Hank Sheinkopf was working for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reelection from the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.
“I’m in Florida for the weekend,” said Mr. Sheinkopf, one of a number of prominent Democratic consultants now working for the mayor, in a recent phone interview. He was there for a speaking engagement.
“I’m not taking a vacation,” he said. “Until the summer. When my kids go to camp.”
It must be sorely tempting for Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign staff to think that summer camp has already started.
With Representative Anthony Weiner apparently scared out of the 2009 mayor’s race by Mr. Bloomberg’s strong poll numbers and bottomless campaign budget, and City Comptroller Bill Thompson unable to grab the attention of a city that seems deeply unimpressed with his stealth candidacy, the best citywide campaign money can buy has taken on the strange aspect of a mercenary army without anyone to fight.
Still, with the billionaire mayor’s put-the-kids-through-college paychecks still rolling in, these underutilized, adrenalin-free campaign staffers and consultants must be kept busy. It is, at the moment, a war on complacency.
That charge is being led by Bradley Tusk, the 35-year-old campaign manager for Mr. Bloomberg’s reelection effort.
He says that no one is taking anything for granted.
“I understood the dynamics of this campaign when I was staffing up a few months ago—it wasn’t like none of this was foreseeable,” he said in an interview in a conference room at campaign headquarters on May 15. “So in picking the team, you wanted to pick people who were really motivated and disciplined, professional and accomplished. I’m constantly driving them and they are driving themselves with very specific goals.”
A bit later, I talked to Howard Wolfson, the campaign’s communications director and a 42-year-old veteran, most recently, of a grueling and emotionally taxing presidential cycle as Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman. I asked him if the Bloomberg reelection gig wasn’t the greatest summer job ever dreamed up.
“What do you think, people are going to start going to Nantucket?” he said, when he was done laughing. “It’s not the summer yet.”
“I have never been in a campaign that I didn’t think I was going to lose,” he continued. “I don’t believe in inevitability, O.K.? Been there, done that. There’s a lot of work to do and we’re doing it.”
Mr. Sheinkopf had been in the office earlier that week.
THE BUILDING on West 40th Street that houses Bloomberg campaign headquarters grows narrower as it rises, so the fifth-floor offices are more spacious than the 19th-floor offices the campaign occupied four years ago.
Behind a reception area, the campaign’s senior officials work in a bullpen of beige cubicles, or snack on cold cuts in a lounge decorated with photos of smiling campaign staffers frozen in orbit around a photo of Mr. Bloomberg. A separate kitchen is stocked with fruit and cans of Fresca.
Further back is the field operations department, which on Friday afternoon was sparsely populated and spotted with six empty desks on a blue-gray carpet. Along the wall, a section of empty desks and dark computer screens had been arranged for yet-to-arrive summer interns. Conference rooms, in an expression of corporate playfulness, were labeled “Rangers” or “Mets” or other New York sports teams.
Around the corner, in the volunteer wing, a man stretched behind a sign that said “Shift Captain.” Nine relaxed Bloomberg volunteers did things: a few dialed phones at a table, the rest painted signs that said things like “Mayor Mike Rules” and “Bloomberg Si Se Puede!”
The hallway leading back to the reception area was lined with offices bolted closed and used as supply closets. Outside the doors, reporters from the New York Post and New York 1 combed through the campaign filing made available that day, which reported that Mr. Bloomberg had already spent more than $18 million—more than $155,000 a day since Jan. 12—despite the lack of competition.
Most of that money has gone to the exquisitely produced ads all over the TV and heavy-gauge literature that has cluttered city mailboxes. A sizable chunk has also gone to coffee and sandwiches and Staples products and, more significantly, the salaries of the all-star campaign team that’s now working hard to work hard.
With a roster that includes Mr. Tusk, Mr. Wolfson, former Schumer aide Josh Isay, pollster Doug Schoen and strategist Bill Knapp, there is certainly some overlap.
“There has been pretty broad agreement on the direction of the campaign,” said Mr. Wolfson, describing a recent strategy meeting.
When asked what each of the strategists does in such a meeting, Mr. Wolfson said, “Talk about strategy.”
MR. TUSK, by consensus within the campaign, is the person most engaged in making other people feel as if they’re involved in a contest.
“Bradley,” said Jill Hazelbaker, the 27-year-old spokeswoman for Mr. Bloomberg who served as communications director for John McCain’s presidential campaign, “is like David Plouffe on steroids.”
Mr. Tusk, a 35-year-old graduate of Chuck Schumer’s communications office and Mr. Bloomberg’s City Hall, before going on, somewhat unluckily, to become a deputy governor of Illinois under Rod Blagojevich and then a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers, said that the campaign was busy. They were chasing endorsements and then turning those endorsements into ads and newspaper stories and television hits that echoed Mr. Bloomberg’s core message, which is that he is the sort of competent and nonpolitical mayor who was needed to bring the city through tough times.
