When Mayor Michael Bloomberg hops in his private jet and heads
down to his waterside mansion in Bermuda, he can take a dip in a “vanishing
horizon” pool that sits behind his house overlooking the bay-a luxurious
amenity that creates the illusion of floating in an unbroken plane of water
stretching to the horizon. Or, if he so chooses, he can gaze upon the bay from
a private terrace adjoining his nearly 500-square-foot master bedroom area. And
when the temperature drops and the sun dips below the turquoise waters
surrounding the island, he can head into his bedroom and relax beside the
room’s private fireplace.
These details of Mr. Bloomberg’s Bermuda spread, a $10.5 million
mansion in ultra-exclusive Tucker’s Town, are contained in blueprints of the
house that are on file with the island’s local planning board and were reviewed
by The Observer . Mr. Bloomberg’s home
is an idyllic refuge from the pressures of running the nation’s most volatile
and populous city.
One of the first things you notice when you enter the house is
the presence of a rare and expensive local commodity known as Bermuda cedar,
according to a Bermudan who has visited the house. That’s because Mr. Bloomberg
has, to an extent far greater than some of his neighbors, outfitted his mansion
with the dark and fragrant wood, using it for doors, paneling, decorative trim,
and window frames and sashes. In fact, Mr. Bloomberg’s affection for cedar is
such that it has led to a bit of grumbling on the island. Mr. Bloomberg, the
locals are whispering, gobbled up so much of the wood for his island paradise’s
interiors that it has caused a shortage in the precious resource and a spike in
demand. That has led various wood scavengers to cut down cedars furtively in
off-limits areas and sell them to wood mills.
“Because he’s come into the market and bought so much cedar,
people are scrambling around to find it,” one Bermudan groused to The Observer . “They have been cutting it
down in parks and nature preserves.”
In the social hierarchy of Bermuda, Mr. Bloomberg has a foot in
several camps. He is not one of those rich entrepreneurial types who lives
there all year round-he jets in and out to play golf, not to avoid paying
taxes. A self-made billionaire, he is part of the island’s class of new-money
business executives and celebrities. He plays golf at Mid Ocean Club, which
boasts of one of the world’s greatest golf courses and is occasionally seen as
a haven for new American wealth. Yet he has been known to travel among the
established Bermudans whose families have been on the island for generations.
He is a member of the Coral Beach and Tennis Club, a bastion for the cream of
the Bermuda elite-a place where five members have to vouch for you to get you
in, and one that prides itself on its we-have-nothing-to-prove old-money
Old and new money meet in Tucker’s Town, the site of Mr.
Bloomberg’s house, a place of winding roads and rambling mansions that sits on
a peninsula in the island’s northeast corner. There are well-established
Bermuda families alongside celebrities with garish $25 million mansions. Ross
Perot has a vacation home in Tucker’s Town; so does Italian Prime Minister
To get to Mr. Bloomberg’s house, you get waved past a security
guard at the entrance to Tucker Town’s private peninsula. Then you head several
hundred yards down Tucker’s Town Road until you arrive at Mr. Bloomberg’s
driveway, which dips down a hill towards the front door.
Mr. Bloomberg tore down the old house occupying the property
several years ago, replacing it with a four-bedroom mansion that emulates the
Bermuda architectural style: multi-layered ridged roofs, pointed gables and
outdoor patios. According to visitors and blueprints of the grounds, two small
ponds flank the entrance. Walking towards the front, you can see the bay,
dotted with yachts, shimmering behind the house. The roof of the house, like
that of all houses on this island with no central water supply, is
pitched-designed to catch rainwater and transfer it to an underground tank via
pipes dropping from the roof.
When you enter the house, you step into a large living room whose
décor seemed a bit stiff to one recent visitor. “When you think of Bermuda, you
think of summer houses,” the visitor said. “But this is much more opulent and
plush than you’d expect. The décor is quite formal, quite old New York. You
wouldn’t want to come through those French doors in a swimsuit.”
Off to the side of the living room is Mr. Bloomberg’s master
bedroom, complete with fireplace, private bathroom and terrace. Up on the
second floor are three guest bedrooms, each with its own private sitting room
and en suite bathroom. (Two of the guest rooms have private fireplaces.)
Continuing forward through the living room, you see sliding French doors that
lead out the back towards Tucker’s Town Bay. The pool, which is surprisingly
small, overlooks the water. Off to the left is a path that leads down to the
water’s edge and a jetty.
Mr. Bloomberg has visited Bermuda at least once since he became
Mayor. It’s a matter of speculation, because the Mayor has refused to divulge
his whereabouts when he leaves town. This earned him a pummeling at the hands
of editorialists and columnists; the Post ,
most memorably, dubbed him “Bermuda Bloomy.” Indeed, when Mr. Bloomberg stood
in City Hall’s Blue Room in mid-February, facing questions about the origin of
his tan, he seemed in danger of being pigeonholed as a frolicking figure who
would rather jet off to the tropics than crunch a budget-a figure less akin to
his workaholic predecessor and more like the pre–Sept. 11 George W. Bush, who
preferred to spend his time pumping iron and cutting brush on his Texas ranch
until the war on terror made him find his center of gravity.
But the fact is that Mr. Bloomberg is right to preserve secrecy
when he goes to Bermuda. If he doesn’t, teams of photographers are certain to
camp out in his bushes when he goes down there. The argument that the press
will leave him alone if he divulges his itinerary is, to put it delicately,
hogwash. What photographer, after all, would miss a chance to get that money
shot of Mr. Bloomberg floating in his pool on a raft, dividing his attention
between budget documents and that vanishing horizon?
