The Upwardly Mobile Councilman

It’s a narrative that couldn’t have been more precisely designed by a political consultant. Although Mr. Gioia speaks like a teenager from California, peppering his sentences with “right?” and “like” and “you know?”—“So, like, I’m leading the fight to divest from Darfur, right?”—he’s a legitimate Queens boy. As he puts it, “It’s kind of hard to, you know, out-neighborhood-guy me.”

Significantly, Mr. Gioia can come across both as the longtime resident and the new-wave gentrifier.

Over a recent breakfast in Long Island City, at a cafe that also has an outpost on Bedford Street in the West Village, Mr. Gioia gave a 10-minute lecture on St. Francis of Assisi (his “favorite saint”); talked for half an hour about eradicating hunger from New York City; and then went on for a while about whether he wants a Kindle. It was finally determined that what he really wants is not a Kindle, but to be able to read books on his iPhone. He was wearing a crisp blue shirt and shiny pink tie and drinking a latte served in a giant mug. He did not eat.

“I really think the iPhone is the perfect birthday gift,” he confessed, although he also carries a BlackBerry for e-mail. “I mean, you really should be asking people for that. My wife has one; otherwise, I’d get it for her.”

His 2004 wedding to the congenial political fund-raiser Lisa Hernandez Esler was featured in the “Vows” column of The New York Times’ Weddings section. The lede describes their first meeting, which took place when they were both working on Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000.

More recently, 500 people attended his “pay what you want” birthday party fund-raiser on April 24, including Karenna Gore Schiff and the filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. Mr. Spurlock, who is perhaps best known for choosing to eat only at McDonald’s for a month while filming the documentary Super Size Me, was Mr. Gioia’s college roommate, and also stars in a campaign ad, which will be distributed to his formidable (in the six figures, according to Mr. Gioia’s chief of staff) e-mail list.

Once, about a year ago, Mr. Gioia spent a widely publicized week living off food stamps. He went to Washington to meet with members of Congress, including Hillary Clinton, and at the end of it all, Charlie Rangel bought him the turkey, mashed potatoes, broccoli and Diet Coke that he had been craving, the Daily News reported at the time.

Mr. Gioia’s staff members are young and idealistic and energetic and friendly, and, like their boss, they take an unusually proactive approach to dealing with the media.

One journalist recounted a story about how the day that a story of his ran, which included a not-positive line about Mr. Gioia, a staff member contacted him to set up a meeting.

Ryan Lizza, now of The New Yorker, confirmed a separate story about getting a call around two years ago from Mr. Gioia, who was visiting Washington, where Mr. Lizza worked at the time for The New Republic. The two had never met, and there was no immediate business that prompted the call. They wound up having what Mr. Lizza described as “a pleasant lunch.”

Mr. Gioia gives dictionaries to every student who graduates from elementary school in his district, because, he says, when he was young, his family couldn’t afford books, so he used to read the newspaper with the aide of a dictionary. “I read Mike Lupica every single—I mean, I couldn’t wait to read the newspaper,” Mr. Gioia said in the Long Island City cafe. He turned to his chief of staff, Zoe Epstein, who had accompanied him to the interview, and added, “We have to get me to go have lunch with Mike Lupica.”


MR. GIOIA’S ISSUE now, as he prepares to seek citywide office, is global warming. He says he’s now running the first “carbon neutral” campaign in New York City history, and so far no one has contested that it is; the Campaign Finance Board is still working out the details of using campaign donations to buy carbon offsets. Among other things, the campaign will use no paper invitations and hold events whenever possible in places easily accessible to large numbers of people by public transportation. (The birthday party was in Times Square).

The hard sell is working, as measured by Mr. Gioia’s prodigious fund-raising. The most common donation, according to his office, is $10. At the last filing, he had $1,623,445 in his campaign account. (That’s tops among the likely candidates for public advocate, and more than most of the likely candidates for city comptroller.)

Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera of the Bronx, who describes himself as a supporter, thinks if Mr. Gioia runs for public advocate, he’ll be “the person to beat.”

His current opponents include attorney Norman Siegel, who is making his third attempt to win the office and had $80,706 at last filing, and Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who was arrested in the early hours of the morning on March 6 for driving under the influence.

Two better-known potential candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, have yet to give any solid indication that they intend to jump into the race.

The Upwardly Mobile Councilman