Mike Bloomberg, who has faced sharp criticism from opponents and activists saying some of his policies as New York City mayor disenfranchised people of color, got a cold reception at a church in Selma, Alabama, marking 55 years after “Bloody Sunday,” as multiple Democrats seeking the White House visited the historic city.
Near the end of his speech, nearly a dozen attendees in the pews stood up and turned their backs to the presidential candidate, even though the billionaire went into the speech focused on injustices faced by the black community and his policies to address racial inequality.
He did not compete in any of the early primary states and had yet to prove his appeal among black voters. He will be on the ballot for the first time on Super Tuesday.
He has spent over $500 million on advertising in the states set to vote this month.
Mike Bloomberg, center, waiting to enter Brown Chapel AME for a worship service in Selma, Alabama. (JOSHUA LOTT/AFP via Getty Images)
Bloomberg has been criticized over his use of policing tactics known as stop-and-frisk while mayor, as well as his racially charged comments justifying the practice.
He launched his campaign with an apology for his use of stop-and-frisk, and has released a handful of policies aimed at eliminating the racial wealth gap in America and reforming the criminal justice system.
The pastor who introduced him noted the mayor initially declined an introduction to visit the church before eventually agreeing to come to the event, and praised him for changing his mind.
Bloomberg took the stage and said that, after campaigning in dozens of cities, “I have tried to listen and I have tried to learn.”
He added: “I didn’t agree with everything I heard, but I certainly gave people the opportunity to change my mind.”
Joe Biden and his daughter Ashley laying a wreath during a remembrance service at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)
Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation, urged hundreds of people attending a community breakfast to vote for Biden and enable “a return to civility.”
“Joe Biden not only knows me, he knows you,” she said.
Those two candidates plus Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg joined marchers reenacting the walk across the steel-arched Edmund Pettus Bridge that ended in mayhem decades ago.
From left to right: Pete Buttigieg, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Alabama state troopers beat and tear-gassed hundreds of voting-rights demonstrators trying to march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital, on March 7, 1965.
The confrontation both set the stage for the massive Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weeks later and helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.
The years since have been tough on Selma, where shuttered businesses and vacant, dilapidated homes stand just blocks from magnificent antebellum mansions.
The city and surrounding Dallas County typically have some of the highest jobless rates in the state.
The city’s population has been declining steadily, and census statistics showed 41 percent of the estimated 17,800 people remaining have lived in poverty.
About 82 percent of the city’s residents are black, and both schools and neighborhoods are mostly segregated by race with black students attending public schools and white students attending private academies.
Crime, much of it linked to gangs, has been a constant problem, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.