Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin says he would endorse Michael Bloomberg for president and serve as campaign co-chair should the former New York City mayor enter the race.
Benjamin, the former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is a high-profile figure in the crucial early primary state and a coveted ally in the increasingly crowded Democratic primary.
In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Benjamin called Bloomberg "a great mentor to mayors all across the country."
"I've encouraged the mayor to run," Benjamin said. "It's a process he's going through with himself and I'm sure through prayer and consideration with his closest advisers. But I think he'd be an excellent president."
Benjamin was in attendance at Sunday's service at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn wherefor the NYPD's controversial "stop-and-frisk" program – a tactic Bloomberg fiercely defending during and after his mayoral tenure. As recently as March, Bloomberg derided the idea of going on an "apology tour" as part of a potential presidential bid.
But in front of a mostly-black congregation of New Yorkers, Bloomberg told the crowd he "got something really important really wrong."
"We eroded what we had worked so hard to build: trust. Trust between police and communities, trust between you and me. And the erosion of that trust bothered me deeply. And it still bothers me," Bloomberg said. "But I can't change history. However, today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong, and I'm sorry."
Benjamin, an African American mayor in a state where black voters make up more than half of all Democratic voters, says he thinks Bloomberg's mea culpa is "a step in the right direction."
"There's still some serious and legitimate concerns. So, understanding that the first stop is genuine contrition, sharing the fact that he got it wrong, and I'm a big believer that there's strength in humility and being able to come to an audience that's felt the pain over time and sharing that very directly," Benjamin told CBS News.
Although Bloomberg was elected New York's mayor three times, his aggressive approach to policing alienated some communities of color. The stop-and-frisk policy he championed gave police broad leeway to search civilians for contraband, and the vast majority of those stopped were Latino or African American, according to civil liberties groups.
Bloomberg, one of world's richest men, would have near-infinite financial resources to fall back on should he mount a run for the presidency. And Benjamin said there's "absolutely" enough time for Bloomberg to break through in the crowded Democratic field.
"Everyone knows the Bloomberg name. It's synonymous with success. Some people don't know he was a great Horatio Alger story, worked his way up from the bottom and built something significant. Or he's this great, rich guy who got rid of smoking in restaurants and the rest of the world followed and he's worked to take guns off the street.He's the poster boy for fighting against climate change" Benjamin said.
"I think it's incumbent upon Mike Bloomberg to get out there, get into communities, make sure people know him and understand exactly what kind of president he can be. He can do a great job."