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In one-on-one interview, Bloomberg talks unifying party, addresses controversial 'stop-and-frisk' policing stance

WINSTON-SALEM — Michael Bloomberg is third in the polls for the Democratic presidential primary in North Carolina behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. But he’s keeping his eye on the top of the Republican ticket and running against President Donald Trump even while facing a Democratic field still in a state of disarray.

In a one-on-one interview in Winston-Salem on Thursday he said his combination of saturation TV advertising — he’s spent at least $300 million of his own money in advance of Super Tuesday — and an accelerating travel schedule crisscrossing the South, will get his message out in time.

And it’s laser focused: He believes he’s the only Democratic candidate who can ultimately beat Trump.

He’s careful not to name his Democratic opponents, but he’s clearly aiming at Sanders, whose sweeping proposals call for Medicare for all and free tuition to public universities.

Bloomberg preaches a more moderate program to insure Americans and expand prosperity without broad government programs to do so.

In the interview, he addressed the controversy over his support of “stop-and-frisk” policing that has angered many in minority communities.

Here is a transcript of Thursday’s 10-minute interview, lightly edited for brevity.

Q: How do you create a coalition and win in such a diverse state as North Carolina with so many distinct rural and urban areas?

A: You do it the traditional ways. You advertise on television. It’s still the mass way to get to people. You advertise in print. But mainly in print you want to write stories. People still read newspapers and the other journalists get their news from newspapers. So what you see on television may very well have come from newspapers.

You get surrogates who will go out and say, “I like this guy, here’s what he did, you should vote for him, I’m gonna vote for him.” That sort of thing.

You do events like this.

Something’s happening. There’s a momentum here. And it’s true all across the country. Everyplace we go now, every room gets over full. Yesterday we had 200 people standing in the rain. Why? ‘Cause the overflow room with two, three hundred people was full and the main room with 500 was full.

People want change. They want to get rid of Donald Trump and I think they don’t want revolution, they want an evolution. And they want things that are practical, that’ll get through Congress, that we can afford.

Some of the other aspirational stuff’s fine but it’s never gonna happen.

We went through a rebellion against the establishment. That brought in Trump, that brought in (French President) Macron, that was for Brexit, all those things. And I think the next revolution is now they want something that is gonna work.

They just want to make sure their kid gets a good education and that they’re safe and they want somebody in the White House that they can say to their kids, “Look, the president doesn’t lie, the president doesn’t do this, you shouldn’t.”

How do you say that to a kid today? It’s a real problem.

Q: You’re doing well in the polls in North Carolina, you’ve come up to third place in a poll released yesterday. Do you expect to advance in the polls between now and Super Tuesday?

A: All I can tell you is, we’re working today, we’re doing four cities today, in one day. I can’t work any harder. I have my girlfriend out there going around the country. She’s off to Atlanta this morning and I forget where else she’s going.

We’ve got lots of surrogates, we’ve got lots of endorsements from congresspeople and local officials around the country and around the state of every ethnicity. They all seem to be coming together.

And all my friends are either Tar Heels or Dukies.

Q: You received scrutiny in the past few days about your “stop-and-frisk” (policing) comments from five years ago. There are a lot of minority voters in North Carolina, so how do you think that will play with them?

A: I think they’re going to look through that. They look at my record. They know what I’ve done. I was elected and re-elected twice in New York City, the most populous, it’s the biggest city in the country.

What I’ve said is, “We had this procedure, it got out of hand, I didn’t realize the effect it was having on young men of color who didn’t have a gun in their pocket.”

But we did bring the murder rate down from 650 to 300 a year and the bottom line is I apologized for it.

I didn’t realize the pain that it was causing. I can’t rewrite history. But I’m gonna continue to do what I’m doing, represent everybody. And we have to focus on education and all the things to give people equal opportunity and a lot of that is economic.

Q: Are you coming back to North Carolina?

A: We have a lot of other states. When you get to Super Tuesday, this is a state that votes and then in all fairness you’d spend some time in those that vote a week later and those that vote two weeks later. But I’ve been in the state a number of times already.

We have eight offices in the state and 125 people on the payroll here, getting the message out, calling people, knocking on doors, answering questions, that sort of thing, and you’ve got to do it for 50 states.

But I will have gone to all 50 states. People say, “Why do you go to these small states?” I believe if I’m gonna unite this country I’m going to unite all the country.

Q: Do you believe you can be a unifying force for the party and how?

