NEW YORK — Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and their chief executives on Friday, declaring that they "don't make a lot of money" and shouldn't be scapegoats in the health care debate.
The mayor – and wealthiest person in New York City with a fortune estimated at $16.5 billion – made the comments on his radio show Friday during a discussion about health care.
"You know, last time I checked, pharmaceutical companies don't make a lot of money, their executives don't make a lot of money – not that they couldn't be better," Bloomberg said.
Pharmaceutical CEOs are known to make millions, with generous salaries, stock options and other perks.
Abbott Laboratories Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Miles White's compensation was $25.3 million in 2008. The North Chicago, Ill.-based company saw profit rising 35 percent to $4.88 billion.
Merck & Co.'s chief executive, Richard T. Clark, received a $17.3 million compensation package for 2008. The company's profit more than doubled to $7.8 billion.
The mayor, a Republican-turned-independent who already has spent more than $36 million on his re-election campaign this year, often battles criticism that he is out of touch with regular people. He built his fortune after founding the financial information company that bears his name.
Earlier this year he declared "we love the rich people" while arguing against raising taxes on the wealthy, and said recently that President Barack Obama, who earns $400,000 a year and has made millions from book sales, "doesn't get paid that much" and is "on a budget" like millions of Americans.
Portraying Bloomberg as out of touch is a tactic often used by the Democratic frontrunner in the race, City Comptroller William Thompson Jr.
Thompson's campaign said in a statement Friday that Bloomberg "needs a dose of reality."
"Once again, Mike proves that he just doesn't get it," the statement said.
It was clear that Bloomberg or one of his aides realized his gaffe while he was still on the air Friday.
The mayor, who has sought to cast himself as a financial and business expert, came back from a break and said he had looked up the pay of some pharmaceutical executives.
"Some of them are making a decent amount, more than a decent amount of money," he said.
Either way, Bloomberg said, it doesn't solve anything to beat up on pharmaceutical companies while trying to come up with health care solutions.