When Mike Bloomberg looks back at the astonishing amount of money he spent on his improbable Mayoral campaign, he can take some encouragement from knowing that the ads he bought were damn good. So good, in fact, that they made Mr. Bloomberg, a political novice, into a legitimate contender.
The man Mr. Bloomberg tapped to craft all those commercials was the kind of man you go to when money is no object: Bill Knapp, who heads the Washington, D.C.–based Democratic media-consulting firm Squier, Knapp, Dunn. The campaign also brought in David Garth, the legendary political media consultant credited with electing Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch and John Lindsay.
The protégé of the legendary Democratic ad man Bob Squier, who died last year, Mr. Knapp runs a media firm that has worked on the last three Presidential campaigns as well as a long list of Senate races. In the D.C. consulting game, he’s in a league with Al Gore’s campaign guru, Bob Shrum.
“If you look at Shrum and Knapp, they’re the kings of the hill among the Democratic media consultants,” said Brad Bannon, a D.C.-based Democratic consultant. Another consultant said Mr. Knapp was a member of the “triumvirate” that ran the Gore campaign, along with Mr. Shrum and Carter Eskew.
For Mr. Bloomberg, getting a Democratic insider was a shrewd move–Mr. Bloomberg, after all, ran as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Mr. Knapp, however, may face consequences for his work on behalf of a Republican in one of the nation’s highest-profile races this year. On Nov. 4, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe said that he would ban Squier, Knapp from any future D.N.C. work.
But for the Bloomberg campaign, which was based on two conflicting points of strength–the support of Mayor Giuliani and the lingering bitterness of Democrats Al Sharpton and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer–Mr. Knapp’s ads hit all of the right notes.
Take Mr. Giuliani’s endorsement. When the Mayor endorsed Mr. Bloomberg at City Hall on Oct. 27, the press played it as a pro forma gesture from a Republican Mayor to the Republican candidate. Several days later, the campaign rolled out its Giuliani ad.
While most of the 60-second spot is typical, Mr. Giuliani concluded: “It’s been an honor to be your Mayor for eight years. You may not have always agreed with me, but I gave it my all. I love this city, and I’m confident it will be in good hands with Mike Bloomberg.” That last bit–especially that line, “You may not have always agreed with me”–transformed a no-news endorsement into a suddenly compelling reason to vote for Mr. Bloomberg.
As the race entered its final days, the negative ads from Mr. Bloomberg never seemed overly mean. Mr. Green was hammered with a recording of his own words claiming he could have done as good as or better than Mayor Giuliani on Sept. 11. The only commentary from the Bloomberg campaign was a single word shown on the screen: “Really?”
Unlike some political strategists, Mr. Knapp keeps a pretty low profile, avoiding the cable-punditry circuit. “A little skinny guy with black hair and glasses” was how another consultant described him. “Bill really flies under the radar screen,” he said. But “he’s an unbelievably smart political strategist.”
And what really got Mr. Knapp into trouble with Mr. McAuliffe, according to a D.N.C. spokeswoman, was the Bloomberg ad that featured New York City Democrats, including Representative Charles Rangel and Senator Chuck Schumer, criticizing Mr. Green. Mr. Knapp could not be reached for comment, but other Democratic consultants pointed out that any D.N.C. work Squier, Knapp loses will be dwarfed by the Bloomberg billings, which consultants estimated at several million dollars.
“Bill Knapp’s going to be driving around in a Porsche after this,” said one consultant, laughing.
Another D.C. consultant, who is friendly with Mr. Knapp but did not want to use his name for fear of angering the D.N.C., said: “I don’t think it was done on ideological or party lines. I think it was a financial decision.” And it all might not matter. The consultant added that like Carter Eskew before him, Mr. Knapp has been trying to cut back on his political work and focus instead on the more lucrative, less time-consuming corporate accounts. “Knapp is not going to do many more of these,” he said.
Green on the Attack
It was Mark Green’s angriest day.
The polls showed that Michael Bloomberg, incredibly, had made a race of the 2001 Mayoral campaign after all, which meant that Mr. Green was perilously close to blowing what everybody had considered a sure-shot victory. Only two months ago, Mr. Green seemed ready to swat away his three major Democratic rivals without breaking a sweat. Beating Mr. Bloomberg was supposed to be child’s play.
Then it all started to fall apart. And on Nov. 5, the final full day of campaigning, Mr. Green let the weeks of tension and frustration show, unleashing a barrage of invective at every campaign stop, hoping to stop the bleeding.
