Ex-presidential advisor to Mike Bloomberg: 'Inner city' voters don't hate billionaires

Being a billionaire businessman and philanthropist should be viewed as a positive, not a negative, if Mike Bloomberg were to decide to run for president, according to John Hope Bryant, an advocate for economic empowerment.

Bryant — founder of Operation Hope and advisor to the presidential administrations of Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush — told CNBC on Friday that the whole concept that Americans hate billionaires is wrong.

“If I want to pack a room in the inner city, I tell them a billionaire is coming,” said Bryant, whose group works with banks, companies, and local governments and organizations to counsel lower-income clients on financial literacy.

On Thursday, multiple media outlets reported that Bloomberg, a three-term New York mayor, is thinking about joining the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. A top advisor to the 77-year-old released a statement, saying Bloomberg wants to see Trump defeated, but he’s becoming “increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who grabbed the centrist mantle, has seen his front-runner status on the Democratic side eroding as his top rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s wealth-taxing, progressive message gains ground among primary voters.

Bloomberg “checks all the boxes” to be relevant in the current political discussion around capitalism versus socialism, Bryant said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “He’s given back to underserved communities. He’s built a city. He’s a rational person. He’s an adult in the room. He’s got a heart and a head — a compassionate heart and a conservative head.”

“I think that he changes the conversation, which I think we need right now,” Bryant said.

However, Bryant said Bloomberg needs to better connect to voters.

“I’ve met him a couple times. He wasn’t warm when I met him. I think he needs to warm up, personally. People don’t vote for pocketbooks or brains, they vote for hearts and minds,” he said.

Bryant believes that capitalism and free markets are the best way to prosperity for all Americans, a premise on which he modeled Operation Hope. Last month, he told CNBC his personal story about growing up in Compton in South Central Los Angeles, a community that suffered problems with gangs, and how his life was changed by a banker teaching him financial literacy at 9 years old.

— Clarification: The headline on this story was updated to reflect that Bryant advises Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, and not Trump himself.

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