Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg
Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks about gun-safety measures at invitation-only visit to home of Wendy Wheatcroft, a San Diego City Council candidate. Photo by Chris Stone

Carol Landale was sold. Zachary and Jamie Lewis were close to buying.

Their object of affection was former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg — the latest Democratic candidate for president. He made two stops Sunday in San Diego.

“I think he just jumped into first place,” Landale said at a backyard gathering of 100 gun-safety activists and friends of Wendy Wheatcroft, the San Diego City Council District 7 candidate.

“It’s been really hard,” added Landale, a 71-year-old Mission Valley resident. “I like [front-runner Joe] Biden, but I don’t think he’s strong enough to beat [President] Trump. I think Bernie Sanders … is doing really well. But I’m afraid he may be too far out left.”

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Three hours earlier, the Lewises heard Bloomberg, 77, share vows for improving the transition of military veterans to civilian life, especially in employment.

Did his 16-minute talk at a Kearny Mesa defense start-up move them closer to supporting him?

“Oh definitely,” Jamie Lewis said afterward, a 5-year-old daughter and nearly 2-year-old son in tow. “I really appreciated how genuine he was. And I liked everything he had to say, talking about building people up. And building the country up. … He just came across very comfortable and very genuine.”

Said husband Zachary, a veteran: “Integrity is huge with me. It seemed like he was a very honest man. I really appreciated the fact that he took the time to greet us and the kids.”

At Fuse Integration, a software engineering and design firm of 70 employees founded by Navy veteran Sumner Lee, San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey, a former Republican like Bloomberg, announced his backing of the airtime-gobbling billionaire.

But Wheatcroft, the former state Moms Demand Action leader who hosted the second gathering at her split-level home near San Carlos, said she wasn’t planning to make a formal endorsement.

She hadn’t spoken with Bloomberg before his appearance, she said, but was delighted to get a call from his local camp about helping her fellow gun-safety advocate. (He founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown for Gun Safety, and claimed that his money helped 21 of 24 like-minded first-time congressional candidates win slim victories in 2018.)

“Hosting a presidential candidate in my backyard today is just another example that we are living in crazy times,” Wheatcroft said in introducing the 2002-2013 New York mayor. “And we all must do everything possible to take back this country.”

Also hesitant to join the Bloomberg bandwagon was Rep. Scott Peters, who attended the Fuse event. He said he was there to hear from a fellow moderate. (He recently lost his district chief of staff, MaryAnne Pintar, to the Bloomberg campaign.)

Bishop Cornelius Bowser of Charity Apostolic Church in Logan Heights kicked the tires as well.

Attending the Wheatcroft event, Bowser was among many attendees to bend Bloomberg’s ear after a 16-minute talk geared to gun issues.

“I asked him about police reform,” he said.”Basically, he used New York as a model that police shootings, especially killing black folks, is real low and so on” and could be replicated nationwide.

Did Bowser, an African-American, consider Bloomberg’s recent apology for NYPD’s former stop-and-search policy genuine or political?

“That’s hard to say because he’s running for office,” he said. “He wouldn’t address it (before). So all you can do is take it on face value.”

But Bowser, with no favorite in the field, said he “most definitely” heard Bloomberg say things that could win his backing.

Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks about hiring veterans at Fuse, a local defense department contractor. Photo by Chris Stone

“Talking with him — right here, right now — I do have my eye on him, and I’ll continue to watch and see what’s going on,” Bowser said.

Bloomberg gave a handful of interviews to local media, but got some of the toughest questions from invitation-only guests at the Wheatcroft home.

“He jumped into the race relatively late,” noted Luan Troxel, a freelance writer in Coronado invited by Wheatcroft. “And so I was asking what he thought he could bring to the table that he found lacking in the other candidates.”

Bloomberg suggested he didn’t think any of his Democratic rivals, including Biden, could beat Donald Trump, Troxel said.

While considering himself liberal, Bloomberg says he’s trusted by moderate Republicans, “and he ran New York City and didn’t go crazy,” said Troxel who lived in the Big Apple when he was mayor.

“In fact, I was worried about him when he started out,” she said. “But he was great.”

