a third-party, self-financed presidential campaign for 2008.
Bloomberg has denied having any plans to seek the presidency. Yet he recently left the Republican Party to become an independent and has increased his out-of-state travel, increasing his national visibility.
The harassment suit was filed in 1997 by former Bloomberg LP sales executive Sekiko Sakai Garrison. Bloomberg adamantly denied all the allegations in the suit. He settled the case in 2000 for an undisclosed amount without admitting any wrongdoing.
During his first mayoral campaign, aides told reporters that Bloomberg had passed a polygraph test in which he had denied the allegations. That year, his campaign refused to release the actual test. Loeser said Friday the mayor's office would not provide The Associated Press with a copy of the original polygraph.
Bloomberg founded Bloomberg LP in the early 1980s to provide financial information in a way that had never been available before on Wall Street. According to Garrison's suit, Bloomberg and other male managers at the company made "repeated and unwelcome" sexual comments, overtures and gestures, contributing to an offensive, locker-room culture.
Comments attributed in the suit to Bloomberg include: "I'd f—- that in a second," "I'd like to do that," and "That's a great piece of a—."
Once, according to the suit, Bloomberg pointed out a young female employee and told Garrison, "If you looked like that, I would do you in a second."
The suit also accused Bloomberg of referring to Mexican clients as "jumping beans" and saying of another female colleague who was having trouble finding a nanny that "all you need is some black who doesn't even have to speak English to rescue it from a burning building."
Some elements of the case were made public at the time. An individual with direct knowledge of the case provided additional details to the AP.
The individual said Bloomberg admitted in a deposition, which never was made public, that he had said the words "I'd do her" about Garrison and other women. When asked during the deposition what he thought that expression meant, Bloomberg said it means to have a personal relationship, according to the individual, who is barred from discussing the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The individual also said Garrison had a tape of Bloomberg leaving a message on her home answering machine, saying he had heard she was upset about the pregnancy and maternity comment and adding: "I didn't say it, but if I said it I didn't mean it."
Garrison sought $15 million in the suit. She is bound by a confidentiality agreement and declined comment to the AP.
Garrison, who worked at Bloomberg LP from 1989 until 1995, left the company, unable to return to work after Bloomberg allegedly made the remarks about her pregnancy, according to her suit. The company contended Garrison was fired.
Besides Garrison's suit, two other suits were filed in the late 1990s that accused the company of sexual harassment; one was dismissed and the other was withdrawn. The people involved in those suits also are bound by confidentiality agreements.
Bloomberg is often praised for his straight-talking, no-nonsense style. Since he took office in 2002, his language in public settings has sometimes risen to a level that some may find blunt, but rarely offensive.
When asked recently whether New Yorkers should be concerned about a foiled plot to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, his exasperated response was that people should "get a life!"
"You can't sit there and worry about everything," he said.
His staff and circle of city commissioners praise him endlessly as a boss, but acknowledge that he is often startlingly direct.
"He can be a little gruff," Patricia Lancaster, his commissioner for the Buildings Department, said at a recent news conference. She is one of a number of women serving in high-level jobs throughout his administration, including his No. 2 in City Hall, the first Deputy Mayor Patti Harris. Many are part of a close-knit group that has remained fiercely loyal to him for years, following him from his company to various city government jobs.
In private conversations, Bloomberg is less inhibited and is known to tell bawdy jokes, use provocative language and comment on women's appearances.
The public got a glimpse of this in 2003, when he told a pair of disc jockeys on a radio program that he would "really want to have" actress-singer Jennifer Lopez. A day later, Bloomberg backpedaled a bit and told reporters, as his face reddened, that he would want to "have dinner" with her.
The 65-year-old divorced bachelor had a reputation as a womanizer during the years he was building his financial empire. He began dating his girlfriend, investment firm executive and former state banking superintendent Diana Taylor, before his first run for mayor.
"I like theater, dining and chasing women," he once told a reporter. "Let me put it this way: I am a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan. What do you think? It's a wet dream."
In his 1997 autobiography, he boasted of keeping "a girlfriend in every city" during his years as a young Wall Street up-and-comer in the 1960s and 1970s.
A less-restrained Bloomberg was also portrayed in a book of quips, quotes and anecdotes attributed to him and put together by employees for a birthday present in 1990. It contains such statements as: "If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they'd go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale's."
Or, as he is quoted as saying about his invention, the Bloomberg computer terminal that made him rich, "It will do everything, including give you (oral sex). I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business."
A former longtime Bloomberg employee who was familiar with the book confirmed the authenticity of the quotes to the AP and said Bloomberg regularly made similar offensive remarks. The person spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that Bloomberg would retaliate.
During Bloomberg's 2001 campaign, he dismissed the book as "Borscht Belt jokes" and said he did not recall saying those things.
Lee Miringoff, head of the Marist College poll that tracks New York politics, said the allegations had little impact on public opinion at the time, but that a presidential run would draw more scrutiny.
"He doesn't have a defined national persona at this point," Miringoff said. "Certainly as a presidential candidate there might be a resurfacing of this — it gets a second airing if he does decide to run."