Last night, just 24 hours after fueling speculation that he was planning an independent candidacy by announcing that he had dropped his Republican affiliation, Bloomberg exited the Sheraton hotel in midtown after giving a well-received speech to the Jewish Labor Committee.
It was only a floor below the ballroom where Rudy Giuliani held a fund-raiser for his presidential campaign.
On his way out, Bloomberg ran into longtime Giuliani supporter (and former roommate) Howard Koeppel. Or, more accurately, Koeppel almost physically ran into Bloomberg — who basically owes the start of his political career in large part to Giuliani — and promptly told him why he thought an independent candidacy was such a great idea.
“I told him that if he runs, he’ll help Rudy, because he’ll take votes away from the Democrats,” said Howard Koeppel, a longtime Giuliani supporter.
“‘Don’t worry,” Bloomberg responded, according to Koeppel, who had slung his arm around the mayor.
“I’m not running.” The mayor told Koeppel that he was running late as he made for the black SUV waiting for him on the street. Koeppel, an acquaintance of Bloomberg’s going back to the mayor’s first campaign in 2000, offered the mayor a friendly smack on the back of the head.
As Bloomberg made for his car, Koeppel, the gay Audi salesman in whose apartment Giuliani stayed during the former mayor’s divorce from Donna Hanover, rejoined his friends against a wall in the lobby. He stood next to Raoul Felder, Giuliani’s divorce lawyer, and Christopher Lynn, Giuliani’s former transportation commissioner.
After Koeppel recounted the exchange for reporters, Lynn interjected that he, for one, thought a Bloomberg candidacy a terrible idea.
“The biggest tax raises in the history of New York was hoisted on us by Mike Bloomberg. How do you think that is going to resonate?” said Lynn, who waved around a pamphlet distributed at the Giuliani fund-raiser upstairs. It said “Rudy” and listed the former mayor’s “12 commitments,” the promises he guarantees to keep if elected President. “The first three years he ran the city how did he run the city? Borrow and spend borrow and spend, borrow and spend.”
Koeppel was asked by a few reporters how he knew Bloomberg.
“Rudy asked me if I would help him, so I sat with him at some ball games,” said Koeppel.
“He didn’t ask for any help!” screamed Lynn.
“No, not financially,” said Koeppel.
Felder mumbled something incomprehensible and stiffened.
“And he yelled at you that time, remember? At John Ravitch’s fund-raiser. And you said, ‘Mike, I would have helped but you didn’t ask,’” said Lynn. “And he said 'Howard, the only one who ever helped me is that guy right there – Pataki.' And you said ‘Mike, you didn’t ask.’”
They were asked if any of them had discussed the merits of a Bloomberg candidacy directly with Giuliani? Koeppel raised a finger to his lips and the three men headed out.
Earlier in the evening, Bloomberg received less ambiguous support. Shortly after 7pm, Bloomberg walked up the stairs of the Sheraton surrounded by
secret service his security detail and his closest political aide Kevin Sheekey.
At the top of the stair, in front of the second floor ballroom, he stopped for a quick chat with Stuart Appelbaum, the Jewish labor activist who was hosting the event Bloomberg had come to speak at.Appelbaum was effusive with praise about the mayor’s new independent affiliation and the prospects that it opened.
“I’m in awe,” said Appelbaum.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Bloomberg, nodding his tilted head, shrugging his shoulders.
Inside the ballroom, Appelbaum introduced the mayor to the hundreds of attendees of that evening’s dinner as a leader by saying that people had always wondered what kind of Republican Bloomberg was: “Tonight we can tell them, he’s the very best kind — he’s a former Republican.”
Bloomberg’s speech made no reference to the presidential ambitions he makes a point of denying, preferring to stick with union material.
“The truth is that Jews and labor have been linked together since my ancestors were building pyramids in Egypt and were paid nothing for it — not a very good labor contract,” Bloomberg said.
At that point a woman in the back of the room stood and screamed something in protest, calling the mayor a “pickpocket.”
“OK, we have plenty of time miss,” the mayor said. “I’ll be happy to stand here — my next event isn’t for another few minutes. Thank you for sharing your views. Here I am, 4,500 years later, working for a dollar a year. And getting yelled at.”
The crowd laughed and Bloomberg introduced one of the night’s honorees, Bruce Raynor, a co-president of the hotel and garment workers' union. With Bloomberg seated next to him, Raynor noted that Giuliani was raising money in a nearby ballroom. It was clear which of the mayors he preferred.
“The former mayor is still a Republican, always was a Republican — divisive and mean,” Raynor said. “I wasn’t sorry to see him leave and I won’t be sorry when he loses the Republican nomination.”
Bloomberg, sitting quietly, did not offer a visible response.