It has now been a decade since then-mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg called for Bronx teacher Melissa Petro to be fired for having written about doing sex work before she became a teacher. And oh what a difference ten years makes.
Bloomberg, now on the presidential campaign trail, is simply dying to stand up for women according to his comments at a recent “Women for Mike” event in New York City. “All of my success in life - everything I’ve done - is thanks to the strong women around me,” he told the crowd. “In many parts of this country, and certainly in Washington, women’s rights are under attack and so are women themselves.”
But in an essay for Business Insider, Petro remembers when she, a woman herself, came under Bloomberg’s attack, which helped get her fired:
“‘We’re just not going to have this woman in front of a class,’ Bloomberg was quoted as saying by the New York Daily News. This was the beginning and the end. Bloomberg and I never met. He never commented further on my situation. He decided my fate, and that was that,” Petro wrote.
Petro, now a freelance writer, was fired after writing an essay about her career as a sex worker, which was published in Huffington Post three years after she had last done sex work, long before she became a teacher. In her Business Insider piece, she says that as a political leader, Bloomberg should have acknowledged her first amendment right to publish the essay and keep her governmental job.
But now, as a sex workers’ rights advocate, she’s cautiously optimistic about candidates Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang both making statements suggesting that they might decriminalize sex work as president. In the ten years since she was fired, Petro hasn’t seen as much acknowledgment for sex work as a woman’s rights issue as she’d like, though she is cautiously hopeful: “Hearing candidates stake their positions on the issue, however imperfectly, makes me cautiously optimistic. Sex-worker rights are women’s rights, health rights, and labor rights. The issue is a litmus test for a truly progressive candidate — and Bloomberg does not pass.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg is backtracking on the ways he’s spoken about and to women in the past. He’s denied allegations that his colleagues compiled a 32-page booklet that included the greatest hits of Bloomberg’s casual sexism and passed it around a party in 1990 and explained away a lawsuit that claimed Bloomberg responded “Kill it” when a woman employee announced her pregnancy. “Did I ever tell a bawdy joke? Yeah, sure I did. And do I regret it? Yes. It’s embarrassing,” Bloomberg, said in a recent appearance on The View. “But, you know, that’s the way I grew up.”
Wonder if the 77-year-old man will grow up and apologize for helping to get Petro fired.