Here is a stop-by-stop account of the assault:
9:10 a.m.: Emerging from the Staten Island ferry terminal in lower Manhattan, Mr. Green brandished a brochure featuring black-and-white pictures of Mr. Green and former Mayor David Dinkins stamped with the word “REJECTED.” “It shows the gross hypocrisy of the Bloomberg campaign,” said Mr. Green. “This from a Republican billionaire who invested in South Africa before the end of apartheid.”
9:35 a.m.: Standing on a sidewalk in Williamsburg with a collection of local Hispanic leaders, politicians and rabbis, Mr. Green introduced a new twist on his attacks. “For years, I worked to stop an incinerator from being built in Williamsburg. Where was Michael Bloomberg?” asked Mr. Green. “He was off legally making billions of dollars and rooting for the Red Sox!”
12:30 p.m.: Mr. Green’s bus–his staff dubbed the day’s events the “Mark Green Magical Victory Tour”–pulled into a desolate, windswept parking lot in Flushing, Queens. In one corner, a stage was set up with a microphone and a Mao Zedung–style oversized portrait of Mr. Green as a backdrop. Two dozen Chinese and Korean supporters of Mr. Green held signs and shivered. Mr. Green took the stage, accompanied by teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten, Martin Luther King III and a handful of local leaders.
“I don’t usually require a picture that’s that big of me,” Mr. Green said over a booming sound system that echoed in the empty lot. “When the campaign is over, please send it to my wife, so she can put it up in my living room.” Silence.
Mr. Green tried a different tack, citing Mr. Bloomberg’s reported statement that he avoids going to Queens: “A man who says he doesn’t like coming to Queens doesn’t deserve the votes of people in Queens,” said Mr. Green. After a pause, the stalwarts in the parking lot applauded.
12:55 p.m.: The Green campaign released a chilling, last-minute television ad featuring an allegation that Michael Bloomberg once told a pregnant employee to “kill” the fetus. A sinister-sounding voice says, “Bloomberg bought her silence. Are you going to let Mike Bloomberg buy your vote?”
2:15 p.m.: In Forest Hills, Queens, surrounded by his A-team of Jewish supporters–Senators Joe Lieberman and Charles Schumer, Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver–Mr. Green talked about his kishkes, detailed his adherence to the principles of tikkun olam and bragged about how he had “jawboned down kosher-for-Passover prices for the first time in a generation.”
Then he turned his attention back to a more familiar theme, reciting Mr. Bloomberg’s anti-Queens comments, calling him a “rich elitist” and likening him to a “rookie pitcher” being brought in for Game 7 of the World Series.
Asked by a reporter if he shared Mr. Green’s apparently low opinion of Mr.Bloomberg, Senator Lieberman demurred.
3:30 p.m.: A rally at Bryant Park promised to be the most upbeat event of the day. A string of prominent Green supporters–including Bill Clinton and no fewer than three Kennedys (Bobby, Ted and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo)–gave rousing speeches praising Mr. Green. A crowd of several hundred union workers voiced its approval.
Mr. Green hugged the former President, to massive cheers from the increasingly boisterous audience. Then Mr. Green spoke. “I worked for months, and not for weeks, to run a positive campaign,” Mr. Green began, “but then Michael Bloomberg started saying that I was a Stalinist, anti-police and a racist.” There was a pause. “I didn’t mind the Stalinist charge, although my Trotskyite friends were upset.”
The crowd tittered uneasily. Mr. Clinton appeared to grimace. One campaign aide leaned over to another and muttered sarcastically, “That’s a great message.”
9:00 p.m.: The voice of West Side Representative Jerrold Nadler boomed from a microphone mounted on a flatbed truck parked on the corner of Broadway and West 82nd Street. “We have to get out the vote, especially on the West Side, because this is where we have to pile up the margins,” he yelled. Thirty-five volunteers huddled on the sidewalk gamely cheered and raised their Green signs.
The microphone was passed around the truck to a number of Upper West Side Democratic luminaries, such as Assemblyman Scott Stringer and State Senator Eric Schneiderman.
Suddenly, an older man in a jacket and cap emerged from his apartment building and approached the truck. “I’ve got kids, and they’re trying to sleep,” he yelled.
The speeches continued as the disgruntled dad stared angrily.
“You’re making too much noise,” he persisted.
