A couple of weeks ago, not too long after the mayoral election, I dragged myself over to the Prospect Park YMCA on 9th Street in what used to be known as South Brooklyn but is now called Park Slope, like every place around here. Standing by the treadmill machines were two gentlemen in slightly out-of-style blue suits and thinnish ties. This is what passes for “plainclothes” in today’s NYPD, but these two guys might as well have had revolving red lights strapped to their heads. Their presence could mean only one thing: Bill de Blasio was in the house.
“Yeah. He’s pumping iron,” one of the cops said with proper outer-borough disdain.
And there he was, all six-foot-five of him, Hizzoner-to-be, grunting away on the very same machine where I myself have done my fair share of crunches. The thought was: What are the chances of seeing the departing mayor in such circumstances, his butt settled on such a public seat? De Blasio was sinking deeper every day into inaccessible power, but his workout was a rare display of transparency, especially for a guy who already won the election.
The odd thing about this was that even though De Blasio and I have lived on the same street, no more than 300 yards from each other, for almost twenty years, I did not recall ever seeing him stride past the check-cashing place on Seventh Avenue or ordering a slice at Smiling Pizza. I mean, he’s some giant; it isn’t like you’d miss him. Truth be told, I didn’t even remember seeing Dante of the fabulous hair. At the outset of the mayoral race, being a suspicious sort, I thought, Well, maybe the De Blasios don’t really live there. Perhaps the then-candidate was merely using the address because it was obvious to his political brain trust that, in the wake of Bloombergian Manhattan-centrism, the city was ready for someone with a multiracial family from so-called brownstone Brooklyn. But this couldn’t be. I must have passed De Blasio on the street dozens of times. After all, it is one of the joys of the city that you don’t have to make eye contact with every single passerby, even if you have actually voted for them upon occasion.
That said, when someone reaches high office, he tends to get noticed. Such was the case back in the early eighties, when Hugh Carey, then the governor of the state, was famously, if possibly apocryphally, spotted taking a leak outside Farrell’s Bar, then as now only a few blocks away. I could not resist the temptation to say hi to De Blasio in between crunch sets. “One question,” I asked. “Is living one block from you good or bad for my property values?” The anointed 109th mayor of New York looked up with a half-smile that journalists tend to describe as “wry.”
“An interesting question,” he mused, a tiny sweat stain on his T-shirt. “I’ll think about that. I’ll put it right on top of the list.” Then he resumed crunching.
De Blasio is moving to Gracie Mansion, glittering Manhattan. And I don’t blame him; to the victor go the spoils. But I’ll miss him, the mayor down the block.