The prospective Mayoral campaign of Michael Bloomberg makes
interesting food for thought. I myself will almost surely vote for him if he
chooses to run. His likely opposition does not make the pulse race: Mark Green
is the Harold Stassen of city politics; Peter Vallone does not encourage trust
in this writer; other candidates fall under the same vague rubric “opponent”
that was applied to the “Bums of the Month” knocked out serially by Joe Louis
on the eve of World War II.
There is some question whether Mr. Bloomberg possesses the
existential political toughness to be Mayor. My guess is that he learned all he
needed to know about duplicity and double-dealing when he got the boot at
Salomon, knowledge that will serve him well in City Hall.
That he is conspicuously single-and, by his own admission to
New York , randy as a goat-requires
consideration. This is not a prima facie problem. New Yorkers expect their
Mayor to provide a certain measure of entertainment, if only to leaven the
day-to-day challenge that their own small city lives pose, and the thought of a
world-class pussy-chaser emerging every evening from Gracie Mansion, aglow with
carnal heat and ready to rumble, as they say, might lift the five boroughs’
collective heart during what promise to be
challenging years to come.
Provided that he heads for Scores, that is, and not for
Society. Mr. Bloomberg should absent himself from the world of “boldface.” Even
today, when so-called gossip columns are generally nothing more than
publicists’ bulletin boards, it ill behooves a man who would be taken seriously
by a large, diverse and frequently unruly electorate to be regularly listed as
a member in highest standing of High Society as it now is, or claims to be. I
speak with the authority not merely of one who is listed in “the Old Guard” by Quest (a form of recognition that has
caused me to be disowned by my children and by my looking glass), but also as
someone who never misses the “Party Pictures” in David Patrick Columbia’s
indispensable http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com. These offer, bar none, the most
amazing collection of grotesques assembled in one place (and renewed daily)
since Daumier drew for Charivari.
This may not be easy for Mr. Bloomberg. He is a man from the
kind of background usually described as “modest,” and perhaps because of this
has developed a keen but hopefully not crippling enthusiasm for receiving and
presenting awards. Scarcely a day goes by when the letterbox fails to yield an
opportunity to pay $1,000 a plate minimum to be present at some function at
which Mr. Bloomberg will be honored. In the past three years alone, by my rough
reckoning, enough engraved crystal and sterling gimcrackery has passed into or
through his hands to satisfy a dozen Grover Whalens. His den must look like
Fortunoffs on close-out day. This-along with those dreadful gray-silver bow
ties he affects-is about the only grounds I have for some suspicion of his
fitness to govern the city, but it is substantive. Quite apart from its flaws
as an interior-design strategy, a taste for trophies raises serious questions
about ego. Being Mayor requires a delicate balance of personality: something in
between the “fee-fi-fo-fum” in which Rudy-ian cultural criticism is couched and
the mouse-like squeak with which the Dinkinses and Beames used to oblige the
power brokers. Trophymania, innocent enough at first glance, may represent a
form of bipolar compensation, and should be given more careful scrutiny than
has been the case to date.
And it isn’t just the trophies; it’s the company one has to
keep in order to get them. While most of the regulars on the rubber foie-gras
circuit are decent folk of honest, generous intent, others must be watched with
a keen eye: Constant proximity can lead to moral and ethical contamination. To
read of a candidate being night after night after night in the same hotel
ballroom as Henry Kissinger-another big deal in trophydom-must remind the voter
of conscience that what happened to Cambodia might also happen to Hunt’s Point.
So I have to admit that this aspect of Mr. Bloomberg does
worry me. If, a few years from now, Crown Heights or Kew Gardens should break
out in riot and flame, I want my Mayor there, not on the far side of the river
receiving the perfume industry’s Man of the Year award. On the other hand, I
suppose there’s a bright side: I can think of no potential candidate better
equipped to deal forcefully and effectively with the threat to the public
interest-at least as said interest is defined by the Styles section of the
Sunday Times -which a wildcat strike
of the wait staff at Glorious Food would represent.
On the whole, though, these are minor concerns. I’m not even
especially discouraged by the condescension, even contempt, with which some of
my colleagues in the media regard Mr. Bloomberg and his putative candidacy.
This becomes clear in their suggestions concerning possible consorts for the
man. The New York Post , I believe
’twas, came up with a list that included two ladies once included in your
correspondent’s choice of Hamptons Horsepersons of the Apocalypse: Martha
Stewart and Peggy Siegal. While I’m too much of a gentleman to say that
nominations of this ilk imply a libelously low opinion of where Mr. Bloomberg’s
admitted weakness for the ladies (sic) is capable of taking the man, it
certainly doesn’t indicate that the Murdoch tabloid holds the city or its
citizens in high regard when it comes to ideas for our future Mrs. Mayor. The
thought of Peggy Siegal in a tiara, on the dais next to, say, the Queen of
England, is enough to have me pricing real estate in Antarctica. Or Martha in
that brown suit with the fur-sausage collar!
Fortunately, I believe Mr. Bloomberg is capable of taking a
lesson from his master in the White House and ignoring the media in this and
much else. New York is a big city, but Manhattan’s a small town, and it’s the
former he wants to be Mayor of. At least I think so.
So I hope he will construe the office he’s thinking about
seeking as a source of leadership for all five boroughs, which I’m not sure
Rudy does. His trick is going to be getting out the votes. Short of buying
these outright, his money won’t help all that much. In the city proper, where
you have these strong neighborhood identities, these highly charged political
microclimates, I doubt the kind of big-sweep “media buy” advertising that Mr.
Bloomberg’s fortune can purchase (and that his consultants will encourage him
to spend on) will be as effective or productive as claimed. If he were running
for Governor, I’d take counsel from Lew Lehrman’s experience and advise
That said, it occurs to me that Michael Bloomberg does have
the money to buy the one political asset that I think can win him the
Mayoralty. It’ll be expensive, but cheap in terms of the object to be gained. I
think he should just offer Bill Clinton $20 million to go out and hit the
hustings and sell the Bloomberg candidacy to the common man in the outer
boroughs. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. Some might call it cynical, but isn’t
politics supposed to be the art of the possible? We know it’s possible to buy
Mr. Clinton, so why not, just for once, buy him in the service of a good cause?
It’d be a new experience for him, too.