Last night, John Edwards spoke at Cooper Union with Brian Lehrer, mostly about his proposals to eradicate poverty and how the issue of poverty would play in the race. But the former Senator from North Carolina was also asked about the role Michael Bloomberg's enormous wealth could play in the race.
Here's what Edwards said.
"It's obvious that somebody like Mayor Bloomberg, who has significant wealth, can have a real impact on the process. My own view about it is that we have huge problems with the amount of money that is being spent on presidential campaigns to begin with. I don't want to sound holier than thou on this, because I also raise millions of dollars, because you have to if you run a serious campaign — but I think the system needs to be changed, I think we ought to publicly finance these campaigns, but the result of the system we have now is that you have somebody like Mayor Bloomberg who is willing to spend — what did you say? — a billion dollars of his own money, without a doubt he'd get heard. That doesn't mean, as you know, an independent candidacy has not faired well in recent years, but it remains to be seen, I think."
Before the discussion, which will air on WNYC this morning, Edwards gave a short speech that basically stuck to his Two Americas theme, outlining some proposals on how to change the credit system so that it prevents predatory lending and improve public housing. He cut his remarks short because he showed up late, but he managed to argue that "you shouldn't be president of the United States if you don't recognize the existence of two Americas." Also, inevitably, he addressed the dreaded haircut.
His goal, he said, was not to prevent people from getting rich. "We want somebody who can come from nothing to spending $400 on a haircut," he said to applause.
Also, in light of today's Times story raising the question of whether Edwards improperly used his Center for Promise and Opportunity non-profit organization in North Carolina to travel the country for his own political gain, it's worth pointing our that Edwards in no way tried to disassociate himself from the organization last night. "Some of you may know this already," he said. "But I've been running a poverty center in the University of North Carolina for the last few years." It's safe to say that more people will know about the center and be looking at it now.
UPDATE: The poverty center at the University of North Carolina that Edwards was referring to last night was not the one examined in the Times piece. But in a separate statement yesterday, the Edwards campaign did defend his work with the organization highlighted in the Times — the Center for Promise and Opportunity. Yesterday, his spokesman, Eric Schultz released the following statement to reporters.
"John Edwards and everyone involved is proud of the organization's work to engage citizens in the fight against poverty, send young people to college, and create opportunity for all Americans."