A: I don’t think you’re gonna get everybody but, yes, I think in the end people are gonna realize, look, it’s Bloomberg or Trump, and when you phrase it that way… People say you’re spending too much money. I say I’m spending it to beat Donald Trump. Oh. OK, do it. Spend more.

I think most people want recognition and respect. Even the protesters, I always walk up to the protesters. Excuse me. I heard you. I’m Mike Bloomberg, we don’t necessarily have to agree with each other but I respect you and I respect your right to express yourself. Don’t do it in the middle of my speech and I won’t do it in the middle of your speech.

But that’s what people really care about. Not 100% of the people. But I think you can pull most of the people together and when the alternative is me or Trump, that helps, but even then, I can say, “look, I did it in New York City, I respected everybody’s rights. People that wanted to express themselves could.”

I would get calls at 3:30 in the morning. I used to have my telephone number in the phone book for the first four years in office. And once every two months you’d get a call at 3 o’clock in the morning, somebody intoxicated, and I’d say, “Look, lady. It’s 3 in the morning. Here’s my office number. You call me at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, I will take that call and answer your question. Good night. And they called. And they were shocked that I would take the call.”

Are you gonna get everybody? No. And everybody wants to win. And I understand that. I normally would never mention my opponent’s name. But in the case of Trump, I have no choice.

You heard the cheer. It’s a guaranteed cheer line. It just never fails. And the truth of the matter is he shouldn’t be president. And it isn’t so much his policies, some of which you could agree with, some of which you probably shouldn’t.

But it’s the honesty or lack of honesty and the egotism and nepotism and all these things, it’s just not good government and shouldn’t happen.

Q: Do you have an opinion about eastern North Carolina or western North Carolina barbecue?

A: I do not. (laughs) I was with (TV host) Judge Judy in Texas. We went to four cities and she said she’s never eaten so much brisket in her life. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll get some lunch here as the bus keeps rolling.

Paper vs. touchscreen? Voters have mixed views on Guilford's new hand-written ballot system

GREENSBORO — Voters on Thursday got to try out the county’s new paper ballot voting system as they took part in the first day of early voting for the March 3 primary.

Guilford County had been using touchscreen machines, but switched to the new system after changes to state law. The old machines produced a paper receipt that fed through the machine, but not a paper ballot that voters could verify, as is now required.

The new system involves filling out a paper ballot by hand, then feeding it into a scanner to be read. The county also has separate units for people whose disabilities prevent them from using the standard equipment.

The county tested the system in a single precinct in November’s municipal elections. Now all voters will be using the machines. Early voting, which kicked off Thursday, runs through Feb. 29.

Among a half dozen people interviewed after voting Thursday morning, people were mixed on which system they liked better.

“I thought the (touchscreen) machines were a lot simpler,” Greensboro voter Tametrous Boone said of the old system. “I’m kind of a tech guy, a little more tech savvy.”

Greensboro resident Darrell Bryant felt the opposite.

“It’s just easier with a paper ballot in casting the vote,” he said. He also said he felt it was better to have the paper ballots for security against potential computer viruses or Russian election interference.

John Bryson of High Point said voting seemed to take longer under the new system, but he didn’t mind.

“I have no problem doing this,” he said. “This is a little slower, but that’s all right, that’s the price you pay for security.”

State legislators created the need for new voting equipment in Guilford and a number of other North Carolina counties by changing the law to require that voting machines use paper ballots.

A final deadline was set for December 2019 to end any use of machines like those Guilford has relied upon for years.

County election officials and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners decided late last year to spend about $2 million on the new equipment, which uses computerized readers to scan ballots marked by hand.

The new equipment includes 220 scanners that read ballots filled out by hand, 200 related units for people whose disabilities prevent them from using the standard equipment and two high-speed tabulators to tally votes.

The county has enough new machines to service 15 early-voting sites and all 165 of the county’s precincts during the March 3 primary, plus have several dozen in reserve for situations where extras or replacements might be needed, Chris Duffey, deputy elections director, told county commissioners last month.

For workers, there’s a big plus to the new system, according to poll worker Paul Hunnemann. The old voting machines, he said, were bulky and unwieldy on their stands, and back-breaking to move around.

Charlie Collicutt, director of the Guilford County Board of Elections, said from what he’s seen everything is going well with the new voting system. He said he’d had fears that poll workers might have issues adapting to a new system, but that’s not been the case.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” he said.