Mr. Tusk was wearing a checkered button-down and not a suit only because it was Friday.
The campaign had a plenary meeting every two weeks, he said, and had started going for outings to pizza places or organizing potluck lunches at headquarters. The mayor, he said, gave them health, life and dental insurance, and late-night cab fare. So it was a nice place to work.
He said that another motivation of the staff was a desire to impress Mr. Bloomberg in the hopes of finding work with him in either the private or public sector, or getting his name on a résumé.
But the big thing, he said, was that they all believed in him as a mayor.
“That’s driving me more than people coming up to me and saying, ‘I had the best time ever,’” he said.
Mr. Tusk talks with the urgency of someone who has something to prove. He said he sends and receives 600 to 800 emails a day and makes more than a hundred phone calls. He prides himself on getting back to people quickly, and said that if people on the Bloomberg team didn’t follow his example, they’d hear about it from him.
“I don’t tolerate staff that doesn’t come to work,” he said, noting that he planned to skip a good friend’s wedding in October for the sake of the campaign.
(He allowed that he did take a week off when he had a baby, as did Mr. Wolfson last month. “This is life,” he said. “Almost every single person I hired said to me something like ‘Hey, in June my brother’s getting married.’ Of course. We’re reasonable people.”)
In his own way, Mr. Tusk is also looking to have a good time.
He said that the campaign was trying, “for fun,” to build an Obama-style list of supporters by inviting Facebook users to check out the mayor’s reelection Web site.
Plus other things.
“Can I get like 10 newspaper endorsements before Labor Day?” Mr. Tusk said, smiling. “That’s not supposed to happen, but maybe I can.”
MR. TUSK is making a salary of $27,500 a month to run the campaign.
Mr. Isay’s glossy, colorful, booklet-sized direct mail has cost Mr. Bloomberg $1,485,000. (That is the amount paid, for the direct mail, to Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, Mr. Isay’s parent company. The company has received a total of $8.5 million from the campaign so far, partly for TV ads produced by Mr. Knapp. The campaign declined to reveal Mr. Isay’s or Mr. Knapp’s cut.)
The firm of Mr. Sheinkopf, who is handling a portion of the mailings, including the majority of the Spanish-language mail, is getting more than $20,000 a month.
Mr. Schoen’s polling firm has received about $2,700,000, some of which goes to the cost of voter lists and the price of calls.
Strategic Telemetry, the Washington-based micro-targeting firm of former Obama operative Ken Strasma, has earned about $800,000.
For his handling of big-picture media stories and major news outlets, Mr. Wolfson is bringing in more than $40,000 a month for Blizzard Communications, the political arm of his firm the Glover Park Group, which will pay him separately. (Mr. Wolfson declined to reveal his salary.)
Ms. Hazelbaker is earning about $12,000 a month, partly for talking to national Republican columnists to spread a more Bloomberg-friendly message throughout the conservative radio universe.
Silvia Alvarez, an alumnus of the City Hall press office and Major League Baseball who deals with Spanish-language press, rounds out the communications team and earns $9,500 a month.
The field operations are led by Maura Keaney, a veteran of Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office who is earning $17,000 a month. Chris Coffey, a former deputy commissioner for community assistance at City Hall, is making $9,000 a month.
The political team also includes Patrick Brennan, who is receiving a salary of $16,000 a month and heads up the pursuit of labor endorsements; Larry Scott Blackmon, who specializes in African-American outreach; former Weiner operative Basil Smikle, who also specializes in African-American outreach; and Rose Rodriguez, who is in charge of Latino outreach.
Karen Persichilli Keogh, who was Hillary Clinton’s New York political director, is heading up Bloomberg for Women. Mark Botnick is doing Jewish outreach and Oliver Tan is heading up Asian outreach.
The campaign’s web operation, located in a room with Mac computers in the back of the headquarters, is headed up by Jonah Seiger, whose Connections Media firm has been paid about $1.7 million. And the campaign’s advance man, Jay Weinkam, a former political adviser to Rudy Giuliani, is making $10,000 a month.
The campaign’s policy specialist Andrea Batista Schlesinger—formerly of the Drum Major Institute, which was an intellectual home to Mr. Bloomberg’s last opponent, Freddy Ferrer—is earning $10,000 a month, as is fellow wonk Brian Mahanna.
They’re all there sometimes, Mr. Tusk says.
“It’s funny, because sometimes I’ll walk in the office and say, ‘Where’s my staff?” he said. “But especially the political team—their job is to be out there getting endorsements. So if you look around, you think, ‘That’s what they are supposed to be doing.’”
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