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Prominent Retired Banker In North Carolina Explains Why He Backs Bloomberg

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are hearing Where Voters Are in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte is the biggest city in a state that votes on Super Tuesday next week. It's also a battleground state this fall. So we are visiting and revisiting Charlotte and other key places through this election year. When we were visiting earlier this week, we met an influential Charlotte voter. For many years, Hugh McColl ran Bank of America, building an enormous institution with its headquarters in a skyscraper downtown.

HUGH MCCOLL: I'm just somebody that didn't like having an unimportant bank in an unimportant city, so I set out to change that.

INSKEEP: It's an important bank now in an important city. McColl told a little bit of his story when he welcomed us into his brick house, which is in Charlotte. We sat in his living room. And his wife came and opened the drapes as we talked. Over decades, McColl's company acquired bank after bank and created a nationwide corporate giant and made Charlotte into a major banking center. McColl is in his mid-80s now and has stepped back from the company but remains politically active.

MCCOLL: Well, I'm a lifelong Democrat. So I'll vote Democratic, I'm sure, unless it's - I don't know. I will vote Democratic.

INSKEEP: Even if it's Bernie Sanders.

MCCOLL: Well, I might write in somebody.

INSKEEP: Hugh McColl is a capitalist contemplating the possibility that his party could nominate a Democratic socialist. He is supporting Michael Bloomberg, one of the candidates trying to stop Bernie Sanders.

MCCOLL: I don't think any of his policies would ever be enacted into law. I think it's whistling Dixie. Universal health care sounds great. But we're not going to get there the way he's talking about it. Free college education sounds great. I don't think we're going to get there the way he's talking about it. He doesn't have a way to pay for it. And we are running a trillion-dollar deficit. So the idea that we can continue to run huge deficits and the rest of the world will fund it for us just - it won't work.

INSKEEP: Is any part of his critique of Wall Street and banks fair, any little part of it at all?

MCCOLL: Well, when you ask a question and say, is any little part of it fair, certainly. There may be criticisms he makes that are absolutely on the money. I don't know that. I do think, simply put, if you look at the last 20 years, we've had a larger and larger share of the wealth going to capitalists. That number has gone way up from - I think it was about, top 1% probably got about 12% of the GDP, and now it's numbers above 20%.

And so that in and of itself is unsustainable. So we're asking ourselves for a revolution. And we have a revolution on the right with Mr. Trump. And Bernie favors a revolution on the left. And what I would favor is a calm solution to the problem, sitting down and talking our way through it.

INSKEEP: I think you've hit on a particularly interesting problem, though, that some analysts have identified and it sounds like you agree with. Finance itself, a company like the bank that you built, companies like that are a much larger share of the economy than they were. And more wealthy people, they're the ones who participate in that. They're the ones who profit in that...

MCCOLL: Well, usually, capitalists...

INSKEEP: ...And that's a big driver of inequality.

MCCOLL: Actually, I don't think the banks are the problem. What has happened is more and more people have made money. And their reaction to making money is they don't know what to do with it, so they put it into funds. The concentration of wealth into these funds creates a problem in and of itself, yes. That's what happens when everybody is making money and doesn't know what to do with it. They pour it into a bucket. And the guy running the bucket gets paid a hell of a lot of money for doing it, OK? That's where the huge chunks of money are, are in the institutional money, not the banks.

INSKEEP: What have you thought about as the presidential campaign has unfolded? There have been a lot of discussion of economics.

MCCOLL: Well, speaking on the record, I guess, I'm attracted to Mayor Bloomberg's candidacy, and the reason is I think he's smart. And I think he tells the truth. I agree with him on global warming. I agree with him on gun control. Incidentally, I own a hundred guns at least. But I don't have any automatic weapons. You don't need them to hunt.

Anyway, I'm in favor of Bloomberg. I think he's the best answer for the country. I think he's a man that has run New York. I think he understands health care needs. I think he understands education. And if he doesn't, he will surround himself with people that can furnish him with facts. And he will believe the facts that are true.

INSKEEP: Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America, soon finds out how his candidate will do because Michael Bloomberg is on the ballot for the first time on Super Tuesday in North Carolina and other states. We are hearing Where Voters Are in Charlotte and other key cities and areas across this country. We'll be visiting and revisiting those areas throughout this election year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.