Indeed, his bushes have already had visitors. When Mr. Bloomberg
spent a weekend in Bermuda several weeks ago, the New York Post hired a local reporter to monitor the Mayor’s
movements. The reporter spent a day loitering outside Mr. Bloomberg’s house.
Of course, a Mayor has to be careful about how he chooses to
spend his leisure time. His hobbies and taste in vacations can help him bond
with-or alienate him from-his constituents. David Dinkins had tennis, which
didn’t always work in his favor; Rudolph Giuliani had Yankee baseball, which
did. Mr. Bloomberg’s affection for mid-winter golf in the tropics may not play
well during an economic downturn and lingering fears of terrorist attacks.
Indeed, since the “Bermuda Bloomy” headlines, he has had a conspicuously busy
schedule on some weekends-suggesting he has decided that his trips risk
creating the impression of an absentee Mayor. It also may reflect the
calculation that it doesn’t seem wise for Mr. Bloomberg to be seen in a
luxurious setting at a time when he is slashing services to poor New Yorkers.
Still, the temptation to pop down to the
vacation house for a day or so will be mighty strong, even as winter (such as
it was) fades into spring. After all, Mr. Bloomberg can get to his house in
around three hours, if everything is timed right. The Mayor, founder of a
gigantic media and information company, keeps his corporate jets at Morristown
Airport in New Jersey, according to airport employees. But Mr. Bloomberg
doesn’t always trek out to Morristown for a flight out of town. Sometimes the
jets are ferried to a closer airport to pick him up. Mr. Bloomberg flies a
Dassault Falcon 900B on the Bermuda registry. It’s a three-engine, long-range,
custom-built jet that often seats up to a dozen passengers. Although Mr.
Bloomberg has a pilot’s license, he frequently leaves the flying to a pilot.
It’s a two-hour flight from New York to Bermuda, which is 600
miles off the coast of North Carolina. Once he arrives in Bermuda, Mr.
Bloomberg, like other owners of private jets, bypasses the tourists lined up
for immigration and customs-people bound for the crowded boutiques of Hamilton.
He passes through a special private entrance at the airport that includes a
plush bar and lounge.
Once in Bermuda, Mr. Bloomberg embarks on a quick two-mile drive
to his home (probably in a taxi, since no limos are allowed on the island),
across a causeway that connects the airport to the peninsula. The bridge passes
over water that is 10 feet deep and bright blue, and filled with turtles and
countless blue and green parrot fish.
When he’s on the island, Mr. Bloomberg seems to keep a low
profile. He is known to have surfaced in the local gossip pages only once. Back
in 2000, when he was finishing construction on his property, Hester, a local
columnist for the Bermuda daily Royal
Gazette , passed comment on Mr. Bloomberg’s arrival.
“The American billionaire appears to be one wealthy chap with a
heart,” the columnist wrote. “Hester hears he was so worried about noisy
equipment on the construction site for his huge new home upsetting his
well-to-do neighbors that he ordered his local rep to have expensive bunches of
red roses sent not just to the occupants of the surrounding homes, but to
everyone in Tucker’s Town. Such class!”
Since then, Mr. Bloomberg seems to have passed almost entirely
unnoticed, which isn’t all that hard in Bermuda. After all, this is a place
where nondescript middle-aged billionaires are a hundred bucks a dozen. And it
is a place that’s designed to obscure and conceal a person’s identity in al
kinds of ways. People work there to hide their incomes, to shelter them from
taxes. (Mr. Bloomberg has not incorporated any of his companies in Bermuda.)
People deliberately ignore each other’s status, wealth and fame. They stow
themselves away in mansions hidden in groves and enclaves, behind gates guarded
by watchmen, in estates owned by trusts.
No one in Bermuda seems to care that Mr. Bloomberg is rich, or
that he’s Mayor of New York. Few people on the island know, or care, about his
movements. He reportedly used to surface in an exclusive restaurant called Tom
Moore’s Tavern. The restaurant, housed in a 17th-century cottage nestled in a
centuries-old forest, is the most expensive on the island, with wines that top
$200 a bottle. But even though the restaurant is fewer than five minutes from
Mr. Bloomberg’s door, he hasn’t been spotted there in at least several years.
“I saw him a long time ago,” said Bruno Fiocca, the owner of the
restaurant, in a tone that suggested that he was practiced in the art of
know-nothing discretion that the wealthy have come to expect on this island.
“What I know about him, I read in the paper. Bermuda is a hideaway.”
Nor has Mr. Bloomberg made much of an impression on the social
scene among Bermuda’s class of insurance executives, who have a keen sense of
the island’s year-round social scene. “Of course we all know who he is,” said
the head of a large insurance company incorporated in Bermuda. “But he is not
really part of our crowd. I have never been to his house, and I don’t know
anyone here who has.”
It is the Mid Ocean Club, with its fabulous golf course, that
seems to be the island’s main draw for Mr. Bloomberg. The tee boxes sit atop
coral cliffs above the ocean. The rolling fairways are lined with palms and
spice trees. Legend has it that Babe Ruth once splashed a dozen balls in
Mangrove Lake in a futile effort to drive the green on the fifth hole. Greens
fees are $190; caddies are $35 per bag. The initiation fee is $20,000, and
annual charges are an additional $1,500 a year.
“That’s all he does when he comes here,” said a local businessman
who lives about 10 minutes from Mr. Bloomberg’s house. Asked if he’d ever been
invited to Mr. Bloomberg’s mansion, the businessman let out a laugh.
“Oh,” he replied, “you mean that golf shack he’s got on the
-additional reporting by Mairi Mallon