Tim Gunn Jumps Into the 2020 Election: Why He's Endorsing Mike Bloomberg — and Joining the Campaign

Gunn tells PEOPLE of his decision to back Bloomberg: "He's able to make his priorities known to his constituents, and I also know how well he listens"

When Tim Gunn got a text from his friend Bette Midler in mid-January asking him how he felt about the 2020 presidential race so far, he didn’t expect the conversation would end with him involved in one of the ongoing campaigns — especially one he didn’t even realize had started.

But Midler wanted to know how Gunn felt about Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul and former mayor of New York City who in November jumped into the Democratic race nearly a year after the rest of the field.

“I said, ‘Is Mike Bloomberg still in the race?’ And [Midler] said, ‘Very much so, and I’m standing up for him,’” Gunn, 66, tells PEOPLE.

And so the former Project Runway host — who is launching a new fashion competition series on Amazon this year — began emailing with Bloomberg’s campaign after his conversation with Midler.

He officially joined on as a member of Bloomberg’s LGBTQ Leadership Council less than 24 hours ago.

“When I talked to his campaign yesterday, they said, ‘We’re getting into this late’ and I thought, Maybe that’s a real advantage,” says Gunn. “He hasn’t been part of this squabbling and bickering. Now he can just ride in like a knight in shining armor.”

Bloomberg announced his candidacy on Nov. 24, with many seeing his run at the Democratic nomination as a long-shot bid, coming only a few months before the first primary voting begins in February.

His allies have pointed to his vast personal wealth as an advantage at getting his name out to voters even as he avoids some of the same primary campaigning his opponents have been engaged in for months. His campaign is also premised, in part, on his hypothetical appeal as a more moderate Democratic against Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

(In an unusual strategy, Bloomberg is avoiding the first four Democratic primary contests and hoping to mount a stronger showing when more states begin voting in March.)

Tim Gunn, Michael Bloomberg
Trae Patton/NBCU; Dave Benett/Getty Images

The 77-year-old billionaire — who made his fortune through his eponymous financial and news organization — has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad spending across the country and is reportedly willing to spend big to earn a spot on the ticket come November. Recently, Bloomberg joined President Donald Trump in spending about $10 million on a Super Bowl ad buy.

Gunn says he hopes to also help spread the word in backing Bloomberg’s campaign.

“I would like to see part of my role being to help people understand who Bloomberg is and that he is in the race, because I would say for the most part they aren’t right now,” Gunn tells PEOPLE. “My own ignorance is a sign of that, I think.”

Gunn joins the Bloomberg campaign’s LGBTQ leadership council alongside fellow designer Isaac Mizrahi, Olympic basketball player Gail Marquis and others who will help advocate for Bloomberg and inform voters about Bloomberg’s equal rights policy, which will be announced later Tuesday.

Tim Gunn, Michael Bloomberg
From left: A 2010 photo showing model Naomi Campbell, Tim Gunn, General Secretary of the World YWCA Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Women For Women founder Zainab Salbi and Mary Robinson at the Women For Women International “Join Me On The Bridge” Global Campaign at the Brooklyn Bridge. Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Bloomberg was N.Y.C.’s mayor from 2002 to 2013. While he has faced heavy criticism for championing a controversial “stop and frisk” policy that disproportionately targeted racial minorities (he since apologized upon announcing his 2020 campaign), Bloomberg is recognized as an LGBTQ ally in helping push for legalizing same-sex marriage in New York state in 2011.

“I see the pain that the status quo is causing, and I cannot defend it,” Bloomberg said then, according to The New York Times.

Gunn tells PEOPLE that concern about the danger of the status quo for the LGBTQ community in America is still the case under the Trump administration.

“It’s just alarming that we’re in this position, but we are,” says Gunn, noting the Trump rollback of transgender rights, including banning transgender people from serving openly in the military. “Every day brings more shock.”

“We need protections for people,” Gunn adds. “It’s still the case that in 31 states you can be fired for being LGBTQ. That’s appalling. Given the current climate of the current administration, they’re doing everything possible to roll back the rights that we even have.”

“I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America,” Bloomberg said while announcing his run in November. “We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions.”

With a crowded Democratic presidential field, there are several options for voters in the race to challenge Trump. Gunn says he just didn’t feel excited about any of them.

“I was feeling listless and bland about them, but with Bloomberg I actually perk up,” he tells PEOPLE. “It’s just an added bonus when you feel excitement and enthusiasm about a candidate and among the pack he’s the only one I can say that about. Do I like some of them? Yeah. But do they pull at my heart strings? No.”

Though Gunn admits: “Part of that is familiarity.”

Living in New York for over 30 years and having met Bloomberg twice before — once when the then-mayor appeared on Project Runway in 2010 — Gunn is partial to the business mogul, someone he knew as a city official for a decade.

“Bloomberg was a great mayor. We still miss him. We still invoke his name,” Gunn says, adding, “He’s able to make his priorities known to his constituents, and I also know how well he listens. He’s not a steamroller. To meet him, he is collegial. He’s user friendly. He’s a keen listener and he wants to know what’s on your mind.”

Though Gunn’s role in the campaign is still largely undefined, he says he’s “happy to be a sounding board” when it comes to LGBTQ policy.

“I’ll do whatever I can within the limits of my own schedule,” Gunn says. “I’m eager to participate and be a cog in the wheel of the solution to the situation we’re currently in.”

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