Landale, a local Brady Campaign leader friend of Wheatcroft, wore a purple T-shirt that said on the back: “Take Action. Not Sides.”

She said she asked Bloomberg about his foreign policy and what he would be doing in the Middle East.

“His response was basically what we’ve heard in the press … that the person in the White House doesn’t listen to anybody,” she said. “So he’s got all those advisers [but] he doesn’t listen to any of them. Bloomberg will obviously bring back advisers. He’ll get rid of the Hyde Amendment. He’s going to reinstate the State Department.”

Bloomberg addressed one guest’s question about the recent Trump-ordered killing of Iran’s top general — which many fear could lead to war.

Carol Landale (in purple shirt) and Bishop Cornelius Bowser were among invited guests at Wendy Wheatcroft’s home able to quiz Mike Bloomberg, Democratic candidate for president. Photo by Chris Stone

“I don’t have all the intel to second-guess or not,” Bloomberg said. “But I think … the last two presidents could have hit this guy and decided not to. And I don’t know if they were right or he was right. But you can’t run a railroad without competent people, and he got rid of all the competent people out of the Defense Department, the State Department.”

Bloomberg began his San Diego visit by touring Fuse, a nearly 10-year-old business that moved into its current 22,000-square-foot home less than a year ago.

“We will focus on expanding the Small Business Administration’s ‘Boots to Business’” program, to connect veteran entrepreneurs to training and advisory services, Bloomberg said.

Fuse CEO Lee, a former Navy helicopter pilot, said he was called Thursday by Joe Musselman, founder of The Honor Foundation, about the candidate.

“He said: ‘Hey, Mike Bloomberg’s coming to town. Would you be interested in hosting him?’ I said: ‘Absolutely. It think it’s a great opportunity to have a presidential candidate come and see what our team is doing. To be able to talk about small business. And talk about veterans.’”

Bloomberg declared his candidacy Nov. 24, saying he was “running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America.”

“We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions,” Bloomberg said. “He represents an existential threat to our country and our values. If he wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage.”

Samantha Zager, a regional communications director for Trump Victory, the joint effort between the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign, on Sunday called Bloomberg “a complete embarrassment as mayor and he has brought those same socialist policies with him on the presidential campaign trail.”

“From his radical stance on the Second Amendment to his attempts to regulate every detail of Americans’ lives, Californians have already seen what a Bloomberg presidency would mean for them,” Zager said.

San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric tweeted a “statement” on
Bloomberg campaigning in San Diego: “I thought Democrats didn’t like old, rich, white, male candidates for president? Who knew?”

At the Wheatcroft home, Bloomberg praised San Diego as a leader in carrying out California’s red flag law.

“We’re not trying to control guns,” he said from a lectern suited to his 5-foot-4 stature. “The Second Amendment, which we’re not going to change, gives people permission to have guns. But the courts have said we can have sensible gun laws to not sell guns to people with psychiatric problems, people who are minors, and people who have criminal records.”

To people who say: “Oh, you are taking away my freedoms,” he urged audience members to point out that federal law bars every gun store in America from selling to people with criminal records or mental problems.

“It’s only gun shows and internet sales, which didn’t exist when that first law was written,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking for.”

He said his goals would make it safer “even for gun owners to not get killed.”

District 5 Councilman Kersey, speaking at the Fuse event, told Times of San Diego that he’s always appreciated Bloomberg’s focus on the private sector and how government can help solve big problems, like infrastructure and education.

“His last year as mayor was my first on the City Council,” he said, “so we overlapped a little bit there. Some of the stuff he implemented in New York we actually modeled here in San Diego.”

Kersey had been thinking about a Bloomberg endorsement since he announced the week of Thanksgiving, “but just made up my mind in the last couple of days.”

Bloomberg is investing heavily in grass roots operations, Kersey said, “building up huge teams of people here and they’re opening an office in Riverside County.”

Even if he takes third in California, Bloomberg could still win convention delegates, Kersey noted.

Will Kersey campaign for Bloomberg?

“That’s all to be determined,” he said. “We’ll see.”

— City News Service contributed to this report.