Veteran Manhattan Democrat Karen Burstein tried to soothe him. “I understand,” she said. “We’re almost done.”
Just then, water came flying out of an upper-story window, soaking several unlucky young volunteers on the sidewalk.
A younger, angrier-looking resident approached the truck. “Get them out of here!” he yelled to a nearby police officer.
“They’ll be gone in 10 minutes,” said the cop, wearily.
“Why 10 minutes?” the man asked.
“They’re not moving,” insisted the cop.
Mr. Green, now front and center on the truck, attempted to speak.
“This is bullshit!” the man screamed.
“All right, shut up already!” came a shout from the crowd of Green volunteers.
“You shut up!” said the man. Then he pointed to Mr. Green. “And he shuts up!” He stormed off.
Mr. Green stared after him a moment. “I’ll now keep it down,” he began, “because of that well-bred gentleman over there.”
Then, quietly, he resumed the offensive: “For months, I’ve tried to run a positive campaign …. ”
Shadow of Sept. 11
On Sept. 11, the day New York voters were scheduled to go to the polls for Primary Day, Carl Umland and his wife were standing by the window of their Battery Park City apartment, arguing about the candidates, when the world changed. “We saw the whole thing happen,” he said.
Seven weeks later, the subject was back to municipal politics. For residents of Battery Park City, perhaps the city’s hardest-hit neighborhood–many of those who voted still haven’t returned to homes they evacuated after the attack on the World Trade Center–this year’s Mayoral election has taken on an outsized significance.
“Our community, especially down here in Battery Park City, needs to rally,” said Samantha Kasnetz-Walash, a Manhattan attorney who voted for Michael Bloomberg. “This is not about politics anymore.”
If an informal sampling of voters leaving the polling station located inside the offices of the Battery Park City Authority is any indication, the neighborhood went heavily for Mr. Bloomberg–perhaps not a surprise, given its affluence and proximity to the financial district. Still, this is supposed to be a Democratic city.
“I’m a retired businessman,” said Mr. Umland, who worked for a chemical company in Houston before moving to New York last year. “I think it takes a businessman who understands big organizations to do the job.”
“I’m sorry Giuliani’s leaving,” said Patricia Perrone, who was pushing her two young children in a stroller. “It’s nice to have someone with experience who’s a little bit nasty.”
Most said the terrorist attack didn’t change their votes–it only reinforced the opinions they already held. “I was leaning more toward Bloomberg all along,” said Diana Kiel, a mother of three who, after voting, was heading over to refurbish her apartment, to which her family has yet to return.
Gary Greenberg was an exception. He voted for Herman Badillo on Sept. 11, before the primary was postponed. “As I crossed the street” outside the polling station, Mr. Greenberg said, “the second plane hit the tower.”
In Battery Park City, everyone has a story like Mr. Greenberg’s. One voter said he had risen early on Sept. 11 to cast his ballot, and then planned to walk over to the World Trade Center to catch the subway to work. But he left his wallet at home. As he retrieved it, he heard an explosion.
He’s been living in a hotel ever since, and this was his fourth trip to the polls this year–the canceled primary, the rescheduled primary, the runoff and the general election. “This is a vote I’m making for the long term,” he said.
He declined to give his name. He said that after seeing so many people die, he felt it would be inappropriate to be applauded just for casting a vote.
A Nutty Day
At 4 o’clock on election eve, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Senator John McCain were at the Staten Island Mall, campaigning with Michael Bloomberg. The term “with” is a loose one, since the three men rarely got close enough to be in a picture together. One shopper caught a glimpse of Mr. McCain and said, “Look! Look who it is!”
Mr. Giulani’s presence inspired something close to actual worship. “You’re the best, the best!” said a man with a heavy Italian accent. “The best!” Every now and then, the Mayor remembered to tell people to vote for Mr. Bloomberg. The three finally gathered around an ice-cream counter at Friendly’s.
“Vanilla, a small vanilla yogurt cone. Nonfat,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “A cup for me, actually,” said the Mayor. “For you, John? Chocolate, a chocolate cone,” said Mr. Bloomberg. His cone arrived first. It was vanilla, but flecked with green specks.
“What are those green things?” said the Mayor.
“I don’t know,” replied Mr. Bloomberg sheepishly.
“Did you get it tested?” the Mayor asked impishly. “What are those things?” he asked a waitress, pointing to Mr. Bloomberg’s cone.
“Pistachio,” she answered.