Power Punk: Micah Lasher

Poof! Electoral magician pulls candidates out of hat, tries not to make them disappear

Hardball politics are nothing new in New York; indeed, the major elections, such as a Mayoral race, frequently bring out the best, and worst, tricks from the political consultants’ repertoire. And Micah Lasher, who will be 22 on Dec. 18, has a strong political arm, deftly throwing fastballs at his clients’ opponents and usually striking them out.

Occasionally, though, he’ll let loose with a bean ball-as in the 2001 Democratic Mayoral primary, during which Mr. Lasher worked for Mark Green’s campaign. Mr. Lasher was one of the staffers behind a campaign flyer which reprinted a New York Post cartoon showing Mr. Green’s opponent, Fernando Ferrer, bussing the formidable butt of Al Sharpton. The flyer somehow made its way into largely white neighborhoods. It became a cause célèbre in a bitter campaign, and Mr. Lasher had to deal with volleys of criticism.

Mr. Lasher was born in Manhattan and raised in New Jersey and the Upper West Side. His parents own a paper-goods distribution consulting business. In 1992, at 10 years old, he knocked on doors in New Jersey with his mother to drum up support for Bill Clinton, whom he describes as a major influence and “a great figure.” Because of this early success in politicking (and his earlier success-at the age of 14 Mr. Lasher was already a professional magician with his own book, The Magic of Micah Lasher: More Than 50 Tricks That Will Amaze and Delight Everyone-Including You ), he knocked on doors again on behalf of Jim Florio in 1993, but the embattled incumbent lost his re-election bid to Christie Whitman. In 1998, in New York, as co-editor of Stuyvesant High School’s student newspaper, Mr. Lasher became involved in a dispute between the paper’s staff and the school’s administration over editorial control. The paper was temporarily closed, but Mr. Lasher helped launch a publicity blitz that caught the attention of The New York Times . The school’s administration quickly reopened the paper.

While at Stuyvesant, he volunteered for several local politicians. After matriculating at N.Y.U., he landed a position at Morris, Carrick and Guma, the political consultancy that worked for candidates like Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein and Alan Hevesi. He joined the Green campaign in 2001, and some observers believe the Ferrer-flyers contretemps cost Mr. Green the general election against Michael Bloomberg.

Now, more than two years later, Mr. Lasher expressed some measure of remorse over the incident. “You do a thousand things on campaigns,” he said, “and that is one that I regret. I wish I got a do-over, but I don’t.”

In 2002, Mr. Lasher joined Andrew Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign team as the state field director. Mr. Cuomo withdrew days before the scheduled primary contest with Carl McCall, but Mr. Lasher developed more contacts-particularly with Josh Isay, Mr. Cuomo’s campaign manager. The two formed a political consultancy firm afterward, Isay/Lasher Communications, now called KnickerbockerSKD.

Mr. Lasher, slim and single, with a thin nose, sharp chin and a short, dark haircut, continues to be in demand. In 2002, Mr. Lasher contributed to Tim Bishop’s Congressional upset in Suffolk County, and in the past election cycle he worked on several races, among them Working Families Party candidate Letitia James’ successful City Council bid, for the seat left vacant when James Davis was murdered in City Hall last summer; Steve Levy’s winning bid for Suffolk County Executive (the first Democrat elected for that seat since 1987); and Arlene Bluth’s failed bid for Civil Court against Shlomo Hagler in Manhattan.

Once more, Mr. Lasher was accused of racial insensitivity while working for Ms. Bluth, this time by using an appropriated image and slogan of Martin Luther King Jr. But this time, Mr. Lasher has no regrets. At issue was a flyer that featured a picture of Dr. King with the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” Mr. Lasher is unapologetic: “That was silliness,” he said. “The point was that what she had done as a lawyer was for everyday people-delivering a little bit of justice, correcting injustice.” The quote, he said, “seemed to be a fitting and profound way of framing that … sense of justice, which I think Arlene has.”

Perhaps Mr. Lasher may seek elected office in the future, but for now he prefers to work for others behind the scenes. But like any magician, he is quick to deny any prestidigitation: “One should not overstate the links between magic and politics,” he said. “I try to stay away from sleight of hand in the campaigns I work on, which is made easier by good candidates that you can believe in.”

So for now, look for him backstage, and keep an eye on those fingers.

-Matthew Grace

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