In reporting this week’s cover story, I asked a source close to Bill de Blasio if the business community’s skepticism about the likely next mayor could develop into a real problem. “Bill doesn’t need all the rich guys behind him,” the insider said. “Just a few of the right liberal rich guys.” If that was a hint, I missed it. But there’s no missing what’s growing outside my office window, at the corner of Varick and Canal Streets: An enormous, expensive temporary building that will be the central stage for “Talking Transition,” which bills itself as a two-week effort, beginning November 6, to “open … what is usually an insular, closed-door process between Election Day and Inauguration into an opportunity for broad public engagement.”
Its backers include nine community groups and foundations, and George Soros. On Wednesday, our Andrew Rice guessed that Soros was involved; yesterday WNYC’s Ilya Marritz confirmed it. But until then, everyone connected to the event, from construction workers to spokespeople, was remarkably nervous and secretive when asked about Talking Transition, to the point of blacking out the project’s name from on-site building permits. Which is kind of funny and ironic: Soros, besides donating the maximum legally allowed to De Blasio’s campaign, has also given $400,000 to the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, a group co-founded by De Blasio, as public advocate, that’s supposed to promote transparency in political spending by corporations — but was also a useful vehicle to promote De Blasio.
One of the underexamined questions about the coming administration is how the new mayor might try to make up for the millions of private dollars Michael Bloomberg has donated or solicited to underwrite or hype city programs. Politicians without their own bottomless bank accounts need to get creative to push their agendas; one of De Blasio’s former bosses, Andrew Cuomo, received help as governor from a business and labor coalition called the Committee to Save New York. De Blasio’s campaign has no official role in Talking Transition. But with a friendly billionaire financier staging a splashy event boosting De Blasio’s themes under the guise of a worthy-sounding cause, perhaps some things won’t be changing too much after all.